Zelaphas – Artist Interview

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Click here to download a PDF of the full interview.

Zelaphas brings a notable sense of professionalism and business acumen to the furry fandom. She has turned her hobby into her brand, making use of her experience in business analytics to find out what works and grow her business. Her art combines aspects of gothic horror with fairy tales and high fantasy, and often includes biting satire or political philosophy that makes for a potent combination.


ZOION | Thanks for taking the time to chat. Since you work with both fantasy themes and anthropomorphism, I’d like to start with how much you see yourself as a part of the furry fandom. Do you consider yourself to be a furry? Or just an artist who works with furry themes?

ZELAPHAS | It’s funny, that should be such a simple yes or no question and yet culturally it has so much baggage on it. Today on the internet at least, I’m increasingly comfortable saying, “Yeah, I’m involved in the furry fandom”. I have a genuine interest in the arts and the storytelling behind it. So you could call me a furry.

But that’s just relatively recently. Previously there was so much stigma around it that I was constantly “in the fandom, out of the fandom”, back and forth. It just took a long time for me to realize in the end that most people don’t care. In fact most people are secretly interested!

It wasn’t until 2002 when Deviant Art launched that I discovered that furry was even a thing. Some people there had their own custom animal designs and characters. I thought it was an awesome concept. I was horrible at drawing people, and you know when you’re an angsty teenager and want to represent all the drama in your life in some way, you have this sort of metaphor for yourself to draw yourself in all these different scenarios.

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Jace Jackrabbit

ZOION | Although you’ve been exploring anthropomorphism since 2002, your work in the furry fandom specifically has been more recent. When you started working in the fandom, did you feel more that you needed to have a character?

ZELAPHAS | Sure! In 2009—before hyenas were cool—was roughly when The Golden Compass movie came out. The concept in that story and movie is that there’s a parallel universe where peoples’ souls don’t exist inside of their bodies; they exist outside of their bodies and are called daemons. That’s sort of like your totem animal.

I was totally geeking out over this concept. I absolutely loved it. There were all these online quizzes at the time to discover what your daemon is, and I did dozens of them. They settled mostly on hyenas and I really liked the idea of a hyena too. I did some research and I discovered the striped hyena which I hadn’t been aware of before. And the personality just seemed to fit.

ZOION | You mentioned that you started posting on Deviant Art, and now you have your own website at zelaphas.com. Do you also post art on popular furry websites?

ZELAPHAS | I had a Fur Affinity account years ago. I had stopped using it, but when I got back into the fandom and tried to get commissions, it was going very slowly. So I kind of came back to Fur Affinity. Plus so many people kept asking, “what’s your FA?” so I created a new one.

But to really solidify my brand I have my own website. You kind of have to have your own website, even if that’s not your main driver of traffic. You just need that home base for yourself.

A lot professional artists are on Instagram or Twitter, or they might have a Facebook page too. So I’m covering all of those bases. I use tools like Hoot Suite to autopost to all those social media things.

I do a lot of tracking now—that comes from my business career tracking analytics. I’ve been keeping careful analytics for my business and my sales. When I was starting out again I gave everything a fair shot. I promoted on Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, Furaffinity, Reddit. Then over the past year I’ve seen what’s brought in traffic or not, and I’ve adjusted my approach.

ZOION | So what have you found is the biggest driver of traffic for you?

ZELAPHAS | So far it’s Telegram. For all new traffic coming in, Telegram is the biggest driver. There’s a Dealer’s Den group on Telegram and I started a business-themed chat which gave even more ideas on where and how to sell.

Beyond that, repeat customers and word-of-mouth. I still have friends back in the US, and a lot are friends that I made through the conventions there I went to. When they heard I was getting back into doing artwork again they would find jobs for me.

That’s part of how I got involved with doing the official convention shirt for Midwest Fur Fest 2017. Long story short, it was just a chain of friends and word-of-mouth connections and the convention reached out to me to do the artwork for them. That was a huge boost to have.

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Midwest FurFest 2017 T-Shirt Design

ZOION | You mentioned a career in business analytics. Do you have any formal training in art, as well? And a second part to that, how has your career in business helped your art?

ZELAPHAS | I’m largely self-taught. I did a lot of online tutorials, and followed other artists and watched how they accomplished things. But around 2011 or so I wanted to get more serious with it. I was living in Chicago and there was a company at the time called Dabble. It’s kind of like the Air BnB of education, if you will. If there was a skill you wanted to learn, you could search for it find someone who could teach you. I took a few classes through there. One on street art that showed how to make stencils that you spray paint. I took an oil painting class, and I took figure drawing and anatomy.

In my career, I’ve been kind of a jack-of-all-trades. My university degree is a bachelors in English Literature. But I minored in Information Technology Studies. And I was lucky enough to graduate right at the peak of the 2008 recession when nobody was hiring. Let alone hiring English Lit majors!

My dad knew I was still drawing. He found an ad in the newspaper, of all things, for a local ad agency that needed someone to do all sorts of graphic design and stuff. I wasn’t a designer, but interviewed with them anyway and they ended up being really impressed with my illustrations and with my web design capabilities. So even though that’s not what they were specifically looking for, they kind of created a job for me. So that’s how I got into doing web graphics.

From there I found another job doing graphics as well. Then at this job—even though my title was graphic designer—I ended up getting a lot of things organized. I did a ton of documentation, I did training documents. I was essentially acting like a project manager. Unfortunately I was commuting two hours each way to that job. So I kept looking, and I got a job in Chicago proper. That’s when I was hired as a business analyst. I had never even heard of that title before. But they basically just needed me to continue doing all the stuff I had been doing: figure out what was going wrong, how to make it right, and to document it and get people organized.

ZOION | So did that experience being a business analyst help then later on when you went to start your own business? Did you take some of what you learned there and apply it to your own practice?

ZELAPHAS | Absolutely. That’s definitely something I wouldn’t mind writing a whole book about. All that experience, especially working at a start up and working for a web agency where we handled a lot of different clients. Seeing everything that has gone wrong for all these different companies—and seeing how they track how things go right—that definitely had a direct translation to my business.

I mentioned earlier the analytics I keep track of. For my first year I just kind of let everything play out. Then I reviewed the analytics and now I’ve adjusted my strategy. That’s definitely something I directly attribute to my professional jobs.

ZOION | That’s fantastic to hear. It’s a really interesting, non-traditional path to becoming a working artist. You’ve describe yourself as a traveler and you’ve lived in many different places. Can you tell us more about that? How did that start, and how does it influence your practice?

ZELAPHAS | Yes, I call myself a traveler. Everyone has a different definition of this. One thing that always kind of irritated me is that people often talk about the places they’ve been as hunting trophies, rather than an experience. I like to actually experience places. Part of the whole point of travel is that I want to see what I don’t get at home, or what I haven’t seen in the last place where I was. That could just be a cafe or a restaurant, or it could be a piece of architecture.

When you’re traveling, you have to have your entire life portable. That’s really limited what I’ve ending up bringing with me, both with digital and traditional art. So I’ve severely downsized. I have one sketchbook, I have one book I use for inking. A bag full of inking supplies, an eraser and pencils, my Copic markers. And that’s literally it for my traditional art. Then digital, I needed a laptop for work anyway, and I have my Wacom tablet.

If you want to tie travel and art, that’s sort of an inadvertent thing. Not necessarily with the subjects I draw but just the limitations that it places on what I can do. The limitations aren’t necessarily bad because my style has been all over the place. If you look at my older work there’s no theme, there’s no style continuity, there’s no subject continuity. But having these sort of limitations has focused what I can do. Like I’ll have my inking supplies, so I can do inking on postcards. And digitally, I’ve done my Wolves with Ribbons series. So it’s helped narrow my focus and created a more solid portfolio in that way.

In terms of influence of my art—well, I’m a big fan of medieval themes. I love Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, Game of Thrones. And what I found myself ending up drawing is a lot of adventures. A lot of medieval adventurers wearing medieval style clothes, carrying satchels or walking canes.

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Assorted Postcards (left), Done Is Better Than Perfect (right)

ZOION | On your website you have separate categories for what you call ‘fantastic beasts’, and for anthro characters. It’s interesting that you make that distinction. What would you say each of those things means to you?

ZELAPHAS | I think that ties in to our earlier discussion about how whether or not I call myself a furry, and whether you’re fully in the furry fandom or a furry artist versus something more universal. I’m trying to be as accessible as possible to different audiences and different genres while still catering to what I truly love.

I truly love anthropomorphic creatures and animals. I enjoy drawing them and I have that specific category because there is a specific furry fandom that wants to be able to find that. But I also still love gryphons and dragons and all other kinds of fantastical themes. That’s kind of why I make the distinction. It’s partly branding and marketing, and search engine friendliness. But I guess it’s also just catering to different genres and different tastes.

There is a lot of overlap, like if I draw anthropomorphic characters in sort of Skyrim-esque settings where they’re conjuring magic or they’re hunting with bow and arrow, or they’re travelers, something like that. I would just label that fantasy and I wouldn’t mind showing that to anybody. But for things where it’s just somebody’s furry character, I kind of parse that out separately.

ZOION | It does seem like a lot of furry art tends to be contemporary characters in contemporary settings. Whereas you can do a lot with anthropomorphism that’s either science fiction or it’s high fantasy—it really can fit into any genre.

ZELAPHAS | That’s kind of what got me in to the furry fandom in the first place. I saw The Secret of Nimh where they’ve got all the mice and they’re wearing their unique clothes, and they’ve got this like H.R. Geiger style steampunk underground lair that they’re living in. That’s what really interests me. When someone asks me to draw a character that’s basically a man with a husky head and a husky tail who’s wearing shorts and a T-shirt—I’m sorry but I’m probably not the artist for that.

ZOION | You have mentioned on your website that you prefer to draw anthros that are closer to animals than to humans. Some examples of that which come to mind would be like Beatrix Potter’s stories or Redwall by Brian Jacques.

ZELAPHAS | Yep, exactly! I guess I’ve always been a furry in that definition. Beatrix Potter, Redwall, and Fantastic Mr. Fox when I was learning how to read. I love that story.

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Nattrim Beer Label Design

ZOION | Those things influenced your art visually. Is there anything else you draw your inspiration from?

ZELAPHAS | Since I am on Twitter I get access to memes and everyones’ reaction to the latest news. There’s a lot of anti-capitalist sentiment on Twitter—which, having graduated during the recession I can definitely commiserate with. So the Wolves with Ribbons and Hyena with Ribbons series are using animals to represent human emotion, and using that kind of imagery to have a political or philosophical attitude. I created the Wolves with Ribbons series, and they have largely positive phrases. So for example, “Done Is Better Than Perfect” which is something you hear a lot in the tech world and the art world. That was so successful I decided to continue that on with Hyenas with Ribbons. And when that’s done I’ll continue on with Big Cats with Ribbons.

Now Hyenas with Ribbons was inspiring, but they’re also quite a bit aggressive, or just sassy. So for example one of the latest ones I did says “Order The Avocado Toast.” And that’s directly calling out the general anti-Millenial sentiment.

At Furdu when I was selling stickers, “Fuck You, Pay Me” and “Eat The Rich” were my top selling designs. I was talking with a friend about how ironic it was to sell such designs and he said, “well you have to use the system to get over the system.” [Laughs]

ZOION | So what do you see about the future of your work, or the direction of where you’d like your practice to go? You’d also mentioned going to more cons, or possibly doing this full time as a business?

ZELAPHAS | Art-wise, well I’ve always admired landscape painting and artists who do color really well. It would benefit me to learn those things, and it’s something I want to dabble a little bit of my time in just to push what I know and what I can do.

I was thinking about this recently: it’s never good to just limit yourself and to box yourself in as an artist to just one particular style. I feel like that’s a trap a lot of furry artists fall into. they get praise and they get money because they draw dogs really well. But then that ends up being all they know how to draw. I don’t want to fall into that trap, but at the same time people are recognizing my art and my particular style for what it is. I shouldn’t necessarily shy away from that or feel like that has to immediately and constantly change. I definitely want to refine my inks more. My inked postcards have really been surging in popularity. Doing that month after month as a Patreon reward has really improved my skill in that area.

I would love to work 3D as well. When I was younger I used to do a lot sculpting with baked clay. That really came naturally to me, and my style translates well to 3D. And getting into 3D printing is something I would love to do too, creating figurines and things like that.

The bottom line is—I mentioned trying to emphasize my own style and kind of what I currently do well more. I see 3D, I see landscapes—and I want to do all of it. But then that business experience comes into play again too and I know I shouldn’t stretch myself too thin. That’s probably why I’ll probably focus on my inking and some of my other digital art first before I go nuts with everything else.

And yes, as many conventions as possible are in my future, especially now that I’m relocating to France. I’m already booked in at Eurofurence in Berlin and Furry Blacklight in Paris!


Zelaphas can be found on the web at zelaphas.com, on Twitter @Zelaphas, and via email at zelaphas@gmail.com. You can also support her on Patreon at Zelaphas.


If you are an artist working with anthropomorphic art or themes who would like to be featured, please contact us via email, zoionmedia@gmail.com

Cupcake Creature – Artist Interview

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Click here to download a PDF of the full interview.

CC | I want to say I got into furry around 2010. I had always been drawing anthro animals ever since I was a kid, I just didn’t know that there was a word for it—or that there was a group of people that did it, or had it as their source of entertainment, or as a hobby. In 2010 I was on Deviant Art mostly, and Deviant Art was not a great place for furries. There was a lot of furry hate. My friend told me, well I know this site called Fur Affinity and it’s just that kind of drawing. And I was like, ‘well what do you mean, like animal people?’ And he was like, ‘yeah!’ So I signed up and started focusing on that kind of art because it’s what I like to draw best.

Z | Do you have any formal art training?

CC | I do! I actually went to an arts high school where we studied college-level art from freshman to senior year. My high school was not the norm at all. Actually my grandfather founded the school I went to. He was really passionate about the arts and education, and also founded a few other schools in the south-central Pennsylvania area. I still had to audition like everybody else, though. I didn’t just get in. The way it was set up was half a day, every day, was dedicated to art and the other half was academics. We studied drawing, painting sculpture, and art history. There are several majors in the school. Visual art was just one of them. They had theater, music, figure skating, dancing—any kind of artistic expression, you could major in. So I learned all my art basics in high school.

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Quen, Cupcake Chibi (left), Rek (right)

Z | Did your grandfather encourage you to go there? Or is that something you always knew you were going to aspire to art, so you knew you were going to go?

CC | I’ve always loved art. My mom claimed as soon as I could grab a crayon, that’s when I started drawing and just haven’t stopped. She really encouraged me to go. At the time, I had just turned 13 and I did not want to move away from my home in New Jersey. I was very adamant about not moving away and staying with my friends, and all that stuff.

Z | It’s hard to blame you. At 13, the idea of moving away from your home is a huge step. Not many 13 year olds are doing that.

CC | It is, it really is. Just uprooting your life. I was born and raised in New Jersey. And it was hard. But after I went to the school for my audition and met my potential future art history professor, she was just so cool and passionate about art that I was like, alright, I have to go here. I moved with my parents. They uprooted and we all moved to Pennsylvania so I could go. And my parents are still there. They’ve been living in the same house ever since.

Z | And you went to college for art, as well?

CC | Honestly I couldn’t afford a high-end art college. Even with financial aid and scholarships, it’s rough. My mom actually worked at one of the local community colleges, Northampton Community College, so I decided to go there and major in communication design. Finances play a roll in this kind of thing. As much as I would have liked to go to SCAD or one of the New York art schools, it’s just not feasible for some people. That’s why I’m a huge supporter of community college. I will always recommend it. I like to drive home that it’s not a “cop-out” by any means. It’s a great step, and my community college had fantastic art classes.

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Quen Mermaid

Z | Do you have any professional background, working in the industry after college?

CC | I had an internship out of college for a big company that did pretty basic graphic design. It was a food company, so I helped with designing menus for colleges and hospitals. It was mostly pretty boring stuff. Other than that, my only other “professional” art job was as a face painter at Dorney Park. So I did face painting there. It was funny, because I was the only one on the face-painting team that even liked art. The other people with me had like no interest in it, didn’t know how to draw. It was just a summer job to them, but I was taking it so seriously. [Laughs]

Z | So after that, you got into doing furry art? Is that your main source of income?

CC | Yes, I started dabbling with that when I joined Fur Affinity in 2010, somewhere around there. I would take some small projects, like icon commissions. Then I was like, wow I know some people who are making a living off of this, and maybe that’s something I could do.

I struggle with anxiety, so I had been looking for a job or something I could do which I enjoyed, but also fit my needs, anxiety-wise. Drawing obviously is like an innate part of me, so I’m pretty relaxed while I do it. And furries are a really nice clientele. They are understanding, and not only that but they have so many creative ideas. It’s so exciting just to work with all my clients. They come at me with these awesome ideas and it makes me so excited to do what I do.

It started out really slow, and it took about a year for it to be sustenance. I was lucky, people seemed to like my art. I brought some people over from Deviant Art when I made that switch to Fur Affinity. And now on Twitter, of course. I learned a little bit about social media networking and marketing in college, so that came in handy. And it just grew from there.

I still do some freelance work for non-furries. My mom and my aunt are both authors, so I’ve been hired to do some illustrations for books and book covers and stuff like that. But the difference between furry clients and real world clients is astronomical. You get your fair share of picky clients, no matter what fandom or industry. But in general, working outside of the furry fandom can be harder to get through to people, I think.

Freelance work is not for everyone. And that’s okay. I know a lot of people who think it’s “the dream”. You can work at home in your pajamas, and you can eat out of a jar of peanut butter while you draw! [Laughs] Nooo! I frantically wake up, I get dressed, I have a proper breakfast, then run over to my computer and sit my butt down, and draw. I get work done. You have to have that drive and self-discipline to do it. Because if you don’t, it’s not going to get done.

Z | Let’s talk about inspiration, either artistic inspiration, or even just general inspiration from media anywhere. What sorts of things have influenced your art?

CC | I’m going to say the corniest furry answer: anime. I love anime and I always have since I was young. I can’t even pin it on a specific show or artist. I guess if I had to pick one very big inspiration, it has to be Studio Ghibli. I can’t even describe how much Spirited Away influenced me when I was younger. It just really awakened something in me, artistically. Then Disney, of course. Who would I be if I didn’t say Disney? And Chris Sanders who did Lilo & Stitch. He was a huge inspiration to me in high school. He drew all kinds of bodies—not like how they’re “supposed” to look. He had fun with weight and body shapes, and that always spoke to me.

I feel like Spirited Away and Lilo & Stitch are like my benchmark of influence, especially throughout my young artistic life. Because that’s when you’re really finding yourself as an artist.

Z | Do you have any non-visual influences as well?

CC | Oh yes, totally. Music in general really inspires me. I love the story aspects. I love stories, I love music. My biggest musical inspiration is most video game soundtracks. The Persona series soundtracks are my latest thing. I’ve always loved the Katamari games. Those influenced me a lot.

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Bite Me (left), Vern The Hippo (right)

Z | Video games are a major theme in your art, particularly the character cosplay. Can you talk a little about character cosplay, how that came about and what that is?

CC | Video games have been in my life since I was very young. My mom was really into Legend of Zelda, and when she had me, she was really determined to get me at least one kind of game system when I was old enough to start playing games. So thank you mom!

Video games are just as important to me as my artwork is, so I’ve always been inspired by them as well. When I started realizing that most of the furries I talk to are also into video games, I drew my character dressed as Princess Peach. And thought, wouldn’t it be cool to do more of that?

I really think the idea of furry characters dressing as their favorite video game characters is cool and fun. Of course it’s not an idea that I came up with. People have always been drawing cosplay of their characters as other characters. But I love video games so much that I just started offering that.

I think my first commission type that I started offering was Smash Brothers. I offered Smash Brothers icons where it looked like the “player select” icon from the game. Ever since then I just pay attention to what’s coming out, even if it’s not a game that I personally play. I try to play whatever is hot and trending, for this purpose specifically. But even if it’s not a game I’m not playing, I will research it and see if there’s something I can do with it. Like is there a character here or is there a portrait in the game that has a certain style that people would look at and recognize? Then it’s like, okay cool, get your character drawn that way.

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Love Yourself

Z | You’d also mentioned another main theme in your art is body positivity. And you talked about Chris Sanders and how he inspired you by drawing a variety of body types. Can you tell us more about that aspect of your work?

CC | I strive to represent bodies of all kinds in my art. Furries tend to have a specific body type that’s like an idealization—and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I based my fursona on myself. Her body looks like mine. I always strive to make that an important part of my life because my whole life I’ve been fat. Discrimination against people of different sizes—whether it’s discrimination against someone who’s too thin or against someone who is too fat—is something that has been on my mind my whole life. And I know I’m not alone, so I try to show the beauty in all kinds of bodies in art. I often have an emphasis on chubbiness or fatness, because I can model for myself which is helpful. I just love having diverse body shapes in my art, and I’ve noticed in the furry fandom that’s become a lot more common.

I just think it’s beautiful. I genuinely think—100%, as corny as it sounds—that every body is beautiful. I just want to show that as much as I can. I know that for a lot of people their fursona is what they want to be, or what they aspire to. It’s not necessarily who they are. For some people it’s a combination of who they are and who they want to be—whatever their expression wants to be.

I know a lot of people think they’re not allowed to love themselves as they are. I think that’s horrible. I want to show people that it’s okay to love yourself. If someone gets mad at you for loving yourself, that is their problem. 

I’ve had the one piece in here, Love Yourself that is a really special piece to me and very personal. But it’s also my favorite piece that I’ve probably ever done. That piece in particular garnered a lot of attention. I got a lot of messages about that from people just thanking me for making it. At first I didn’t understand because that was me trying to love myself and my body. But then I realize the impact this kind of media has on people is so important. So I’ve tried to keep doing it, as much as I can.

Z | With that in mind—I don’t mean this question to be insulting, but I’m curious—‘cow’ is often used as an insult. So do you have the cow character as a way to take ownership of that, and turn it around as something that’s positive for you?

CC | You nailed it on the head! That is the main reason I chose a cow as my fursona. I’ve probably been called a cow the most as an insult. (Whale is a close second—but it’s kind of hard to make a whale fursona.) I can draw cute cows though! And I love cows. I’m really glad you mentioned that, because it’s the number one reason I chose a cow.

I wasn’t always a cow and it felt weird to be just some random animal. I started digging deep and I was like, I love cows. But also I can take this thing that I’ve been called my whole life, but I can be called it but in a different way! Now I can be called cow, or moo, or momma moo, and it’s great! It’s awesome and it feels empowering. I’m so glad I made my fursona a cow.

Z | You’ve been doing furry art full time now for nearly a decade. Where do you see yourself going in the future? What do you see as the future of your work or where you want to take your practice?

CC | I try to think about that a lot. I think one goal I’d love to achieve soon is selling at conventions. I never have before. I’ve just done digital work and selling my entire career.

For a while I could only afford one con a year, and it was Anthrocon. And it was kind of like vacation time for me—like a family reunion. I did a panel at Anthrocon before, but that’s the closest I’ve ever come to “working” a con. It’s a very intimidating thing for me, being someone who’s only ever sold digital goods online. But it’s something I’d love to take that next step and do.

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Gold

Z | Of all your art, this stood out as particularly striking. It seems like such a powerful piece. Would you be comfortable talking about this one in particular?

CC | I had a relationship that ended in August, 2017. It was a long relationship, and my whole life changed. You just have so many questions and so many doubts about everything you’ve been through.

Even though art is a job for me, it’s also very therapeutic. I usually don’t share too much of my vent art. But with this one, I felt better and better as I was drawing it. So by the end, I was like, “oh this looks pretty cool. I think I’ll post it.” And it worked. I felt really good when I finished it.

But yeah, it came from a place of my life changing so suddenly and drastically. And, you know, heartbreak. The classic, “art is made from love and heartbreak.”


Cupcake Creature can be found on the web at cupcakecreature.com, on Twitter @CupcakeCreature, and via email at contact@cupcakecreature.com.


If you are an artist working with anthropomorphic art or themes who would like to be featured, please contact us via email, zoionmedia@gmail.com

SolarDog – Artist Interview

We’d like to thank SolarDog in particular for being our first interviewee. Not only was he happy to help out by starting off the project with an interview, but he’s been a big supporter in many different ways, going all the way back to the beginning of when it was just an idea, lending his art and giving lots of suggestions and feedback along the way.


Zoion SolarDog PDF
Click here to download a PDF of the full interview.

In recent years, SolarDog has become a prominent artist in the furry fandom. With his bold use of color, strong line work and penchant for anthropomorphic portraiture, his iconic style is fresh and lively. Yet a lot of people may not realize the breadth of his work across artistic disciplines. He’s not just a visual artist, but a DJ, hiphop musician, fashion designer and all around entrepreneur. He remixes and blends inspirations from as many different sources and distills them down into work that is sometimes chill, sometimes activist, but always passionate.

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Nautica

Z | Thanks for sitting down with us. I want to start off with where you’re most active these days. You’ve been on a couple different sites over the years but now it’s mostly on Twitter: @S0lardog. How does Twitter work for you?

SD | It works great! My art gets spread around, people get to see it more often. I did briefly have a point where I was on FurAffinity, but I decided to ditch it and go straight to Twitter. I actually think I’ve gotten a lot more exposure on Twitter than I have on FA—or any other site that I’ve used to post my art.

It also gives me a lot more of a chance to talk with anybody who’s a fan of my art. It’s a lot easier to get to know people, and you can see how they pass it around. If you’re just posting on a website, you’ll see someone comment on it but you don’t get to see somebody say, ‘hey, check this out’ to all their friends. As soon as someone’s retweeting it, that’s them saying, ‘hey, I want everybody else to see what I just saw’. It feels a lot more personal. It’s a better connection.

Z | Can you tell us about some of your artistic influences?

SD | It’s kind of different because I know a lot of people would just list off names and names of artists. But my inspiration really varies.

I’d say one of my main pieces of influence are actually music artists. Tyler the Creator and Pherrell Williams are two of my top favorites. What I like about them is that the music they’ve done really inspires me to create. It inspires me to paint pictures to what I’m hearing. On top of that, they’re also both fashion creators. They create fashion lines and clothing designs. The color palettes they choose and the artistry is really interesting.

I feel like furry fandom inspirations are almost a whole different subject. A lot of them are my friends. I spend a lot of time going to LiveStreams, watching people draw and see their techniques. And hitting up friends and saying, ‘hey, how can I make something better?’ I could say it goes from Vantid, who I think was the first person in furry art who I was enamored with, to SCPkid, Skiaskai, and I definitely have to mention Jeibon and Squeedge Monster. In the middle of when I really started to gain my stride in art, I used one of Squeedge Monster’s ink tools. They had just posted them online and said anyone who wants to use this, go ahead and use it. And it’s crazy that I went from using one of their brushes to calling them a friend.

Z | And one other artist who is not a furry, but whose art seems to be reflected in your own work is Keith Haring. Again in the use of color and pattern, and bold line, especially with your earlier work. But not just visually, Keith Haring was also a big political activist. Would you say you also have a desire to use your work in that way?

SD | Oh yeah, I definitely agree with that. There’s a little bit of activism there. As I’ve grown, one thing that’s opened my eyes a lot is the furry community being a strong LGBT community. I’m straight, but being apart of the community helped me learn things I don’t understand, like the discrimination against LGBT.

It’s sort of a philosophy of mine that everybody just wants to be respected and understood, and treated fairly. As a black man myself, I face discrimination and stuff like that. I know the place where my people were. I know personally my people are still fighting—I’m still fighting—so I try to push the envelope to make the world better.

Not only do I like to include both political activism, or just bringing in fun to peoples’ lives, but I also like to bring in my culture. The furry fandom is white majority. Coming to the fandom, I was trying to find my place. At a certain point I kind of felt like I didn’t really have a place. Well if you don’t feel like you have a place, you just have to make your own. So I started to talk about more things that were of my culture. I started to incorporate more hiphop, more R&B, or just references to black culture in my artwork. I kind of want to spread that around. I want to make it a spot where people can learn about things they don’t know about, or appreciate it, or maybe encourage other people of color to join in.

Zoion Solardog Spread 3
Sonic Bust (left) and HYFashion (right)

I also run a POC party at cons and it’s been very successful in getting people to come out and understand that the furry fandom is not just a “white people thing”. I’ve heard people joke about it in the background. And it shouldn’t be like that. The fandom should be for all cultures everywhere. I’m happy that I’m giving a space where people of color can thrive and I’m hoping that I can influence that culture.

Z | You’ve mentioned one of your influences is fashion. You’ve been involved with a big fashion project lately too, called Fashion Furs, often styled as F/F. What can you tell us about that?

SD | Yeah, not only do I like to put hiphop and black culture into my artwork, I also try to include fashion because I felt like that was another thing that the fandom wasn’t having much of. There’s the stereotypical idea that furries can’t dress well. And there’s nothing wrong with not dressing fashionably, or just throwing something on to go outside the house. But I also feel like fashion is an art by itself. I feel like we should celebrate that too.

Zoion SolarDog spread 4
Bass Puppy

The F/F book is a part of that. It’s a magazine that me and a bunch of friends planned that grew out of the Fashion Furs chat. It started as a place for furs to share fashion, and help learn it if they wanted to. After a point we started talking about running panels, doing a magazine, maybe a book. Someone in the chat did a few doodles of everyone in the chat and put them into a little book. So then after that me and my friends were like, maybe it is time we did something with that. It’s going to be in physical form. We want it on peoples’ coffee tables. So if you purchase it, please put it on your coffee table. We’re working with Braeburn and they’re amazing. They helped with the layout and the printing and everything. It will be done in time for BLFC 2018.

More information on F/F can be found on Twitter: @TheFFCollective.

Z | In addition to your art, you do a little bit of music on the side as well. How has your music and art been working together?

SD | I go under the name SxlarDxg. It’s still SolarDog, with the O’s X-ed out. For the most part, it’s me doing all the artwork and the music. For the first mix that I released I did the art design for it and a small mini-booklet. I also plan to do that on my second one that I’m going to try and release soon. I’ve got a full art cover and full back made. I’m going to call it Comfy. The whole meaning behind that is a lot of the music was made in or based on places that I felt comfortable. Every song will represent a place I’ve been where I’ve felt good.

In college I was a part of this thing called the Friday Cyphers. Me and a bunch of friends would get together in a circle, play some beats and everybody just practiced their freestyling. During that time period in college, I was mainly the person that’d provide beats. A lot of those kind of stacked up and they just collected dust. So I ended up using them with my first album that I made as SxlarDxg.

Z | Speaking of college, did you study art formally while you were there, or did you go for something else?

SD | I went for audio/visual technology and broadcasting. Art has always been a hobby. Of course there was getting those basic classes in where you just do art stuff and they teach about the basics. But past that, all my digital training has been by myself, studying others and having others just teach me. Watching LiveStreams and talking to friends. It really helped steer me in a direction where people think I was professionally trained, but honestly—none.

Z | Do you do furry art full time?

SD | Technically I am—currently it’s paying the bills while I’m looking for a full time job. I’m not really looking hard for people to commission me though. Every once in a while I put a shout out about it, but I’m never stressing about it. But if you do want to get any art from me—small plug—just hit the DMs. DMs are always open.

SolarDog can be found online for art @S0larDog and for music @SXLARDXG. He also posts music at sxlardxg.bandcamp.com.


If you are an artist working with anthropomorphic art or themes who would like to be featured, please contact us via email, zoionmedia@gmail.com

The Next Step

The Zoion Kickstarter came to a close this weekend, but unfortunately it didn’t hit its goal. This was likely for a combination of reasons, but the largest was probably the difficulty in finding the right audience. Whatever might have been the case, I don’t want to dwell too much on the missed goal but rather answer the question, what are we going to do next?

The project is going to continue, albeit in a much more limited and scaled back fashion. While it would have been a fantastic experience to launch right out of the gate with the first full issue, it also required a lot of up-front expense. I’m still confident that the project can be a success. I really do believe it’s something that furries would love to see. It’s just that now I’ll be taking a step back, developing it more organically and slowly over time.

I’ll be interviewing an artist each week and featuring their art here on the Zoion website. In addition to writing the article itself, I’ll also be formatting the content as if it were actually going to print and posting PDFs of the spreads. This partly as an advertisement of sorts, again to show what the project would look like. And it also helps to build a body of work. Eventually over time there’ll be enough material to collect into a printed magazine format anyway. With the design work already done, the actual production would be pretty straightforward and the remaining time investment would be correspondingly lower.

Doing things this way accomplishes two important goals. Firstly it’ll allow me to find the right audience. I know there are a lot of folks out there who are interested in better curation of anthro art, but that audience is so diverse and scattered that it’s hard to reach them en masse. A more consistent approach over a longer period of time would help to draw in the right crowd. And secondly it gives me more of a chance to show what I can do with design and production. I’ve kept my professional experience completely separate from what I do in the furry fandom (not surprisingly), but that does mean a lot of folks don’t know if I’m the right man for the job of putting together a magazine. Well there’s no shame in starting small either, and doing an article or two a week will still build towards that end goal.

To everyone who supported Zoion in the early stages, thank you very much! I really appreciate everything you’ve done. I’ve had nothing but extremely positive feedback which has encouraged me to keep going. I’m excited about the future of the project and to see where it goes.

Finally if you or anyone you know is an artist interested in being interviewed and having their art featured, please let me know at zoionmedia@gmail.com. I’m looking for a variety of media and styles, as long as there’s an anthropomorphic theme. Thanks!

Articles and Scholarship in Zoion

Art without context is just decoration. Readers want to know where the art is coming from, the thinking behind it, the process, and of course the story of the artists themselves. While the plan has always been for Zoion to be image-driven, the supporting writing is no less important. Here are several ideas on what types of articles we’d like to include.

• Artist profiles and interviews — The difference between a profile and an interview is subtle, but important. Some folks either don’t interview well, or prefer just not to be quoted directly. A profile contains information about the artist, written about them as a third party. An interview is a one-on-one dialogue. What’s interesting about this is how interviews are often better conducted as a conversation. That gets into something I’d like to write about more in the future: how a “magazine” in today’s media landscape is more than just a printed booklet. It involves a variety of multimedia which could include podcast interviews, as well. Regardless of how it’s done, it’s obviously an integral part to the magazine itself.

• Discussion on the artistic process — Details of artistic processes are often covered in interviews. But in the case where the artistic process is particularly novel, interesting or altogether different, it’s common to have a separate article that goes into more detail.

• Art tips — This is more of a general category, but insomuch as the magazine is targeted at other creatives, any extra guidance we can provide is valuable. I know that personally I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several years tutoring folks on different aspects of art practice. It was my intention at one time to collect a lot of what I’ve talked about into a book. That may still happen, but a magazine such as Zoion would be a good platform for that as well.

• Reviews — When Zootopia came out in 2016, one of my first thoughts was how neat it would be to have a review of the movie specifically from the perspective of the furry fandom. Plenty of mainstream newspapers and websites covered it, and a lot of furry friends talked about it too. But there was no dedicated furry publication writing from the perspective of furries in particular. (At least none that I was aware of at the time.) While Zootopia is a particularly mainstream example, there is no shortage of media being produced within the furry fandom that would also warrant professional review.

• Critical analysis — This is perhaps the most nebulous in scope, but also has the potential to be the most compelling. My previous discussion on the artistic nude in anthropomorphic art is an example of critical analysis. It’s a look at anthro art from a more philosophical perspective, comparing it to culture and the arts, or popular movements in society. Another good example of critical analysis is the work done by Culturally F’d, in particular this video which compares furry to punk. It’s very much worth watching.

I feel like this covers a majority of what the focus of Zoion should be. There is room for additional ideas, but we also want to make sure we’re not getting too far away from the scope of the project just for the sake of having additional content. For example, something else to consider is serialized fiction. It may even warrant its own magazine like Analog or Asimov’s is for science fiction—certainly enough is being published each year in the furry fandom—but is perhaps not right to include in a magazine focused on the visual arts. Additional items which might be useful in an anthro themed magazine include a calendar of events for conventions and con registration deadlines, news of general interest, or announcements of other large projects such as the launch of a new convention, or anthro-themed gallery shows.

Exactly what all might be included will change as the magazine develops, but these are all ideas we’ve at least considered. If there’s something that hasn’t been mentioned here but that you’d like to see, leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.

On The Anthropomorphic Artistic Nude

As I mentioned in the previous article, several people have asked variations of, “Will the magazine include artistic nudity?” It’s a good question. After all, nudity is not uncommon in fine art and it is generally presented as-is. Will Zoion also include artistic nudity as it sometimes appears in furry art?

To fully answer that, it’s important to contrast artistic nudity in historical fine art, and artistic nudity in anthropmorphic art. There’s a long tradition of depicting the human body as an artistic object. From the Greeks, to the Romans’ emulation of them and on up through the Renaissance, and of course to present day. There were many reasons for this and I won’t go through them all here, but consider the religious aspect. In Christian theology, we were created by God, in his image. In that sense, the human form is the ultimate in artistic expression: beautiful, ideal, perfectly formed, as it is a reflection of God’s own perfection. To depict the human form in art was often in reverence to its holy origins.

This tradition is evident even as the figure was often stylized. The sculpture of David by Michelangelo has numerous odd proportions or details and yet it is still one of the most profound masterpieces of sculpture ever created. Indeed, it is because of these stylizations that the figure is so effective. Of note is that Michelangelo depicted David with a foreskin, even though as a Jew, the biblical David would have been circumcised. As a scholar, Michelangelo would likely have been aware of this fact, but it was uncommon in Renaissance art for male figures to be shown circumcised (and indeed, it was uncommon in the general population of the time, outside of Jews).

We don’t have any commentary from Michelangelo himself as to why he chose to include the foreskin, but we can surmise two possibilities. The statue was as much of a political statement at the time as a religious one, and so in order to help the citizens of Florence connect with David’s tense determination, he was shown as they would’ve been. Depicting him circumcised would have immediately marked him as an outsider. Secondly it’s also possible that Michelangelo was simply depicting the human form in its most natural, idealized state, as created by God, even if that meant a certain amount of stylization of the subject’s historical context.

Anthropomorphic art is stylized, as well. However, it has a fundamental difference from the artistic nude: anthropomorphic animals do not exist. By choosing to draw one, an artist is creating it—playing God, in a sense, rather than reinterpreting God. An anthropomorphic figure has no “idealized” form to capture. There is no nature to draw on. It’s not possible to draw an anthropomorphic figure in a way that showcases its natural artistic beauty the way you can with a human form. At best, it’s a remix of already existing parts, and it’s up to the artist to balance those parts in the way they see fit.

 An anthropomorphic form doesn’t have to be any particular way, which means that every choice the artist makes is a considered one. It’s not possible to include a foreskin on a nude anthropomorphic figure without it drawing attention to itself, since it is not inherently a thing that exists. It even raises additional questions: why does this anthro figure have a foreskin, and is not circumcised? Why not use animal rather than human genitalia? Why not leave it off completely, or hide it in fur? Every one of these options is valid—which is to say, there are no right or wrong answers when drawing an anthro form.

Not only are these choices all equally valid, I think there’s an untapped potential for their use as symbolism in anthropomorphic art. And this gets to the heart of the issue. Not only is the use of artistic nudity in anthro art not a reflection of reality, it almost never draws on the traditions of historical fine art, either. It doesn’t serve as allegory, symbolism, or commentary. It doesn’t seek to make a statement on the human condition, the environment, naturalism, or indeed any statement at all—other than that it is a pretty picture.

To be clear, I’m not saying that all anthropomorphic art is this way, or that there is no potential at all for deeper meaning or complex interpretations that would justify the use of the artistic nude. In fact, I think it would be fantastic if more anthro art did draw on history, religion or culture. I fully expect that as the fandom continues to mature, this will happen. Those are the sorts of things we’re looking for, too. Not just pretty pictures, although they are fine in their own way, but complex pictures, images with multiple layers of meaning or possible interpretations.

Although anthro art has the potential to be much more than it is, crucially the public’s perception is that furry art is pornographic, or at best, benign. And with that we come back to the concept of the artistic nude. I believe it is possible for the artistic nude to be maturely handled in anthropomorphic art. And I absolutely believe that it will become a possibility for exhibition sometime in the future. But I don’t feel like we’re there yet. I don’t think the artistic output of the fandom has matured to that point yet. And I don’t think the larger public lack of understanding towards the furry fandom would allow that to be interpreted in any way other than pornographic.

And so, I don’t currently feel like artistic nudity in anthropomorphic art has a place in Zoion. I would love for that to change. Perhaps, in the course of doing this project, it may help the artistic expression of the fandom develop to where that is an acceptable possibility. But I also believe we have a long way to go in overcoming current prejudices and we need to acknowledge that. I think the right course of action is to err too far on the side of safe at the beginning—to swing the pendulum in the other direction for a time, away from pornography. As anthropomorphic art continues to develop, we’ll find an appropriate middle ground where the anthropomorphic artistic nude is not immediately dismissed as pornographic, but that it can be understood and accepted for the message it’s trying to convey.

 

 

The Elephant in the Room

It’s difficult to talk about anthro art without sexuality and pornography coming up at some point in the discussion. On the one hand, it’s a natural part of the human experience and so appears in nearly everything humans do, including anthropomorphization. On the other hand, furry is seen by many people exclusively as a fetish, and isn’t one of the goals of this project to try and break away from that perception?

Since I announced Zoion, this is the topic that has come up most often in conversation. It’s inevitable that I’d have to address it.

I’ve tried to emphasize in the marketing material that the magazine will be clean and professional. Or as I’ve started to say when I was talking about it at FWA, “not cringey”. Nevertheless I’ve had people ask a variety of questions as to what exactly might be included.  Obviously art exists on a spectrum. Not everything falls neatly into the categories of “clean” or “adult”. This is, naturally, where editorial discretion comes in, and it would be something of a quixotic task to try and define every possible instance of what may or may not be included. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said, “I know it when I see it.”

That being said, here are a few of the specific questions I’ve gotten, and some answers:

• Will you accept advertising for adult products? No.

• Will you accept advertising for adult products, even if it’s not obvious from the context of the ad that they are for an adult audience? No.

• Will you talk about, discuss, or otherwise try to curate pornography in an effort to preserve it as a part of furry culture? No. I wrote in response to a comment on Print Lives : “I don’t think it’s disingenuous to not include furry pornography any more than it is when regular art magazines don’t include regular pornography. There’s plenty of room in our lives for both. At the moment, furry pornography is so ubiquitous that it’s drowning out non-pornographic work. It would be great if there was a way to shift that balance a little, and that’s one of the goals we have in mind for the magazine.”

• Will you link to a gallery which includes adult artwork? Possibly. If an artist is featured and has all their work in one gallery, we would likely still link back to it. This is very much something to address on a per-case basis. And there may be other options too, such as a disclaimer that the gallery contains adult material.

• Will you include tasteful or artistic nudity? This is an interesting question. While the answer is basically “no, we will not include artistic nudity”, the explanation as to why is not so simple. To address this, I’ll be writing a separate article tomorrow that contrasts examples of historical artistic nudity with artistic nudity in anthropomorphic art. Depending on length, it may also include some thoughts on challenging subject matter in art, or that may be discussed in a future article. I don’t want to spend too much more time on adult or pornographic themes in art. But like I said, it’s something that’s come up a lot, so better to address it now at the beginning so we can move on.

If you have another question that’s not listed here, feel free to leave it in the comments.

I’ll close with the following quote from my aforementioned comment which I think gets the point across pretty well:

“Consider that the audience for furry pornography of any sort—even tasteful artistic nudity—is so incredibly large and it receives so much attention, there is just no situation where us leaving it out would be detrimental to the fandom. Contrariwise, if we include it, it could very well be detrimental to our goals of attracting a diverse audience, including people outside the furry fandom who appreciate the fine art aspect but have no interest in nude anthropomorphic animals, no matter how tastefully done.”

 

Print Lives

It’s a new media cliché by now that “Print is Dead”. The internet offers faster delivery of information on demand, anywhere you are. News arrives directly into your pocket. It updates in real time and it’s interactive. These are all advantages to digital, taken at face value. And yet, we’re seeking to launch a print magazine. Why?

It’s one of the more common questions we get. Why a physical magazine? Why not just do an eBook or a digital PDF version of a magazine? There are advantages to digital, to be sure. The costs relating to physical production and distribution—the printing and shipping, including international shipping—is the largest chunk of expense in a project like this. Avoiding those costs would cut the budget nearly in half. It’s attractive enough of an option that it has always existed as a potential plan B. But there are some real advantages to print, and good reasons that it’s stuck around.

There are a myriad of articles available that discuss the drawbacks of new media as a news or information delivery platform.  For those who are interested, the Columbia Journalism Review has a good article about the trouble with new media, and the resurgence of print. (Of course it doesn’t escape me that this article is written and presented digitally, and runs into many of the same issues. Long form journalism online isn’t a popular format. We appreciate it if you read this far.)

For the reasons outlined in the article above, print is still a strong form of media. Yet even more generally, there has been a resurgence of physicality across all types of art. The music industry is famously seeing record numbers of the sales of vinyl records every year, even as the overall percentage of sales of physical music media plummets. Cottage industries of handmade goods are thriving on places like Etsy, and of course the furry fandom is filled with examples of custom art, fursuits, and other merchandise.

As convenient as the internet is for so many things—including publishing—there is still a real desire for tangible goods. The more of our media we consume online, the greater the desire for a physical connection to that media in the real world. Vinyl records aren’t an improvement on the listening experience, per se. Rather they’re a physical connection to the music. They are a work of art, complimentary to the music which might only otherwise exist in a digital space.

But there’s a flip side to this which is important to the furry fandom specifically: furries are an internet subculture. While it may not have started this way in the very early days, the furry fandom owes its continued existence to the internet. It grows, thrives, and expresses its creativity almost entirely online. While traditional artwork exists physically, and is only shared online once it has been digitized, furry artwork by comparison almost always starts off as digital, and only exists physically if someone takes the time to print it out. When it is done traditionally, it must be scanned so it can be shared online with all the rest. Furry art is one of the first, and quite possibly the largest art movement to exist primarily as new media.

This is why we believe a print magazine is so important. There’s nothing wrong with taking digital media, curating it, and re-presenting it digitally. But the real goal here is to move more of that art out of its digital native space into the physical world. The desire is there in the culture at large to have a physical connection to our digital lives. We’d love the opportunity to move some of this artistic expression, discourse and context off the internet and onto the page.

The Zoion Project

I originally had the idea to do an anthropomorphic art magazine back in 2013. Using some friends’ art, I put together a few example spreads and cover designs. I did it more as practice and just to get a feel for what the format could look like in print, rather than as something that I thought could seriously be done.

Like all ambitious projects, it took a back seat when I had the rest of my life to live. I had a full time job for several years, than later left my “real” job to do furry art full time. I’ve been really fortunate at how well that has worked out. But always in the back of my mind I kept going back to this magazine idea.

The furry fandom has gone through some quite significant changes in the past five years. Some are reflections of broader cultural shifts; some are more specific to the fandom. In particular, the fandom has been growing rapidly and has also been getting more mainstream attention. The tone of that attention has shifted as well, from the CSI days of furry being known exclusively as this weird fetishy thing, to more journalists, charities, and internet denizens standing up to defend furries when they come up in threads or news.

I’ve started to notice that even the term “furry” is now taken to be understood by default. News articles used to spend a paragraph explaining what furries were any time they were featured. Later it would be just a sentence or two. More recently, I’ve seen articles posted that don’t explain the term at all. This is an interesting development. Furries are no longer so weird that they need explanation. As a subculture, it’s still quite niche, certainly. But furries are increasingly well known even to the general population.

Meanwhile within the furry fandom, there is the confluence of several factors: furries as a group are growing older, earning more, and developing more professionally. And they’re doing this while still staying involved with the fandom. In the past it was always a joke that as furries turned 30, they’d disappear. In a smaller group, those absences are even more noticeable. While that still probably happens to some extent, the growth of the fandom has made those absences less noticeable—and certainly less than the influx of new people. Older furries are sticking around. Even cooler: as the fandom’s notoriety grows, people are getting involved at an older age, too. I personally believe we’re on the edge of a snowball effect where the growth of the fandom attracts even more new members, which in turn normalizes the subculture further, which attracts more people, and so on. It’s not just going to keep growing; every year is going to grow more than the last.

These factors together have led to what I believe is an increasing desire for legitimacy within the furry fandom. It means more professionalism in the way cons are run, policing our own subculture from the damaging effects of hatred and intolerance, and standing up to and calling out media sensationalization. It also means there’s interest in a platform for showcasing clean, professional furry art.

I believe this desire for legitimacy in the furry fandom means it’s right time to launch that idea for an anthro art magazine I had five years ago. It took another six months working weekends—research into the magazine industry, planning, developing a brand and visual design—until I had a well-thought out proposal to present to the furry community. I’ve finally reached that point, and on Friday March 30, I’ll be launching the Kickstarter.

I’m very excited for the project! Over the next few days I’ll be posting more articles about my thought process behind it, what I hope to include and where it might go in the future. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, please consider supporting us on Kickstarter, or spreading the word to your friends.