by Michæl W. Bard
©2007 Michæl W. Bard
Last year (2006) Id planned on going to Midwest FurFest (MFF). For various reasons, it didnt work out. This year was different. This year the planned trip was successful! However, it was not entirely pleasant.
Let me get the bad things out of the way first: The pre-registration at MFF well, it ran smoothly if you simply wanted to pay your money and get your badge. For anything elsefor instance, if you wanted to actually run anything, or if you just wanted to know what was going onit was horribly organized.
Being young (in furrydom) and naive in the ways of cons, I let myself get conned into offering three panels or SIGs (Special Interest Groups). For those who werent already aware, an SIG is a meeting, hosted by one or more individuals, about a topic of interest to furrydom and furries. These topics can range from things to watch for if this is your first con, to discussions with like-minded furries about a shared interest in a specific creature, to fursuit construction and performance, to writing and poetry.
Anyway, in my case I offered to run three panels: One on fursuitingmore specifically, on constructing digitigrade hoof appliancesand the second and third, on writing (details and getting published). To say I was unimpressed with the organization and response would be an understatement. Yes, the organizers are busy people, but
As I said, I applied to run three panels. The organizer of the fursuit panel sent a reply late in September that it was a great idea to run something on hoofers, and hed see about getting me set up. After that silence. No refusal, no confirmation, no check to see if I was still interested, nothing. Im guessing there wasnt room, or I wasnt well enough known, or it was too late. Fine. These things happen. But is it too much to ask to be told?
The two writing panels went much the same way. I e-mailed my offer in Augustand I didnt get a peep of acknowledgement in any way until the middle of September. Then I got a couple of e-mails asking me if I was still interested, and for details of what I had in mind. I passed the details on within a week, after which it wasnt until the end of October that there was any kind of schedule. I actually have reason to believe that a close friend, a well-known writer in furrydom, reminded the organizer of the writing track about me otherwise its possible I would never have gotten any kind of response. I admit that I have no proof of that, but Id put money on it.
And the weirdness just went on! I got a preliminary schedule to look over; everything fine. There were a couple of conflicts with other things I was interested in doing, but things sometimes happen that way. So, I said it was fine. About three days later, they publicly posted the final version of the electronic schedule. In the preliminary version, both of my panels were being held in roomsbut the final schedule claimed one panel was being held in the North Parking Lot.
No, this is not a joke.
Now, I know errors can happen. But didnt somebody proofread the thing and wonder why an artistic track panel (writing/drawing) was being held outside? In Chicago? In the middle of November!? Granted, there were apologies and a quick fix when I pointed it out. Even so
But wait, theres more!
On the MFF website, they asked for submissions for the MFF conbook, both art and writing. Now, thinking of myself as a not-horrific writer, I wrote and submitted a quickie. I didnt expect much, but what the hey?
I was never told whether they got it. I was never given any kind of rejection, acknowledgement, or even communication. And I know Im not the only one in this boat. I didnt know if theyd accepted it until I got the physical con book at the con. Is it too much to ask for an acknowledgement? That can even be automated! And is it too much to ask for a yea or nay e-mail?
Anyway. Thankfully, my pre-registration was received fine, and I got mailed confirmation reasonably quickly. But as for the rest
One last bad thing, and this may not be the fault of the con itself. Id heard that the hotel restaurant was grossly overpriced and not very good, quality-wise. Fine. Hotel restaurants generally are grossly overpriced. But I also heard that the breakfast wasnt bad. So on the first day, I went for breakfast at the restaurantJesus! $16 for an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet from which you could choose between overdone bacon, toast you had to toast yourself, edible sausages that tasted odd, and a range of semi-identifiable fruitsgah! The worst breakfast Ive ever had! But, as I said, not directly the cons fault.
The good news is that once I was actually at the convention, I had the time of my life!
Registration pickup was fineespecially given that I arrived late due to traffic problems inside Chicago proper. Officially, the registration desk was closed; in practice, I still snuck in and got my stuff.
The writing panels I went to (most of them) were largely stuff I knew. The one by the Writer Guest of Honor was pretty well nothing but a bad paraphrase with too much information in too little time of a wondrous book on Character by Orson Scott Card. The room for it was packed. I went to two others run by one Phil G.some information, but for me, not very much. Both also pretty packed.
As to the two I ran, other than not noticing the available water until the very end of the first one, they went fine. Very small attendance, but then Im largely a nobody within furrydom. One has to start somewhere. At least those who attended were interested and appreciative.
I wanted to go to two fursuit panels, but could only get to one because I slept in. Of course, from what Ive heard, the one I missed was the far more interesting one, but thats my fault. The one I got to was on performance in a fursuit. Sadly, almost all of that information was items I already knew. Things like hydration in fursuit, danger signs, etc. As I intentionally designed my fursuit head in the use your own eyes style, the notes on limited vision, and ways to get around it and ways to live with it, were interesting. Largely because I had never realized it.
What everybody should know, and the most important lesson, was that your basic fursuiter has two cones of vision that go from his/her sight points (usually the eyes) roughly straight ahead. These cones are very narrow. Outside of those cones, anybody and anything is invisibleand likely inaudible as well, given that the ears are often wholly enclosed in the suits head. What this means is that if youre beside a suiter, or even beside and slightly ahead, it is virtually certain that he or she is completely unaware of your presence. Think about that, and keep it in mind.
Of course, in terms of organization, the panel on performing inside a fursuit was on the last day. I have no idea whose bright idea that was, but I suspect its back to the organization.
The rest of my time at the con was divided between two activities: Meeting People (whom I knew from online, or saw very rarelymost just at the writers gathering Id hosted in July last summer), and Playing Around With Fursuiting. Meeting friends is always great. And fursuiting, well, to me its magic. Of course, your mileage may vary.
The most important recommendation I can give anybody going to a furry con is to make sure people you know and want to meet are there! The sad fact is that most furries are very insular. Sure, there is a lot of silliness at a con, but people tend to stay with their friends. It is extremely hard for a stranger to meet furries this way. Its too crowded, too much is going on, and too many people are desperately trying to meet their rarely-seen friends to really have time to make new ones.
As an example, though I was asked questions in the writing panels I ran, nobody talked to me afterwards, nobody tried to arrange an online meeting to exchange and editing writing, or to ask further questions. And, it was largely the same with the other panels I went to. Now, I do know of one case where a person met at a panel joined a writers mailing list. I dont know the details, but it can happen. But its rare. What it really boils down to, though, is to lay the groundwork in advance of the con; get onto various IRC channels, and interact with people online. Once you know them, then plan to meet them at the con. Just dont start with the con.
Now, as to fursuiting
There was a lot of it at MFF. Almost too much of it. Out of a total attendance of ~1600, there were almost 300 fursuits in the parade. In other words, roughly twenty percent of the attendees had fursuits! Its an entirely different world. At local meets, gatherings, you see one or two; at MFF you sometimes couldnt move because of all the fursuiters!
Its mind boggling!
And for me, its great fun.
If you are interested in suiting, my best recommendation is to first try and meet other suiters online. Arrange to meet at a con. Mention that youd like to try something out first, if at all possible. Or at least, just observe and ask questions. Not right away of coursewhen you ask depends a lot on the relationship.
In my case I really wish Id been able to try one out; I would have gone straight for a full suit. But that wasnt possible. All I could do was ask questions online. They helped, but didnt come anywhere close to preparing me for the reality of suiting, or the reality of suiting at a con.
In terms of being in a fursuit: Dont be shy. Shy fursuits dont get pictures, or get very few. Have fun, wave, interact. Just be aware of your surroundingsgenerally youll almost be blind so be paranoid. And, as mentioned, be aware of that limitation if youre just observing.
I guess thats about it. Like I said, Im hooked. I cant do it too oftenI was getting burned out by Sundaybut I will go to more furcons. So, to conclude, below is my advice to potential attendees: