By: Debra Dylan
It was Friday night fever at the Knoxville Museum of Art’s Alive After Five. Special guest, Shelby the Lionness, was shy at first, but she won over the crowd with her sweet personality and retro dance moves.
Shelby the Lionness is only one example of the many fursuiters attending FangCon. From October 29 through November 2, the furries will descend on downtown Knoxville. The convention includes art events, karaoke, games, song writing, drama productions, music, and more. Proceeds from poker games and a silent auction will benefit Tiger Haven.
Shelby explains how and why she morphed into this charming character:
Why did you want to be a furry?
It all starts from having an appreciation of anthropomorphic artwork and cartoons. I’m 32, so my cartoon exposure was original Looney Tunes and almost anything Disney. In the mid 1990s – Tiny Toon Adventures and Animianaics. Most people are familiar with sport team mascots. The furry fandom takes these aspects and blends in geek-dom. I like to say the furry fandom is a subculture of the Sci-Fi fandom, Anime fandom, cosplay, etc.
My ex-husband introduced me to the furry fandom. With a brand new bachelor’s degree in sociology, I was curious as to what the appeal was to act like a talking animal on two legs. The best way to learn about something was from the inside out, so I joined the fandom and was immediately welcomed. The first furries I met are still my friends to this day. Our friendships formed from enjoying anthropomorphic art.
Most furries don’t have fursuits. It’s only about twenty percent who do. Fursuits are expensive. Most of the people who consider themselves furry are in it because of the artwork and the enjoyment of watching fursuiters perform. For those who own fursuits, [many of them] enjoy putting on a mask, and being able to drop all the real world worries, and be someone or something else for a little while. Inhibitions of looking stupid or strange are gone. Most of the time, fursuiters bring a smile to peoples faces – adults and children alike.
How many costumes do you have?
I only have one, Shelby the Lioness. Toby, another fursuiter, made my costume’s head and my mother and I made the body. My mom is a wonderful and talented quilt maker, so she was intrigued at taking on the challenge.
Because we made my suit, it cost considerably less. I bought all of the fur, glue sticks, thread, foam rubber, and necessary supplies like scissors and razors. I estimate I spent $600 on my suit, which includes over 100 hours of Toby’s time sculpting and sewing my head. I started off as a partial with only head, sleeves, paws and feet. When I had more money I ordered more fur to make a full body.
Why did you chose the lioness costume?
I am a lioness because I was obsessed with Nala from The Lion King. When The Lion King came out in 1994, I was 10 years old. I memorized all her lines, and I wanted to sound exactly like her – feminine, yet forceful. Being excited about portraying a lioness isn’t what keeps me in the fandom; it’s the friendships I made.
How bad is the heat in your costume?
Most fursuits have a fan built into the head that helps with cooling. I do not. So, I tend to pop off my head more often than the others. Also, we have a rigorous pre-suiting plan of dressing in Under Armour clothes to wisk away the sweat, and wearing balaclavas on our heads. I made a vest that has pockets with velcro to attach ice packs inside and I wear it under my suit. When I know i’m going to be suiting, I start drinking water 5-6 hours ahead of time to ensure I don’t get dehydrated.
I have not had an opportunity to wear my suit in an event outside a convention, until Knoxzine’s event at the museum. I’ve always been inside with air conditioning, and overheating hasn’t been an issue for me. At our conventions there is a “headless lounge” where cameras and people who are not in fursuit are not allowed. These rooms are always ice cold, with many industrial size fans blowing, ice water stations, and towels. I try to go to the headless lounge at least 15 minutes out of an hour when I’m suiting.
What’s your favorite part of the cons?
My favorite part of conventions is being with my friends. If it weren’t for these conventions, FangCon specifically, I would never have met my three best friends. Conventions are the few times a year that we are all in one place. I also enjoy making new friends. Some of the best times are just relaxing in a common area of the hotel and talking with people. Otherwise, I just drudge through daily life, taking care of my son as a single mom, take him to school, go to work, deal with work issues, do house work, repeat. There is no spice.
What’s the worst part?
Conventions are expensive. Hotel room, travel, food, registration, abd buying stuff in the vendor room. If you really go all out, and not skimp on the experience, you could pay upwards of $600 per convention. It is a vacation. Some people go to the beach. Some people go to conventions whether it be SciFi, Comic Con, Anime or Furry. As I’ve gotten older, it seems the average age of a furry has gotten younger. [Probably due] to the Internet and social media. So, the worst part now seems to be that a convention is some people’s first time away from home after turning 18, and they forget how to to properly act in public.
If you have more than two people in close proximity there is going to be drama at some point. Furry is no exception.The furry fandom has a real world reputation about being only about sex. While this perception has lessened in recent years, it’s still prevalent. My response to that is: ANY group is going to have a sexual aspect because we’re human beings. [It’s as] simple as that. Furries are no different. It’s just that in furry, most people meet on the Internet, and the convention is the first time many [furries] meet in person. Long distance relationship couples also see each other [at conventions] too. All we ask is that common sense prevail and private stuff stays in the hotel rooms.
How many conventions have you attended?
I’ve been to 19 furry conventions over the past five years. I’ve been both staff and attendee. Furry has given me an opportunity to travel that I didn’t have before. I’ve been to furry conventions in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Missouri. In 2016 I plan on going to Rochester, New York.
I was 30 years old before I ever flew on an airplane. In the last year I’ve been on a plane 10 times! Furry has given me experiences that helped me grow as a person while having fun at the same time. The Atlanta area has a group of fursuiters that do charity events, like working with children’s hospital, going to fundraisers, etc. I’d like to see the Knoxville furs do something similar, but we haven’t organized it yet. Still [we are] working through a negative public perception of furries. Perhaps this article will be the start of greater things for us!
Photography by: Tovah Greenwood
© Knoxzine, 2015.