My Interview with Fred Patten

Questions by Ahmar Wolf and Greyflank

If the name Fred Pattern isn’t familiar it should be, after all he is one of the founding members of the furry fandom. His Bio on Wikipedia is amazing.

Which says in brief.

In 1972, Patten partnered with Richard Kyle to create Graphic Story Bookshop in Long Beach, California. In an interview posted on the (now defunct) website of Pulp Magazine, Patten said he had discovered manga at Westercon, one of the largest science fiction conventions on the West Coast, in 1970. At the time, he had been aware of television shows like Astro Boy, but had no idea then that they were Japanese. Through his bookshop, he wrote to Japanese publishers, asking to import their manga, achieving some success and in the process becoming a pioneer in the anime and manga fandom. He was one of the founders of the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization, the first American anime fan club, in 1977.[2]

During this time, Patten worked in numerous library positions, notably that of technical catalogue librarian at Hughes Aircraft Company’s Company Technical Document Center (CTDC), in El Segundo, Calif., from 1969 to 1990. After leaving that position, he served from 1991 to 2002 as the first employee of Streamline Pictures, one of America’s pioneering anime specialty production companies, founded by Carl Macek and Jerry Beck in 1988. He has been a presenter at major conventions and guest lecturer at universities in the U.S. and Australia.

Patten wrote numerous monthly columns and individual articles for Animation World Magazine, Newtype U.S.A., the Comics Buyer’s Guide, and other magazines, including serving as the Official Editor for the Rowrbrazzle Amateur Press Association, until March 2005, when he suffered a stroke. No longer able to keep his collection, which had grown over more than 40 years, he donated everything – almost 900 boxes (~220,000 item) of comic books, records, tapes, anime, manga, programs from science-fiction conventions dating back to the 1930s, convention T-shirts, paperbacks, and an array of sci-fi fanzines back to the 1930s – to the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection at the University of California, Riverside, which houses the world’s largest collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Has worked on 14 BOOKS, been apart of 5 major comics Mangazine, The Ever-Changing Palace, Albedo: Anthropomorphics, Furrlough and Theriopangrams.

Has been apart of no less than 23 anime series everything from Fist of North Star to Lupin 3

This is why this is the most important article I ever posted here.

1. What drew you into science fiction and later anime.

I’ve been asked this many times, and I don’t know. I do remember when I discovered science fiction. I was always a voracious reader, and I read all the books around my house (I was reading my mother’s Perry Mason mysteries before I got the Dick and Jane readers in elementary school) and the children’s books at the library that were recommended to me. One day my father brought home Sixth Column by Robert Heinlein rom the library. It was a new book that the librarian had recommended he try. My father didn’t care for it, but before he returned it I had read it and loved it. (Sixth Column was published in December 1949, so the library must have got it in 1950 when I was nine years old.) I read all the other s-f in the library, first the juvenile books and then the adult books by Ray Bradbury and A. E. van Vogt and so on. By the time I was through with them, I was old enough to go to the neighborhood newsstand and buy the monthly magazines like Astounding, Galaxy, and F&SF, plus the new paperbacks (only 25¢ or 35¢ at the time), and read the poorer s-f magazines while standing there. This lasted until I entered college and joined organized s-f fandom in 1960.

Why did I like s-f rather than sports fiction or Westerns or mysteries? I don’t have any idea. But I’ve always been interested in the more exotic stuff. When comic book fandom developed in the 1960s, I tried the costumed superheroes and preferred foreign comics. I wrote an article on original Mexican superheroes is 1965. I liked American theatrical and TV animation, but went crazy over Japanese manga and anime in the 1970s.

2. It had been reported you started with Astro Boy, I wonder had you ever seen any of the earlier anime to hit America. Such as Speed Racer, Gigantor, 8 Man. I believe you worked on the later sequel 8 Man After. In your opinion how has anime evolved from those earlier days.

No, I didn’t watch the first Americanized anime of the 1960s: Astro Boy, Gigantor, Speed Racer, and so on. I graduated from UCLA and got my first job as a professional librarian, and stopped watching cartoons on TV, in Summer 1963 just before the Americanized anime appeared. I heard about them, but not as anime; they were “foreign cartoons”, usually not even identified by nation. I didn’t discover anime as Japanese animation until 1976 when Mark Merlino, a local fan, began to video-record it on his new VCR from the local Japanese-community channel. It was very obviously in Japanese, subtitled in English. Merlino & I and a few others started the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization, the first anime fan club, in May 1977; it’s still meeting. I self-taught myself about anime during the late 1970s and the 1980s, and started becoming professionally involved with anime when I joined Streamline Pictures in January 1991. Yes, 8 Man After was one of our titles.

3. You have worked on so many projects in the world of Anime. How did you get your start.

During the early 1970s another fan (Richard Kyle) & I started a comic-book specialty bookshop, Graphic Story Bookshop in Long Beach, California, to import and sell the best international comic books. I was in charge of writing to the international publisher and trying to buy their comics. During 1972 to 1975 I wrote to publishers in Belgium France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, etc., and of course Japan. This was for the manga, but it was how I first became aware of the anime. Merlino & I were active in anime fandom from 1977 on, and I became more knowledgeable about the genre over the decade. By the time Streamline Pictures was ready to hire its first employee in 1991, I was ready.

4. When did you first begin the feel drawn to the anime and/or Furry work? When did you first become active in them?

I first became aware of anime as a fan in 1976 when the first subtitled giant-robot s-f or superhero cartoons appeared on American TV, and I became active when we started the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization in May 1977. I’ve written how furry fandom got started, or a key early event, was at the 1980 World Science Fiction Convention in Boston. I was more of a silent onlooker at that, but when the furry apa Rowrbrazzle was started in February 1984, I was a charter member.

5. Tell me a little about what you were like before you discovered organized fandom.

Before I discovered organized s-f fandom in 1960, while I was in college, I was a loner. I was obsessed with s-f ever since I was nine years old. During my teens I set a goal of reading every s-f book and magazine ever written, which was literally possible at the time. It wasn’t until the end of the 1950s that new s-f books and magazines started appearing faster and in greater quantity than anyone could read it all. Beginning in the 1950s many s-f paperbacks began appearing that were originals, not reprints of hardcover books; and since libraries wouldn’t take paperback books, I started a personal library of “the books that libraries won’t keep”. I must have had thousands of books by the time I had my stroke in 2005.

6. If we’ve done the math right, you began going to SF conventions when much of “First Fandom” still were major players.

Yes. I joined organized s-f fandom in 1960, and I attended most of the World S-F Conventions of the 1960s. Besides meeting many of the authors of the time, I met many of the members of First Fandom like Don Wollheim, Fred Pohl, Sam Moskowitz, Jack Speer, Dave Kyle, Bob Tucker, and so on. The first time I ever left the U.S. was to the 1970 Worldcon in Heidelburg,Germany, where I met many of the European fans.

7. You had a great view of the anime and “Big Foot” sub-fandom as they began to form. Where and when did you see the first panel tracks?

In anime fandom, I think the first anime panels at s-f conventions were just to make the hard-core fans like Mark Merlino and me happy during the early 1980s. We heard that East Coast fans like Brian Cirulnik and Michael Pinto from the New York City and Philadelphia area, from the C/FO New York chapter and the Star Blazers fan club, were doing the same thing at East Coast s-f conventions around 1981 and 1982. I remember when one s-f convention in Arizona called its anime video room “the Fred Patten conspiracy to get you to watch cartoons in a language you can’t understand”. The San Diego Comic-Con was friendly to making an anime video room available throughout the 1980s. I’m not sure when s-f conventions started regularly scheduling anime rooms because everyone expected them at a s-f convention, but I think it was around 1985 or 1986. I’m also not sure when s-f conventions started including anime-subject panels besides the video rooms, but I’d say also around 1985.

In furry fandom, my experience in California and the West Coast was that the only furry presence from about 1985 on was around Mark Merlino & Rod O’Riley and their Furry Party table and room parties. In 1989 Merlino & O’Riley started the first furry convention, the ConFurences. Midwest furry fan Robert C. King says that there was a strong furry presence at the DucKon s-f convention in Chicago for years until it grew so large that the DucKon organizers encouraged and helped their furry fans to start the Midwest FurFests.

8. What got you write your very first furry book, and did you have any problems finding a publisher to even look at it.

I had a lot of trouble. I grew up reading all the s-f books that I could find. These included anthologies of s-f short stories like The Year’s Best S-F Stories that editors would select from the monthly s-f magazines. Around the mid-1990s I became aware that several furry fanzines had started that had stories just as good, but because they weren’t known outside furry fandom, their stories weren’t being considered by the s-f anthologists. I assembled an anthology of good stories from the furry fanzines in 1995, took it to a s-f literary agent, Ashley Grayson, and he agreed that it was a good s-f/fantasy anthology. He tried for about two years to find a mainstream publisher that would buy it, including all the s-f specialty publishers like DAW Books and Baen Books, and he finally reported that nobody would publish it. It wasn’t until the first furry specialty publishers began in 1999 & 2000 that one of them agreed to publish it; Best in Show, which Sofawolf Press published in 2003. I think that most furry s-f & fantasy books are still mostly ignored outside of furry fandom.

9. You have worked with many furry publications over the years, how did you find them,or did they find you and where any of them successful?

I found them, in all cases. All the stories that I wanted to publish in anthologies were either reprints of s-f stories that I had read in s-f magazines and books over about fifty years, or once furry writers like Phil Geusz and Kyell Gold began to develop, new stories written especially for me. Once FurPlanet agreed to pay for stories for my books and to publish them, I’ve had almost no trouble. There have been less than a half-dozen stories from the s-f magazines that I could not get permission to reprint. Unfortunately, this includes what I think is one of the best furry stories ever written; “Jerry Was a Man” by Robert A. Heinlein in 1947.

10. Tell us about the Forry Ackerman and “Clifton’s Cafeteria Science Fiction Club,” Greyflank constantly refers to you, not only the Godfather of Furry Fandom but as Furry’s own version of Forry J Ackerman. Can you tell us abit about him and the work that led up to you getting the Forry Award in 2008?

I joined the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 1960, so I only met Forry Ackerman for about the last decade that he attended its meetings. We were meeting in various private homes and public meeting rooms like the Palms Park during that time. The LASFS didn’t buy its own clubhouse until 1973, by which time Forry had stopped attending meetings except for anniversaries and other special events. When I joined, I asked questions about the club’s past. The late 1930s meeting at Clifton’s Cafeteria were mentioned a few times, but most of the stories were about meetings at the Bixel Apartments during World War II and at the Prince Rupert Arms basement during the 1950s. One story that I was often told was that the Prince Rupert basement had several high windows that opened onto the street. During one meeting, a woman looked down into the basement and asked, “Who ARE you people?” Ray Bradbury jumped up and shouted, “We are SCIENCE-FICTION fans! And I am MOBY DICK!”

Forry Ackerman was mostly a Historical Figure when I knew him during the 1960s. He was “just a fan”, but he was the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, a professional magazine even if it was devoted to monster movies rather than s-f. He had been one of the first s-f literary agents with authors like Ray Bradbury, A. E. van Vogt, and L. Ron Hubbard among his clients. (One time I read a lot of LASFS meeting minutes from the 1940s. One meeting during the late 1940s was described as something like, “the meeting’s program was very interesting tonight, but I was told not to say what happened.” Someone else had added in pencil, “Hubbard hypnotizing people again.”) I was told by several people about the World Science Fiction Conventions from 1939 through the 1950s, and Forry Ackerman was always there.

The Forry Award is an annual LASFS award since 1966. It doesn’t have anything to do with Forry except being named after him. I got it in 2008 more for all that I had done over 48 years in s-f fandom than for being an author or editor. By 2008 I had written hundreds (probably over a thousand) s-f book reviews published in many fanzines, published a professional s-f literary review magazine, Delap’s F&SF Review, during 1975-1977, worked on many s-f convention committees, was a co-founder of anime fandom when most Japanese animation was s-f or fantasy, and edited one book, Best in Show. The 2006 World S-F Convention had given me a special Life Achievement Award for “a lifetime of service to the fandom”. It wasn’t until after 2010 that most of my books have been published.

11. When did you see people start creating Fursonas? Why did you choose an Eagle?

The furry fans in the 1980s didn’t have fursonas. I don’t think that even when fans started dressing in fursuits during the 1990s that they had regular fursonas; just names for their costumes, that often changed. Fursonas started during the 2000s.

I haven’t really adopted a bald eagle as my fursona. During the 1990s Jim Groat insisted that everyone HAD to have a fursona (he was a goat), and when I refused to pick one, he told everyone that my fursona was a bald eagle. A couple of cartoonists besides Groat drew me as one; Mitch Beiro is the only one I remember. Since then whenever anyone has insisted that I HAD to have a fursona, as Thurston Howl did for his Furries Among Us book, I said that they might as well use a bald eagle.

12. If we recall correctly, you where the first to create a Furry non-fiction book, an index to all Furry stories? AN ANTHROPOMORPHIC BIBLIOGRAPHY from YARF. Can you tell us a bit about that and what the fandom response to it was?

There had been several bibliographies of furry books or animal-related books in furry fandom before mine, but they were all online (and apt to be taken down without notice), they didn’t seem to know about each other, they were all missing titles (different titles in different bibliographies), and most of them included several animal books like Jack London’s The Call of the Wild and White Fang that aren’t about anthropomorphized animals. I decided to compile my own bibliography, and to put it into print so it wouldn’t “disappear”. Jeff Ferris agreed during 1994 to publish it as a Yarf! publication, and it came out in January 1995

During the next few years a lot more books with talking animals were published, and I discovered several more that I had missed earlier, so I compiled the 2nd and 3rd editions. I compiled a 4th edition to 2003, but Yarf! never published it; and Yarf! disappeared completely after 2003.

I never heard what the response to it was, except that Jeff said that it sold well and he was glad to publish the 2nd and 3rd editions. I met a couple of fans who said they had learned about some books that they hadn’t known about before.

13. Furry went thru a heavy period of Virtual Reality when that the home computer became ubiquitous. Did you ever get much into that, and if so, can you tell us about that?

No, I never got into video games or virtual reality worlds.

14. The biggest rift in the Furry community was probably the Burnt Furs conflict. Can you tell us a little about that from your point of view.

I was never involved in the Burnt Furs wars, either. I only read the reports about them in what you might call second-generation websites like Flayrah.

15. Furry remains very welcoming and open about sexual preferences and identity. As a West Coaster who was a young adult during the 60’s and 70’s, would you say you were more progressive on sexuality or do you feel that the less said the better.

As a s-f fan during the 1960s & 1970s, I barely noticed sex. I did notice that a lot of fans were marrying each other; John & Bjo Trimble, Len & June Moffatt, Bruce & Dian Pelz. (They later got amicably divorced and each married other s-f fans.) There were also well-known homosexual fans like Jerry Jacks, who died of AIDS. Gender or sex was never important in s-f fandom. It was more asexual than welcoming. As long as you were a s-f fan, your sexuality didn’t matter.

16. Where to you see the Furry Fandom headed.

Furry fandom is already a lot different than it was in the 1980s. There is much more emphasis on wearing fursuits, adopting fursonas, and embracing and publicly exhibiting a furry identity. There is also a furry literary community now, which is what I’m active in. A few furry fans who are publishers or fursuit makers or artists are able to make their living in furry fandom instead of it only being a hobby for them.

17. Tell me about what you’re currently working on.

I’ve just completed the anthology Gods with Fur for FurPlanet Productions, and I am working on another, The Dogs of War, to be published either for Midwest FurFest in December or for Further Confusion in January. I have a history of furry conventions, Furry Fandom Conventions, 1989-2015, in production at McFarland. I’m always reading furry books and reviewing most of them, currently for Dogpatch Press. Outside furry fandom, I have my weekly animation column.