by Phil Geusz
©2009 Phil Geusz
Recently I was chatting with some furry friends about this and that, and the subject of furcons came up. I was surprised at how little some long-time furs seem to understand about cons, what happens there, and how theyre managed. This column is designed to help shed some light on the subject.
Furcons are public events hosted by furfans in various locations throughout the world, usually on a periodic (almost always yearly) basis. Theyre typically held in hotels, though some of the smallest events are hosted in private homes and the largest (Anthrocon) has grown so big that only a major metropolitan convention center will do. Plus a few groups rent out cabins at state parks or hold cons at full-fledged campgrounds, so that the conventioneers must bring their own tents. All tend to be held in places, however, where the con-goers can spend several days. Cons are typically held from Friday through Sunday, though scheduled events on Thursdays are growing more and more common.
Also growing more common are the cons themselves, which have multiplied to the point where its almost possible for a dedicated fan to spend the entire calendar year either at cons or flying from one to another.
Furcon attendance has been doubling every three to four years for as long as Ive been associated with the fandom, so that not only has the number of events steadily increased but attendance at each has risen as well. A con usually begins officially with an event called Opening Ceremonies, where much speechifying occurs, and ends with Closing Ceremonies late Sunday afternoon. At these events con rules and programming are discussed, attendees are made aware of last-minute changes in the layout or scheduling, etc. Most importantly of all, the staff—all of whom are unpaid volunteers, as a rule—is introduced and thanked.
Despite the relative youth of our fandom, furcons have already come to have certain traditional activities associated with them. One is fursuiting; indeed, I find it hard to imagine any gathering of furs calling itself a con without fursuits being present in large numbers. For this reasons, cons go well out of their way to attract suiters and make them comfortable. A fursuit lounge (also sometimes called The Decapitation Room because suiters remove their heads to rest and cool off there) is provided at no charge. This room is normally equipped with electric fans, copious supplies of ice-water, and sometimes even talented volunteers able to handle emergency repairs. Suiters wander everywhere for the duration of a con—some will bring five or six costumes and model them all during the weekend—but one of the cons key events is always a fursuit parade. No matter how large or small the con, the suiters are encouraged to line up and make a brief tour of the hotel along a pre-planned route, which more often than not is lined with cameras and flashes. Some cons are large enough to generate parades featuring hundreds of fursuits.
Another fursuit-related con standby is the Fursuit Dance—only the very smallest of cons dont hold these. Held late at night, usually on Friday, Saturday, or both, the dance encourages suiters and non-suiters alike to take to the floor together. The results can be entertaining indeed. Many cons also feature an event called The Fursuit Olympics, wherein con-goers in awkward, mobility- and vision-restricting fursuits are encouraged to participate in competitions like picking up ping-pong balls from the floor and placing them in a small basket. It can be fun to watch indeed! And, of course, at some point almost every con of sufficiently large size holds a Furry Variety Show, during which suiters perform assorted skits for an audience often measured in the hundreds.
Most of a con-weekend is filled with a steady diet of panels. Mostly held during the daylight hours, a panel is a sort of mini-seminar about some matter of interest which is hosted by volunteers who are experts in whatever the panel is about. Held in small conference rooms, theyre usually broken down into tracks. The Art Track, for example, might feature panels on drawing fur realistically and how to sell ones art on-line. The Puppetry Track might cover puppet-making and performance tricks. And the Spirituality Track often feaures Sunday morning services by con-attending clergymen, as well as panels on totemism and animals as spiritual guides.
Other common track subjects include fursuiting (of course!), furry writing, and an oddball category that covers things like Rails and Tails (where furries show off their model railroading gear) and Motorcycle Furs. If a fur is genuinely interested in the fandom, its a good bet that the number of panels they want to see is rather greater than the number of panels theyll be physically able to attend. Other programming options, at least at the largest of cons, include stand-up comedy of surprising quality, and other formal on-stage presentations by the small handful of genuine fannish celebrities that furry has so far generated.
Most cons also offer a Dealers Den, where one may purchase furry-themed stuff that often can be found nowhere else. Almost anything can be found in a Dealers Den, from old anthropomorphic comics to made-to-order costume accessories. Another standby is the Artists Alley, where the fandoms artists set up tables to sit and draw in public. They take commissions, but get there early before theyre all booked up! And of course, artists accepting commissions for con-badge art can be found in both the Alley and the Den.
Another con staple is the Guest (or Guests) of Honor. Choosing these lucky individuals is one of the few perks that comes from the hard work of being on a con staff (more on what it means to be part of the con staff in another article). Guests of Honor are generally chosen for a variety of reasons. In some cases, its to acknowledge someones valuable contributions to the fandom; in others, its so they can share their expertise via giving panels. At any rate, if youre an attendee, be aware that the GOHs are there for you! Feel free to speak to them, shake their hands, and even pick their brains if they were chosen for their expertise in one of your areas of interest.
Some cons, especially larger ones, provide other services as well. A few of the biggest offer free food—in many cases, such excellent and nutritious food that a con-goer on a budget need not worry about eating anything else. This food is available in the Con Suite, which is open long hours. Also, some conventions have traditions involving free pizza and ice cream at specific times and places.
Pretty much all cons these days, being perpetually short of money, offer various upgrades to their basic membership, or admission fee. In recent years these have escalated from simple Sponsors to Super-Sponsors to (most recently) God-Level memberships. (I wanna see what comes next after that one!) With these higher-level (and much more costly!) memberships come special freebies like high-quality badges, items of clothing, better free food, special access to the Guest(s) of Honor, and sometimes even free rides to and from the airport. Only those with deep pockets need apply, however.
One of the best things that most furcons do, in my own opinion, is adopt a charity. For obvious reasons this is usually an animal-related one. Typically the con will offer the charity a free table in a prominent location, where they can display pictures or sometimes even living examples of the animals theyre working with. Ive seen lynxes, various raptors, and more varieties of service animals that you can shake a stick at in the lobbies of hotels during cons, and some conventions—most notably Mephit, in Memphis Tennessee, actually provide a sizeable part of the annual operating budget of their chosen charity. I dont know of another fandom that does half so much, per person, for charity.
So thats the generic, large-scale overview. Furcons are a lot of fun, and can be cheap fun as well, if you share a hotel room enough ways. If youve never been to a furcon, grab a friend and go! Until you do, youll never know what youve been missing!