by Jon Chiarello

In Great Britain, Jess Parnell of Kloofsuits is working in her garage. She begins with the head. First she pulls a balaclava over a mannequin bust to establish a base layer.


Then she overlays the fabric with the cut foam, forming a muzzle, ears and brow ridges of the face. She glues and carves the foam until the crude elements begin to resemble an onyx.


After that, she trims the excess foam to make it smooth, so the fur won’t be bumpy in those spots.


She references her spec sheet. Wielding scissors and a hot glue gun, she uses these common materials to birth a brand new character into the world.


The furry fandom is a group of people who fuse anthropomorphic animal characters with human characteristics. Furries, as they’re called, can be described as bipedal animals possessing human intelligence. As a collective, furry fandom appeals to those strongly infatuated with the animal-centric idols in popular culture.


Only 10 to 15 percent of the furry fandom actually have their own fur-suit because of the high costs for commissions offered by companies like Kloofsuits. Many furries either make their own or do not have a suit at all.


Much of what a furry is has historically been reduced to its sexual aspects. People in animal costumes “yiffing” in erotic chatrooms, artwork endowing fantasy creatures with embellished sex organs. Gratification of this type can be ascribed to nearly every subunit of popular culture. Wherever there is a group of “Family Guy” fans, there is a group to sexualize its characters. This is human nature, and that nature translates most of what we see, hear and feel in sexual terms.


But there is another aspect of the oft-derided furry that is overlooked, one that resonates with its participants as its primary appeal.


A May 12, 2017, article published in Psychology Today titled “More Than Just a Pretty Face: Unmasking the Furry Fandom,” says, “A furry is a fan. Just like ‘Star Trek’ fans are a fan of ‘Star Trek,’ and sports fans of sports. Furries are fans of media that features walking talking animal characters.” 


Fascination with these fantastical remixes has transformed into the development of the “fursona.” A fursona is an avatar, a creative dream made real. It is an alter-ego developed by the follower. Equal parts mascot and personalized icon, a fursona is used to relate a furry’s true self to the world. It also is an opportunity to focus their artistic drives.


They manifest in all shapes, sizes and species. At Anthrocon, one of the United States’ largest gatherings of fursona, a mohawked shark converses with a tattooed red fox.  Fursonas aren’t limited to convention halls, either. They meet in public parks for barbecues, they attend midnight openings of Disney’s “Zootopia,” and they meet in the virtual space, forging new bonds with fursonas from another side of the world.

Alexa Lowe, a student at Las Positas and design mentor for this magazine, is active in this fandom.  At a young age she participated in groups centered on anime characters such as Pokemon and Neopets. In junior high, she joined a drawing community that fostered young female artists like her.


This group introduced Lowe to the practice of drawing mythical anthropomorphic creatures, even as the designs began to deviate from realistically rendered anthropomorphic parts.


Lowe developed her fursona into a devil-horned cat with dragon wings. She says, “I’ve always had a fascination with mythical creatures, akin to chimeras, and I like to draw weird mashups of creatures on my sketchpad.” It is this fusion that makes the sub-genre so appealing to its adherents.


She posts her artwork to her Fur Affinity account, a digital portfolio meant for furry artists. This online platform promotes the fandom to those who didn’t believe their tastes had a home or an audience. It began as an outlet for artists to share illustrations of favorite cartoon characters, but has evolved into a peer-run master’s class. Ultimately, the fandom took on a life of its own and quickly became populated with designs of original characters.  No longer funny, jokey parodies, the tone of the illustrations became more serious and personal. The rise of the furry culture began.


Lowe says this like-minded community and its creations inspired her.  It allowed a glimpse of an alternate world, a vista of modified realism. The furry culture allowed Lowe a remarkable step out of the norm. It can be whatever a person can imagine, populated with pink sea otters with bat wings and sunglass-wearing gryphons with glowing unicorn horns.


Many furs participate in online role play, or RP. The start was a text-based format called Furry Multi User Chat Kingdom, M.U.C.K. for short, and it let fursona imaginations run wild. In this online town, you can talk to anyone, be anybody. An alternative to M.U.C.K. is Multi-User Dungeons (M.U.D.). Both serve as an online gathering of fursona and the furry curious, allowing a virtual environment to RP and socialize.


Another more visual format is Second Life, a 3-D online virtual world where users adopt roles and participate in tasks reminiscent of the real world. The majority of furs use this application to RP and explore worlds. In Second Life, furs do what they can’t in real life: be accepted as their fursona. Abaddon Strife, the pseudonym of a Fur living in Virginia, describes Second Life activities as hanging out at clubs and hanging with friends.


An article published by On Demand News reports, “Life in the big city can be stressful, which is why some people in Northern Mexico dress up as large furry animals and go out in public. This is the furry movement, and sweeping that town.”


Arctico, an ice blue husky dog, describes a fursona costume as “A suit that people wear, so they can be their original characters in the real world.”


Most furries say that the furry fandom is light-hearted fascination that spreads their love for animals by dressing as them. A fur named Aduraty based in New Mexico says that once he puts his fursona outfit on, it gives him more confidence and makes him more affectionate.  Life in a city can be stressful, and it’s difficult to release negative vibes. He was interviewed on the “On Demand News’” YouTube channel, saying he puts on a large furry animal costume in order to become his real self.


Tarrynt Volker, a German Shepard from Texas, says, “Dressing up in those suits allows you more free space to look and also act differently. The appeal of wearing a fur-suit is that you look like them. They are showing the true self— the selves they want to be. It also makes the furry feel free within the sense that their physical selves are left out.”


Jestre DeRama, a multicolored “hyvanine” (hyena, fox, jackal hybrid) and YouTuber from Chicago, says, “You get to express yourself in a way you find fun to share with others.”


For furries everywhere, becoming a mythical chimera is a way of asserting identity. Whether it’s through an original character suit or a digital model, it offers an escape. A platform for expression, a creative outlet and a large community of friends.


But the fandom and the suits are not for the faint of heart. DeRama suggests installing a fan in the fabric to stay well ventilated under all that fur.