Furry invasion closes in on Pittsburgh
This weekend’s forecast in Pittsburgh: Partly cloudy with a chance of furries.
Yes, it’s furry season again.
The Anthrocon Convention — a gathering of adults dressed up as animals — invades Pittsburgh from Friday through Sunday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
Many will arrive Thursday.
Vendors will be selling everything from tails and heads to the entire animal suit, said Joe Strike, a veteran furry who wrote a book about the phenomenon. The furries have visited Pittsburgh annually since 2006.
Strike will be in Pittsburgh for the convention dressed as “Komos,” an urbane Komodo dragon. He said the sinister appearance of the character in no way represents his personality.
“I am a friendly and easygoing person,” Strike said. “It is fun to adopt the animal’s personality and leave your own body for a while. It is very liberating and a blast. It is a form of acting, a kind of performance. When do you get to be somebody else and act like a different person?”
Strike, who is considered by fellow furries a “gray muzzle” since he is over 30, said an estimated 9,000-plus “animals” and their human friends will be in town, many participating in the parade Saturday.
His book reveals furry fandom’s birth at 1980s sci-fi and comic conventions, where furry-minded people discovered each other and soon launched their own conventions.
He said ConFurence Zero, the first furry gathering, attracted 65 furries to a Southern California hotel in 1989. In 2018, 11,000 attended Chicago’s Midwest FurFest. Furry conventions have been held in dozens of U.S. cities and 27 countries such as Australia, France, Spain and Taiwan.
Strike said this community grew out of comics events where some of the attendees would gather and hold parties or get-togethers because they all shared the love of these characters on the pages they were reading in comic books and strips.
Pittsburgh has embraced them, Strike said. He said the city loves who they are, and they appreciate their fun and creativity.
“We love the furries,” said Tom Loftus, chief marketing officer of VisitPittsburgh, who will present the group with a custom gift from the city on Friday. “They are one of our favorite groups to host, and when I meet with them Friday I will tell them I missed them.”
He said the furries have been extending their paw prints throughout the city and are welcome, not only because they interact and inspire smiles on the faces of people visiting and living here, but because they also bring in money. They bring in about $8 million by staying in hotels and dining in restaurants, Loftus said.
He said they embody the message of VisitPittsburgh’s latest marketing campaign: “Pull up a chair. You are welcomed here.”
— #Anthrocon, Inc. (@anthrocon) June 28, 2019
Strike said many people who attend this convention have had an interest or feel a connection with identifying with an animal long before they discovered there was a fandom for it.
“They realize they aren’t the only person thinking about being Simba the lion, or an animal from ‘Zootopia,’ ” he said. “They find out they are not alone, and they are part of a peer group who understand them.”
There are many misconceptions that people take as fact, and there might be some things that only apply to a handful of people, he said. Furries just want to be around others who share their enthusiasm, he said.
It can be an expensive passion.
A full suit costs an average of $2,100. Some will opt to wear the head and tail or bring a T-shirt with their favorite animal or cartoon character on it.
There are others who invest in more than one costume. He compares the outfits to a sports fan wearing the jersey of a player. In a tiny way, that person wearing the jersey is trying to become a different person or embody an alter ego.
“We create our own character, and some of us build our own suits,” he said. “Lots of furries start with the head … or just the tail.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .