Approaching the Westin from William Penn Pl., Downtown Pittsburgh. 2013.
- What: AnthroCon
- Where: Pittsburgh PA
- When: July 5th-7th 2013
Those of you who have followed this blog long enough may remember my report last year of AnthroCon 2012, and if you are new you may refer to that post if you ever become confused. However, if you are familiar with fantasy and science fiction cons, what comes next should not be at all surprising.
AnthroCon is a furry convention—loosely, a term applied to fans of anthropomorphic animals as they appear in fantasy, science fiction, comics and cartoons—held every summer in downtown Pittsburgh, PA. This year marked my fifth in attendance and my fourth as a Dealer.
At furry conventions the dealer’s hall is affectionately known as the Dealer’s Den, but since AnthroCon has expanded to take up more and more of the David L Lawrence Convention Center (DLLCC) it has become closer to a Dealer’s Cavern. It is a huge hall with a high arching ceiling held up with cables. Natural light filters down to the smooth concrete floor, which during AnthroCon is covered by tables under white cloths. Further to one side is a closed-off area for the Artist’s Alley (where artists may sell art through the convention, thus avoiding having to collect and remit PA sales tax themselves) and the Art Show. For three days over the weekend it serves to house hundreds of dealerships and dozens of artists.
As a dealer, AnthroCon represents a huge investment of time and energy for me. The first six months of the year are dominated by AnthroCon prep, and the final weeks are downright hectic. This year was made even more frantic because of Year of the God-Fox‘s launching the week before. When it came time to pack everything into my suitcase there were a few bad moments where I worried things wouldn’t fit. But they did, and when I arrived in Pittsburgh early on Wednesday morning I came hauling a suitcase packed with art and art-making tools.
Wednesday, July 3
Tyrannosaurus skeleton pointing the way to Baggage Claim at Pittsburgh Intl. Airport. It has gotten to the point that I can navigate it with hardly any help from the signs.
Even though AnthroCon technically runs Friday to Sunday, people begin showing up a few days early. I arrived Wednesday morning, as did my friend 2 the Ranting Gryphon, while my roommates slowly turned up over the course of the day.
However, in the early hours I was left to my own devices, and so I did what I always do when I am bored at a convention: I volunteered.
AnthroCon has an attendance of over four thousand, and this year we were expected to break five grand—which we did. When I volunteered I was put to work stuffing bags with a dozen or so others. We worked as an assembly line, passing the red plastic bags stamped with AnthroCon’s paw-print logo from person to person, each one stuffing an item of swag into it, while staff members walked around refilling our supplies. It felt like a never-ending task, but after a while the lead staffer made us stop and come over to another table, where we found this laid out for us:
Volunteers are not paid. Except in sugar.
After cake we went back to work. I eventually ducked out with a friend, ostensibly to go find food, but I believe we just went back to our room and napped.
Wednesday night our other roommates finally arrived. They had driven up from North Carolina and had suffered a major setback early in their trip that involved a tow-truck. A back-up car had to be acquired, and they didn’t arrive at the hotel until after 10 PM.
Which was okay, because many of the best parties at AnthoCon happen after 9. We went rambling out to the curb and hung out with a crowd outside a local pub, where we were joined by more friends.
This is me (left) with Dafydd, and my friend Susan. We both have mohawks!
I met Susan online in 2003 when I joined my first ever internet forum. We kept in contact off and on for years, rediscovering each other first on deviantART, and then on FurAffinity. In 2009, the year of my first AnthroCon, we both attended but never met in person due to bad communication. We later discovered that we had actually gone to many of the same panels, and I had even taken a picture of Susan in the fursuit parade without knowing it. We resolved to do better in subsequent years, and we have. However, since I am often stuck behind my dealer’s table and Susan is busy suiting, we haven’t had a good chance to really hang out until this year.
From left: my roommate Ryuu, Susan, a nice German lady named Onai, and fellow-artist Nyomi.
Nyomi is an artist I met online, and who was an absolute delight to get to know in person. Ryuu was one of my first friends from AnthroCon 2009, and as he is moving to Australia later this year this will be his last AC for a while. He was also kind enough to help me out with my table this year, for which I am eternally grateful.
Thursday, July 4
Ryuu and I consolidated our dragon paraphernalia to create the Dragon Bed.
Since so much of my weekend is taken up with work, Thursday is my best chance to mingle and visit with people. After a delicious breakfast of instant oatmeal brewed in the hotel’s coffee maker we ventured out onto the streets of Pittsburgh. Even though Pittsburgh in summer is warm and humid, the convention space is kept at a temperature meant to cater to people wearing thick, heavy costumes, and so leggings and long-sleeve shirts are a good idea. I might have looked a little foolish when I went outside, but I was glad of the covering later.
I tried a new style for this year. My mother says I look like some sort of superhero robocop. But of course she would say that. She is a Wonderful Mother.
There is no programming Thursday morning since the con is not technically open. This does not mean there is nothing to do: every year AnthroCon rents out the Westin’s largest ballroom and turns it into the Zoo. This basically becomes social central, where people can go to eat, draw, play, and generally hang out. At full swing it is a roaring cave filled with people, but on Thursday morning it was still fairly quiet. Even so I still got to see some interesting characters:
Dafydd with Aizui, a glowy-eyed green tanuki-ish thing. This is fairly normal for AnthroCon.
I also got to meet Kittiara, an extremely talented artist who does cool, Byzantine-style portraits of people’s characters. Susan, Nyomi and myself each commissioned one this year, and we had a great time comparing our new portraits. Mine is shown below, while the entire batch (including Susan and Nyomi’s) can be found here.
Byzantine Badge of Agent Elrond (w/ bonus Dafydd) by Kittiara.
Then around mid-morning Sardyuon wandered in. Sardyuon is a Japanese acrobat/juggler who performs near-Cirque du Soleil-level manipulation and hand balancing in fursuit. He was a guest of honor last year and was invited back by popular demand—for which I was glad, since I was unable to see his performance then. By the grace of Ryuu I was able to make it to his exhibition on Friday night, for which there are no words. But here is a YouTube video from a part of his Sunday performance to give you an idea of what he does:
Needless to say I had to run over and get a picture. Sardyuon does not speak any English, and my Japanese is extremely limited, but with the help of his translator I think I was able to communicate how excited I was.
Myself, Dafydd, and Sardyuon in his casual suit.
Sardyuon also, I later found out, created the artwork for the AnthroCon badges.
My AnthroCon badge, art by Sardyuon, with all the ribbons I had collected by the end of the con.
When not fangirling fursuiters I set up with some friends at a table and doodled in sketchbooks until Susan showed up in her suit.
Mingchun the Sundragon, as performed by Susan.
The Sundragon is a suit crafted by Qarrezel and her team at Clockwork Creature which Susan has been performing in since about 2010. I have long been a fan of “Q-suits” as they are called. The fine craftsmanship aside, I love their design aesthetic, and the way they appear to be real, thinking creatures rather than a frozen-grin mask.
Q-heads have remarkably good visibility for a fursuit, but drawing can still be difficult.
So when Susan took off the head I asked if I could try it on. She most generously said yes and what followed became known as the brief appearance of the Dark!Sundragon, who went trolling around the Zoo surprising people and messing with them. I was amazed at how attracted people were to the character, and didn’t seem to realize it was the same person inside who had been sitting only tables away for the past two hours. I could barely get two feet without being accosted for a picture, and I have to say I quite enjoyed the experience.
Dark!Sundragon with a rather surprised Dafydd.
Q-Suits usually run into the thousands of dollars, due to the fact that they are unique and hand-made. It is my dream some day of commissioning a partial version of my Elrond character, but until then I shall have to satisfy myself with borrowing bits off my generous friends.
Thursday afternoon consisted mostly of setting up in the Dealer’s Carvern, after which I was called away to dinner with friends. Myself and a few hundred others attempted to watch the 4th of July fireworks from the roof of the convention center, but were forced to vacate when mother nature rolled in her own fireworks in the form of a thunderstorm. After the rain cleared I took my annual walk down the fountain path which runs beneath the DLLCC. This year they added colored lights, which made the place look particularly wondrous.
The “fountain path” beneath the DLLCC. It leads to a dock on the Allegheny River.
Friday, July 5th
My dealer’s table as it appeared on Sunday. It was the first chance I got to actually take a picture.
Friday morning was a cramped thing. I had to shower, breakfast, and get my art hung in the Art Show all before noon. This may not sound like a hard thing to do, but when you have stayed up past midnight the night before it can really eat into your morning. Also, to make things interesting for us dealers, members who had bought a Sponsor or Supersponsor membership were allowed into the Cavern fifteen minutes early. I did not find this out until it was 11:45 and they opened the doors while I was still getting signed in to the art show. Fortunately I had signed Ryuu up as my assistant, and he was able to open shop in my place while I hurried from the corner of Hall B (where the Art Show was) back to my table (which was conveniently located as far as was physically possible from the Art Show).
Fridays at AnthroCon are always busy, as people hurry to grab commission slots from their favorite artists. I had never really noticed this before, until this year when several people decided I was one of their favorite artists. It would be the start of a very busy weekend.
Dealers do not get a lunch break. We are obliged to bring a lunch to our table or rely on the generosity of fursuiters who lend us their fake bacon plushies.
For a dealer, busy means good. Despite the fact that I received very few pre-AC orders, once AC was actually happening they came thick and fast. I became quite good at navigating the route between my table and Lizard Laminations, who did a great job laminating all the at-the-con badges I made.
A “Standard Badge” for a young man who goes by Glelin in the fandom. It was his first con badge and the first commissioned rendition of his character. I tried to do him right.
Badges are unique pieces of art furries use to identify each other at cons (sort of like real-life avatars), and they are frequently laminated to protect them from food and drink or being bent, crumpled, or crushed. Lizard Lamination uses super-thick laminate, much better than the stuff you get at FedEx/Kinkos, which can actually take the abuse a working badge will be put through. For this reason I only offer laminations on my badges if I’m going to a con where Lizard will be operating.
AnthroCon is interesting in that it is primarily a fandom-con. People go who are fans of anthropomorphic animals, fantasy and science fiction. You do get professionals like Ursula Vernon, Peter S. Beagle, Stan Sakai and others (guests of honor this year were Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon), but for the most part everyone who is there is there to 1: have fun and 2: have more fun. It does not have the commercialized feel of ComicCon or the “I must make contacts!” undertone of World Fantasy. Nevertheless I seem to make more contacts at AnthroCon than any other con. I makes me think the best way to make contacts “in the biz” is to just put yourself out there and do your own thing as best you can—and the people who want to work with you will come and find you.
After a whirlwind day at my table I stuffed some pizza (courtesy of Ryuu) into my face and ran off to catch Sardyuon’s show. Afterwards he came and sat by the edge of the stage and signed cards, con badges, and anything else that was handed to him. In the crush by the stage I glanced over and saw Larry Dixon, whom I’d met briefly at WFC last November, and I said hello to him.
Larry Dixon is quite a character. In the somewhat stiff and professional atmosphere of WFC he was like a breath of fresh air. He seemed perfectly at home at a fur con.
Mr Dixon, usurping the Chairman’s Throne, flanked by the two Logistics Crew leads.
Directly after Sardyuon, was one of the main attractions at AC: 2 the Ranting Gryphon’s perennial comedy show. This usually causes a line to form outside the doors to the (monstrous) Spirit of Pittsburgh Ballroom that stretches the length of the convention center, and so I was eager to go get in line. I was prevented, however, by 2 himself. He came in just as I was leaving, and I ended up sitting with his friend DJ Ear while he entertained some other early birds who had managed to sneak in.
2, with his iconic shaved head, is a true furry celebrity.
2 is a consumate performer and a dear, sweet man who makes truly horrible things somehow funny. This year he told a dramatized version of the time his apartment was raided by the FBI and made it sound hilarious. I don’t know how he did it. This is why he is the professional comic, and I am not. Anyone interested in his work can check out his official website.
Afterwards I wandered over to the artist and dealer’s reception, which is basically a meet-and-greet for dealers and artists since the latter especially don’t have much time to socialize. After that I went back up to my room and worked until 1 AM getting badges done. And then it was…
Saturday, July 6th
Saturdays are interesting. The Dealer’s Cavern is open the longest (from 10 to 6) but often business is the slowest. 2 and I share a hypothesis that this is because Saturday is when people look in their pockets and realize some of that money must go toward food and travel, and so most of the shoppers who come through the hall on Saturdays are of the window variety. Even so I still managed to make sales, and the slower business allowed me to get work done on my commissions from the day before.
Since 2010 I have occupied the table space adjacent to 2. I do this partly because he is my friend and I enjoy spending time with him, but also because he attracts the most interesting people.
My friend Zylana (in back) and the fursuit performer Telephone at 2’s dealer table.
Telephone is a fursuit character performer. She is a terrific dancer and this is what she sounds like in person.
Saturday was also the day I met Shi. What happened was this:
Wandering the den before opening (which is the only time I get to wander) I came back the table directly behind mine and saw perched there three incredibly cute hand-made sloth dolls. I particularly liked the black one, but the dealer was not there at the time. A few hours later, when she eventually showed up, I asked how much the sloths were. I then died a little inside and went back to my table.
A few hours after that I looked around and saw that several of the sloth dolls had been purchased. Furthermore, the black one (my sloth) was currently being ogled at by a couple of girls. I found that my dead bits inside were now reanimating themselves as angry zombies. Clearly something had to be done.
As soon as I saw black sloth was back on the stand I ran over, whipped out my card, and bought it.
And that was how I acquired the newest member of my family: Shi the Death Sloth.
Shi being held by her maker, Nevask of Icy Paw Studios.
Shi was originally a him and named Ryuk after the death god from the manga Death Note. However, after due thought I decided he was actually a she and named her Shi, which is Japanese for “death.” Nevask agreed this was a suitable new identity.
Shi and Sally (last year’s addition) quickly became friends.
On Saturday (thanks to Ryuu) I was able to briefly escape my table and go see Matthew Ebel’s show. Matt is a madly talented performer, singer and songwriter, and this year he was encouraging people to dance along. After a day and a half of sitting at a table this was a pleasant change.
Dafydd insisted on coming. He is adamant about keeping me as his Assistance Human. I say to him, do you see me making twitter accounts for Sally and Shi? Of course not! (Yet.)
After that came what felt like a waterfall of events. I went back to my table to relieve Ryuu, did a couple of badges, packed up, and then ran (literally) up to the fourth floor to catch the last half hour of Whose Lion is it Anyway?
Whose Lion, as it is known in the fandom, is a furry version of the popular TV show hosted by Drew Carey. In the past it has been run by a pair known as Alkali and Sema, who are active improv folk. It has been my favorite panel every time they host it and was the place where Ryuu and I first met. (I did three musical references in a row, he was the only one who got them, we went for drinks, the rest is history.)
This year however there was a bit of a kerfuffle, and the panel was set to be hosted by someone else. Then there was a further kerfuffle, and the panel was re-scheduled to Saturday afternoon with Alkali hosting (Sema not being in attendance). I knew I had to go, even if it meant sacrificing any chance of getting a decent seat for Kage’s Story Hour (which started the moment Whose Lion let out).
I ran out of the Dealer’s Cavern, up the escalators, across the sky bridge, up more escalators and then into a theatre-style room filled with chaos.
As it turned out, I had entered, with perfect comedic timing, a lightning round of Scenes From a Hat. People kept coming up to me for the rest of the con complimenting me on my performance, when all I had done was walk in at the right moment and act surprised.
The highlight, however, was getting to play Film Noir with a truly anonymous fur (seriously, his badge was blank). Film Noir is a fairly advanced improv game with more complicated rules. I am not a very good improv actor, but I wanted to play and I’d missed most of the panel. Alkali called me up, probably because I’d only just walked in and was very enthusiastically waving my hand, and we proceeded to do a very bizarre scene involved cheerleaders and broken escalators (which eventually became covered in fish). People laughed, though, which was what mattered.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Kage’s Story Hour, performed by the chairman of AnthroCon, Dr. Samuel Conway, is always a treat. I worried that I would not get a good seat, but a funny thing happened: even though I was one of the last people into the room, because I was on my own I could walk to the front middle section and pick one of the single seats that had been left open by the audience’s dislike of sitting near strangers. I squeezed in between a large man with a leopard tail and a tall middle-aged man with a prominent adam’s apple and found myself close to front and very nearly center.
Something a little different this year were the ASL translators for 2 and Kage’s performances. Watching them try to keep up with the fast-talking performers (not to mention keep a straight face) was entertainment in its own right.
Against all good sense I spent Saturday night hanging out with friends, first in Con Ops (much to the chagrin of the staff there), and later in a very crowded suite at the Double Tree. It was a rather unique experience for me, sitting in a crowded room filled with conversation and just getting to be. I didn’t feel like I had to engage anyone—I already knew most of the people there—and I was able to sit and enjoy listening in on snatches of speech while eating M&Ms.
Dafydd prefers candy to booze. He is a responsible dragon.
After the party got too loud I wandered back to my hotel. I have been warned about walking in that area of Pittsburgh after dark, but that night all I saw were gaggles of happy, marginally drunk furries. Perhaps it is a dangerous place to walk alone in the middle of the night, but not during AnthroCon.
The intersection of William Penn Pl and Liberty Ave, midnight on Saturday.
Once back up in my room I worked until 2:30 on badges, and then passed out.
Sunday, July 7th
Self portrait of Sunday’s outfit, tea in hand.
Sunday is a bittersweet day. On the one hand, if I’ve made it to Sunday I am fairly certain I will survive, but on the other I am sad the con is coming to an end.
This Sunday, however, I was actually a little glad. Three nights of less-than-optimal sleep was taking its toll, and my body was beginning to protest. I sat down and worked straight through, churning out the last of the badges. The final one was a standard I made for a young man going by the name of Kizzneth. He had placed the order Friday morning and came by on Sunday just as I was starting to color it. Since Ryuu was absent I had him come sit behind my table and watch me work. That was fun; I like having the commissioner on hand to bounce ideas off of. It was also fun listening to his reactions as the drawing slowly took on life.
Then it was a whirlwind of packing (Ryuu swooped in and picked up my stuff from the art show, bless him) and another dash to get into the Charity Show. This is a double act that 2 and Kage do every year to benefit the con’s charity, which this year was an equine rescue service.
Then something marvelous happened. I managed to organize seven of my friends and we all went out to dinner together.
Anyone who has tried to organize a meal at a con knows how rare this is. We dubbed it DinnerCon, and it was the perfect capper to the weekend.
Susan, Nyomi and Ryuu on the way to DinnerCon, which was held at a little Indian place on 6th, one of the few restaraunts open Sunday evening.
Monday, July 8th
And then it was Monday. I saw my roommates off one by one, stuffed everything back into my suitcase, and checked out.
Then I went and found Nyomi and Susan sitting in the Westin’s coffee shop, and we had LobbyCon for three hours until they had to get on a bus. Susan is from the Netherlands and wants us to come to Eurofurence—held in Germany—next year. Nyomi, who is rather like me and lives in an isolated community for the rest of the year, wanted to try to go to more cons a bit closer to home. For this reason we are now planning on attending Midwest Furfest in Chicago this November.
Dafydd meets Susan’s new friend.
After walking them to the bus stop I had one last lunch at Fernando’s (which had been my go-to place all weekend), bade a tearful good-bye to the staff, and then headed for my hotel to meet the shuttle.
But was that the end? Of course not! AnthroCon is so huge you will still run into furs clogging up Pittsburgh’s airport on Monday afternoon. So I had AirportCon with a couple of fursuiters (out of suit) at my gate until my flight left. This was very nearly a disaster since I get terribly airsick unless I am heavily medicated. As I had learned to my distress on my outbound flight, Dramamine does not work. I know that Scopolamine does, but that is rather hard to get a hold of in the US. Thankfully my aunt came to my rescue and told me to try Bonine, which she used when she suffered from vertigo. After phone hunting on her part I was able to locate some in a RiteAid within the airport, and to my intense relief it worked like a charm.
I am relating this on the off chance that there are other Dramamine-resistant people among my audience. Do try Bonine (active ingredient Meclizine Hydrochloride). It works on different channels than Dramamine, lasts longer, and does not make you as drowsy.
Passing by the T-rex skeleton again, now heading home.
All told this was a very good AnthroCon. Even though I didn’t sell much in the art show, the proceeds from my table more than made up for that. Based on a casual elevator conversation with Ursula Vernon this appears to have been the case for most exhibitors.
Next up for me is the aforementioned Midwest Furfest, but before that I have a lot of work to do for Heliopause Productions—not to mention personal commissions and the continued release of Year of the God-Fox. Busy busy busy artist/writer will be busy busy.
And of course it’s never too soon to begin preparing for next year…
Shi, Dafydd and Sally say I should get back to work.
Goldeen Ogawa has been active in the furry fandom since 2008, where she is better known by her furry handle, Agent Elrond. Her fursona is a chimera, and she keeps an active art blog on her FurAffinity page. If you have any specific questions about furries or the furry fandom, you can send Goldeen an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or peck at her on Twitter @GrimbyTweets.