Monday, 6 December 2010

Melbourne Anthropomorphic

Melbourne, Australia is famous for its busy events calendar, a never-ending annual succession of events that range from the big (the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, for example) to the boutique (such as the Scarf Festival - no, really).

One of its least-known annual events, and one of its most intriguing, is Midfur. Taking place each December, it’s Australia’s premier “furry” convention.

And before you let your imagination run away with you, let me explain - “furries” are fans of anthropomorphic art.

Anthro-what? It’s art which mixes human personalities and animal forms - the most famous of which would be animated characters such as Donald Duck or Bugs Bunny. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also fit the mould, as does the rabbit samurai comic book character Usagi Yojimbo.

It’s a popular form, but its fandom has a lower profile. At an event like Midfur, attendees meet other fans, buy comic books starring animal-based characters, attend panels that relate to their interests, and meet special guests. And some of them wear fursuits, amazing human-sized costumes that resemble an animal in humanoid form (more of these later).

Last Saturday I spent the day at Midfur. I’ve been to the odd science fiction convention in my time, and on the surface this event was similar, with panels taking place in various function rooms, and a dealers’ area selling a range of merchandise.

What made it different from SF events was also what made it most interesting. For a start, the crowd was younger than that at the average science fiction convention, and it was notably friendly and mellow.

The most interesting panel I attended was presented by a University of Melbourne lecturer. He took the ‘heroes and villains’ theme of the convention and applied it to the animal world, discussing parasites such as cuckoos, and the fascinating cooperation of the honey-guide bird and the badger-like ratel.

I was also fascinated by the fursuits. Some of these were extraordinary creations; one guy I spoke to was wearing a fox costume whose mouth moved when he spoke, and whose vulpine eyes hid minute indentations that allowed his human eyes to see through them. There was a photo call of costumes in the afternoon, and they were a remarkable collection when seen en masse.

It was interesting to note the variation in colours in these suits. Some were modelled on realistic hues, such as a fox fursuit I encountered with a convincing russet tone. Others drew on animated characters, choosing bright reds or blues. I even saw one who was a super-hero animal, neatly combining two great comic book traditions.

Kermit the frog famously said it wasn’t easy being green, and it probably isn’t easy being furry either, with all the potential for misunderstanding and ridicule by the wider world. But if you’re in Melbourne one December, and you’re a fan of anthropomorphic art, you could do worse than don a pair of rabbit ears and join the menagerie.

Midfur happens each December in Melbourne, Australia. For more details, visit www.midfur.com.au.