Arik Grant even though they were not deeply involved in the fandom, they were there at ConFurence 1 which took place in 1990. I thought since many of my readers love the Dark Furry Past we get a first hand account of those times.
Furry Times: So when was your first encounter with furries face to face and what was it like?
Arik Grant: Through a friend. I was freshly out of the Army and relocated to a new city. I was raised in Boise, Idaho but went to live with a girlfriend in Costa Mesa, California. As I met new people and made new friends, one of them was a guy who was into “Furry Fandom”, which I’d never heard of before. He had gone to something called “ConFurEnce 0”, the sort of trial-run for the planned ConFurEnce, and came back with tales of all sorts of people that seemed to be doing things I liked or was interested in. I dabbled in cartoons a bit but nothing truly disciplined, little more than just organized doodles to pass the time. I was intrigued and started meeting more and more people. Since cartoons was a way I could interact favorably with folks in this new setting, I started doing sketches and drawings, and things radiated out from there.
In truth, I was primarily motivated by a desire to use my cartooning talent in a place where it was appreciated. While I enjoyed “funny animals”, it probably could have been anything. I loved being with like-minded creators.
FT: So where did your next venture in the furry fandom take you?
Arik Grant: Hard to quantify. As mentioned, it turned out a guy I knew was a furry and so I had been face to face with one for a few months. Like anyone he had his own ways of standing out, weirdness one could say, but no more than anyone else, given other perspectives. I met more and more furries through his network –friends and friends of friends– and found mostly a large group of people who were generally eccentric by most “ordinary” peoples’ definitions but eccentric in ways I liked and felt at home with. So to me, it wasn’t a bad or off-putting eccentricity. There was a sort of normalcy or at least comfortable familiarity.
Probably I went to a convention of some sort –a sci-fi or comic one– and like a lot of people found a sort of comfortable home with people I could relate to. Between 1988 and 1989 I had gone to some cons and furry parties and such but they were always attached to other events: a sci-fi con with a furry crowd along for the ride. A comics con with a furry crowd along for the ride. And so on. By the time ConFurEnce One rolled around in 1990 I was already steeped enough (and comfortable enough) to become a contributor. I put a comic in YARF! fanzine, and YARF! and ConFurEnce One both kicked off at the same time– so in my mind, the two are intertwined experiences.
I’d say ConFurEnce One was the first time I saw a whole furry-only convention scene in one setting, and a forum devoted solely to furry interests. I of course wasn’t the only one; a lot of people point to ConFurEnce as the first stand-alone major furry convention that they experienced. We were all on the ground floor, taking the elevator to the top of something new. It was weird and overwhelming in a good way.
Back then it was all comics and comic art creators. A lot of people did pin-ups and comics but there wasn’t much of a place to put them. There was Vootie and Rowrbrazzle and such but there was no common ground to share them all. ConFurEnce changed that, and YARF! happened to be the ‘zine at the time it all came together. The fact it was a bit more accessible to general audiences (and not hard R or X rated) meant it gained traction easier. Fursuiting pretty much didn’t exist, the “Bambioid” came later and then by the time I left in the 1996-97 era there were maybe a dozen or so. Now it is a major part of the fandom (if not the most prominent imprint in the larger cultural zeitgeist) which is a surprising thing to see.
FT: I have a small collection of Furry fanzines, and truly love the works from those days. I wish they were easier to find. But I have often wondered what was it like to be apart of up to now. I know it maybe hard to believe they have become highly collectable. From roughly $7 on Furbid when they were still around to $70+ on eBay.
Just asking you have any of the issues I really would love to see them.
Unless you had further adventures into the furry realm this might be it.
One question since you were at the very start. What is the biggest changes in the fandom you have witnessed?
Arik Grant: Well, I stayed in my circle of influence as a comic creator, but tried to expand it. Remember, at the time, fursuiting was rare and super expensive; animation was even more rare and more expensive. If you wanted to be anyone, you were an original comic creator. That was something I played well into, so I tried to do spin off series into Huzzah, Mythagoras, and Rowrbrazzle. Ben Dunn of Antarctic Press (at one point) approached me to be in Furrlough, and I was in the launch issue, but after that he handed editorial control to Shon Howell, who had different editorial priorities (he wanted all furries; no humans and aliens, both of which were well established in my series at the time).
Over time I wrapped up my story in YARF! and was tired and eager to get on with other things, so by 1996-97 I was pretty much out. I had been an original comic creator at the fanzine level at least, and established a reputation I felt was pretty good: lots of material, good quality, and reliable. But I never really got out of that into other ventures in furrydom. But then, I was right where I wanted to be and didn’t really desire to pursue outside of that.
I left the fandom in 1996-97. My story wrapped up in YARF! and I fiddled with some spin-off ideas but in the long run I just got distracted. In 1998 I started college and in 1999 I decided to do a year abroad at Ben-Gurion UNiversity in Beer-Sheva, Israel. I met a girlfriend there and stayed with her; I ended up living in Israel from 1998 to 2002. I came home in 2002 and finished my last year of college and got a BA in History, then promptly got mobilized to go to Iraq as an Army Reserve Combat Engineer, from 2004 to 2005.. I started doing cartoons again for the people I was deployed with as a sort of way to cope with the stress.
Here’s a Defense Department video that featured me on Armed Forces Network: https://www.dvidshub.net/video/78899/bohica-blues
–and a Stars & Stripes article: https://www.stripes.com/news/reservist-s-cartoons-detail-burdens-of-desert-deployment-1.22605
In that time from 1997 until 2004 I really did no comics at all and kinda “lost my touch”, and had to relearn my cartoonist’s hand. I began to chronicle my Iraq adventures in humorous form.
Sorry; I seem to have gone down a rabbit hole!
Anyhow, what has changed?
A lot! First of all is the cosmetic appearance. A lot of fursuiting, which (when I left) was rare enough to be counted on one hand. As mentioned, I remember when “the Bambioid” was all there was. The Bambioid was brought into conventions and paraded around as a sort of pinnacle of fan achievement; by the time I was on my way out in 1996 there were maybe a dozen fursuiters. Now it seems to be the face of furry conventions but that might just be because it is so visually obvious (and the CSI episode).
Back in the day there were a lot of political divisions, primarily between the “porn” and “anti-porn” camps. These seem to have solidified into “left” vs. “right” camps. From my perspective it seems that “politics” is less of a thing now, but I know from watching YouTube videos that politics is seen as a major, bad thing. Mostly between “regular” furries and “alt-right” furries. From my old eyes it seems that there is less ambiguity and more clarity, which to me seems like an improvement… but at the same time, I can also see how the divides seem sharper, seeper, and more pronounced. So others might say it is worse.
Like a lot of things, these are all tempered by perspective and time.
Future Projects for Arik Grant
n a year or so I hope to re-release the “Empires: the Ace of Spades” story as it appeared in YARF!, with new color cover artwork and some editorial commentary pages added at the back, adding what the comic means to me after 30 years, and eventually the Empires universe will be rebooted and relaunched entirely with all new stories and characters… possibly on Webtoons, maybe somewhere like Tapas. I may do some YouTube videos of my art and other stuff as well.