A few months ago, I mused on reviving Claw & Quill and later on furry writing in general. At the end of that article I threatened to do a follow-up. It’s been a moderately long time coming, but it’s also—well—moderately long. This is a talk about “zines” both online and off, what’s good and bad about them; a survey of what exists in furry fandom specifically now (at least, what I’m aware of); and finally, a few thoughts about the future.
What it doesn’t have is a description of just what I’m thinking of for C&Q’s potential revival. In part this is to see what other people’s comments are on this, and what suggestions they might have. In part it’s also not to tip my hand openly, either—after all, I don’t have anything built yet, and I neither want to give people great new ideas for features to implement on their sites, nor to make promises for things I discover I can’t deliver. (A few of the ideas in the back of my mind are, as programmers would say, non-trivial problems.)
The State of the Furry Zine, 2006
Before I get going, let’s define what furry zine means in this context, anyway. In fact, none of this first part is furry-specific, so I’ll use the more generic term “genre-specific.”
Canonically, zine is short for magazine, but in practice it’s used almost exclusively by fan publishers. Fans call professional magazines “prozines,” but prozine publishers don’t. I’m using the term as a catch-all, though, so for our purposes, it applies equally to Yarf! and Fantasy & Science Fiction. By genre-specific, I mean what you’d expect: a zine whose focus is on a specific genre, like science fiction, fantasy, or furries. I’m also using fandom in a fairly broad sense, considering someone to be part of “science fiction fandom” if they read science fiction fairly regularly. Being involved with fannish activities, like conventions and clubs, isn’t necessarily implied.
There are two primary things a genre-specific zine can do for a fandom.
Collecting material for fans. First, and most obviously, it collects stuff that fans would like in one place. Science fiction fandom was virtually defined by Galaxy and Amazing Stories and the like in its early days; furry fandom was arguably created by the cartoonists’ APAs Vootie and Rowrbrazzle, and as it became a nascent fandom, FurVersion was its de facto house organ.
Bringing in new fans. For the most part, zines don’t do this on their own, but they are (or were) likely to be the first thing that someone in the fandom is going to show a “newbie” to define what the fandom’s actually about.
It’s possible for a zine alone to introduce people to a fandom, and with the rise of the internet and online publications it’s easier for this to happen: someone couldn’t walk into their local bookstore and find a copy of Yarf!, but it’s not impossible to find FurRag through a search engine. However, to be a good introduction, the zine has to be something that someone who isn’t already a member of the fandom to find interesting.
While there could be a whole list of problems critics would make relating to content quality for any genre-specific zine, I’m thinking of two broader categories of problems which, paradoxically, relate to a fandom’s relative success in attracting new members.
Ghettoization. Once a fandom is past a sufficient population point, there will be publications—particularly fannish ones, but even some more professional ones—that simply aren’t interested in targeting people outside the interest group. This isn’t, in and of itself, bad, but it can eventually prevent people outside the interest group from even giving it a second glance. Before science fiction was a separate genre with its own audience, Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe and Edgar Rice Burroughs were writing, simply, fiction. By the 1950s, though, science fiction had become its own category. Works that were clearly science fiction in terms of setting and technique—the elements that define the genre—were not considered science fiction if deemed sufficiently “important,” like 1984 and Gravity’s Rainbow, whereas authors with considerable literary merit like Philip K. Dick and Alfred Bester were ignored for decades by most serious critics.
Inbreeding. The flip side of ghettoization is that the best source of new ideas for any genre is the larger world. The Lord of the Rings drew on thousands of years of British Isles mythology; a generation later, many fantasy novels simply drew on Tolkien and a handful of his contemporaries. A generation past that and fantasy role-playing games whose worlds were largely pastiches of the Tolkien-derived novels became direct influences.
What gets lost through this approach, of course, is that the later generations of stories are new twists not on the original sources, but on the previous interpretations. I encountered this when doing research for an article on kitsune a few years back. The fannish idea of a kitsune has become a magical fox who gets extra tails as a sign of age (or power or rank), serving the god Inari in a complex bureaucratic hierarchy—but these ideas have little or no basis in the original Japanese folk tales.
Since ghettoization and inbreeding are related concerns, when it comes to zines, the same remedies might help for both.
Don’t solicit only from the fandom. People who may not be familiar with the tropes and clichés of the “in group” may sometimes repeat those clichés, but they may also look at them in ways people steeped in the subculture won’t. This lets fresh air into the fandom, and may also give people who’ve taken a passing glance before and not liked what they saw a better perspective.
Don’t “advertise” only to the fandom. Strive to draw the eye, and hopefully hold the attention, of people outside your presumed target audience. While fans are always going to be best at finding new fans, if the work you’re producing can serve as “ambassador,” so much the better.
Whether we like it or not, print periodicals are in decline, and this trend isn’t likely to reverse. This is true even for professional magazines. Fan and “semi-prozine” publications have even more motivation to move online: production cost. A 48-page photocopied fanzine with tape or comb binding runs close to $1.50 a copy just for toner and paper alone. A typical fan-level print run of 100 copies would cost more than a year’s worth of web hosting. When I did Zoomorphica, the one issue I produced ran close to $800 for 1000 copies—far more than I paid for a lifetime web hosting contract with TextDrive.
Zine or archive?
Besides lower cost of production, web sites also have other advantages over print magazines: the “back issues” can be a permanent part of the web site. And, they’re interactive: users can not only (theoretically) give feedback immediately, they can be given tools to create and manage their own content, from FTP archives to weblogs and forums. This has led to a new kind of publication that can only really exist on the web, the “archive.”
|Editorial control||High||Low to none|
|Front page stories||Set by editors||Arbitrary|
The distinctions I’ve drawn are a little subjective. To explain a couple points: by “administrative maintenance,” I mean that zines, by virtue of having a publishing schedule, editorial control, and so on, require more hands-on administration. Archive operators might vigorously dispute my “low maintenance” characterization, but once the users have the ability to manage their own content, the administrator’s job no longer includes content management. And, by “front page stories,” I mean the ability to highlight content on the index page of the web site. Most archives either don’t do this at all, or just do it algorithmically: the last 10 files uploaded, the five most popular files that week.
When we get past the implementation details, there’s an implicit philosophical difference between zines and archives, which boils down to focus.
A zine is a showcase, a collection of items chosen to be representative of a theme. These items are deemed by the zine editors to be the best samples from among a larger set. The focus is on quality, however loosely one might define quality. The greater the ratio of submitted items to accepted items is, the higher quality the zine will be (allowing, of course, for the subjective definition of quality used by the editors). The focus is on quality.
An archive, by contrast, strives to include as many items that relate to the archive’s theme as possible. The idea is to be a “one-stop” collection, where users have a good chance of finding whatever meets their personal definition of quality without relying on editors. The focus is on completeness.
There are archives which try to meld the two, but they usually take the tack that the Yerf archive did (and presumably still does in its resurrection), which could be thought of as the “gatekeeper” approach: the archive’s moderators decide whether a given creator will be given an account there, but the tools for uploading remain in the hands of the creator. The moderators may delete items they deem not to be within the archive’s theme or quality level.
Surveying the furry field
For the second part of this article, it’s time to bring things from the theoretical “genre-specific zine” to the state of furry-focused publications today. While I’ll be looking with an eye toward fiction, it’s worth noting that many of these zines accept illustrations, sometimes for over half of their content.
Yarf! started in 1990 and was arguably the “number one with a bullet” furry zine throughout the following decade. Before the commercial internet took off, they largely defined the fandom, and some of the most influential artwork and writing was published there.
However, as the fandom’s locus moved onto the internet, Yarf! failed to follow. Their web site hasn’t been updated since mid-2003 and is currently full of broken links, including their back issue and index searches. A series of difficulties with the staff caused them to abandon their aggressive (and usually rigorously met) publishing schedule of eight issues a year, and actually drop back in practice to something closer to an annual, even though they’re nominally now a quarterly.
The table they’ve had at Further Confusion for many years was conspicuously absent in 2006, and it’s unclear whether they intend to continue publication at all.
Anthrolations, Heat, Historimorphs
I’m lumping all of Sofawolf’s publications together for the purposes of this survey, although they’re thematically quite disparate. Anthrolations is the most general of the three publications, although it has a focus on “relationship” stories (not necessarily romantic). Historimorphs is about alternate history, with funny animals. And Heat is the erotica zine.
These are unique publications in furrydom both for their high production quality and for being paying markets. They’re not high-paying, to be sure, but any compensation tends to attract a higher number and quality level of submissions. Sofawolf has an attractive web site that does a good job of promoting their products, and they’re highly visible on the convention circuit.
The publication schedule of Sofawolf’s periodicals was never frequent, and they’ve been annuals the last few years as the publishers have focused on books and graphic novels. In the future they hope to return to 2-3 times a year publication.
This magazine has a high name recognition due to their association with the Furnation Art Archive, and sports a high production quality, particularly of their covers. They’re primarily an art showcase and comics magazine; while they’re apparently unthemed (beyond anthropomorphics), judging by content they have a bias toward gay erotica.
Despite the association with one of furry’s best known web sites, there’s surprisingly little online about the magazine. You can find several outlets to buy copies at, but there’s nothing I’ve been able to find with respect to publication schedule, submission guidelines, compensation, or, well, any real information at all. (A conversation with a contributor revealed he was as in the dark about these topics as I was.)
This zine functions like an APA, in that it has contributing members, but unlike most APAs, the issues are also available for sale to general readers. (This approach has been dubbed an “APAzine” by some, a word which may have been minted by Rich Chandler with Gallery.) It’s maintained a consistent publication schedule and quality level since 1988, making it older than Yarf! by two years.
Unlike Yarf! and most other furry zines, Tai-Pan is tightly themed, a science fiction shared world universe. And it’s not exclusively furry. The editor ( typographer) told me that there are members who don’t think of it as a furry zine at all, just a science fiction setting where some of the aliens happen to be anthropomorphic animals.
There are actually a lot of print fanzines still left out there, with different slants and approaches. Fauxpaw Publications—Karl Maurer, whose FurVersion was arguably the original furry fanzine—produces Fur Visions and Fur Plus; the former is more general focus, while the latter is an erotica fanzine moving more from “furversion” to xenophilia. Fang, Claw & Steel is focused on “positive portrayals” of lycanthropes. (The title story to my collection Why Coyotes Howl was originally intended for FC&S, although I never actually sent it to them!) South Fur Lands is a general furry zine (possibly an apazine?) based in Australia. Anthropomorphine is yet another general furry zine from England which may or may not still be in production. (While there is an Anthropomorphine web site it looks to be quite behind their actual output.) And, Silverfox Publications produces no less than three publications, Fürst, New Furrottica, and Alfurnatives. As you can probably deduce from the names, the last two are “adults only” zines.
All of the “everybody else” group can be summed up with the following key points:
- Small production runs
- Irregular schedule
- Relatively unknown
There may well be other fanzines I’ve missed; I think it’s safe to say, though, that if they’re flying that completely under my radar, they’re not too well-known in the fandom. There are also a few publishers who’ve produced furry novels but not periodicals that accept fiction, like United Publications (publishers of Paul Kidd novels and comic books, but not zines).
Considering how important the internet has been to the growth and promotion of furry fandom, for better and worse, it’s surprising how little of the zine concept has been translated to online. Part of this may be an aversion among a subset of the zine contributors and creators to online publication, whether from fears of piracy or a dislike of the medium and associated subculture. Part of it may also be a belief that when anyone can put up their own web site, the idea of a zine is superfluous—the author can just put things on his or her own web site. An appeal of the internet for (some) content creators is its lack of mediation: there’s nothing between you, the creators, and the viewers. (This plays on the antipathy many amateur, and even some professional, creators have toward editors.)
Nonetheless, there’s been a few attempts out there. Some I know or have gleaned a fair amount about; some are still rather mysterious to me. For the purposes of this survey, I’m leaving out any single-author web sites—which ironically means I’m leaving out what I think was the first attempt at a web furry story archive, the Belfry Archive, as revar never added any stories by anyone other than me!
This is the oldest and—at least until recently—the most well-known story index on the web for furry stories. Mia’s is, as the name suggests, neither a zine nor an archive, but literally an index: it’s a collection of links to stories hosted on other sites, making it something like a browseable search engine. The stories are described and to some degree rated by Mia, giving it a certain level of editorial control.
However, Mia’s index has been updated on an ever-slower basis past the turn of the century, and in fact doesn’t seem to have been updated at all since 2003. While it could theoretically still be a valuable resource in finding all those stories you’d never be able to find otherwise, in practice, many links don’t have an infinite lifespan. Sites at schools, offices, ISPs and free web hosts may radically change structure, be moved by administrators, move to new homes when their owners move, or even disappear entirely. Given that many of Mia’s links have not been checked for the better part of a decade, the site is increasingly less a map to furry fiction across the web than a map to Ancient Pompeii. You can wander around all you want, but you’re likely to find little more than ash. (Many of the story links point to mirrors for the Avatar FTP Archive, the very first furry archive on the net. Unfortunately, there aren’t any working mirrors of Avatar anymore, and the art and stories there are lost to the mists of time.)
I’m not sure who runs Yiffstar, nor even how long it’s been up (the domain name’s been registered since 2002). The administrators and most, if not all, of the contributors use pseudonyms. Even so, it’s staggeringly large: it claims over 7500 stories—yes, 7500—hosted on its site.
As the name would suggest to anyone familiar with furry fandom, it’s about porn. In your face, unabashed porn. Stories are categorized by the genders of the leads and tagged with keywords for fetishes for easy searching.
I’m not against stories that explore all manner of kinks, but candidly, the vast majority of these would have been bounced by all but the most desperate fanzine. There’s little editorial control, even for basic proofing. At risk of standing on a soapbox momentarily: Yiffstar is the #1 hit on Google for furry stories. Don’t blame the mainstream media for exaggerating the “furry is all about fetish” image; they’re not getting it from Vanity Fair, they’re getting it from us.
Anthro is the only furry-specific web site that I know of that’s strictly using the magazine model. They’re bimonthly, and currently at issue #5 (May/June 2006). It was started by Quentin Long, editor of TSAT, the Transformation Story Archive’s webzine. I suspect, although I haven’t confirmed, that it started in part as a response to Claw & Quill’s derailing—Fred Patten’s review column happily moved there, after he wryly and correctly noted that furry ‘zines he contributed to kept going on unannounced hiatuses. (Mea culpa, at least in C&Q’s case.) Given TSAT’s apparently stellar reliability, Fred shouldn’t have that problem again.
As you’d expect, it has the usual hallmarks of magazine publishing, including editorial control. As far as I know, it is not a paying market. The regular contributors have a fairly high crossover with the TSAT crew, including Phil Geusz, Michæl W. Bard and Kris Schnee. Likewise, the austere design and layout is nearly identical to TSAT’s.
It’d be a good introduction to furry stories for a newcomer—definitely better than anything else out there save possibly Mia’s index—although the editorials suggest an expectation that the audience is exclusively from the fandom. Bard makes a curious point of saying, in effect, “I’m not a furry, but…” with each editorial.
This is the story section of a more general furry information site run by giza. I confess I don’t know a lot about it, although it ranks fairly high in a Google search. The stories are good quality with a selection by fairly well-known names in the fandom including Will Sanborn, Allen Kitchen and Gre7g Luterman. (One presumes the 7 is silent.) A fair number of the stories are “Lion King” fan fiction.
FurRag is one of the newer, if not the newest, attempts I’ve seen at a big furry story central site, and it’s nothing if not ambitious. From their front page:
FurRag, currently in an early beta stage of its development, has the lofty goal of being the definitive furry fiction archive. FurRag is dedicated to catering to all tastes and all genres of furry fiction. Rather than having a different archive for every set of preferences, there ought to be one single collection which can easily be filtered down to the stories that interest any particular user. As FurRag’s technologies are rolled out, it will come ever closer to achieving that goal, allowing all stories a place in one massive archive while allowing readers to easily filter away what doesn’t interest them to get at what does.
From what I can tell, there’s going to be a “reviewer role,” and readers will also create “reader series,” similar in concept to Amazon and iTunes lists. It certainly has the potential to be a great resource for furry fans. Stories are rated like movies, from G to X. (Actually, there’s NC-17, X and XXX ratings.)
A recent visit showed three stories in the “Most Recent” sidebar, one “NC-17” and two “XXX”; a subsequent visit showed one G, one NC-17 and one XXX. These likely aren’t anomalous snapshots, as an informal survey I did of the story database toward the end of February showed about 60% of the stories in the adults-only rating categories.
Fan fiction—in the canonical sense of works using other copyrighted characters, like Loonatics slash fiction (an example I am not making up)—isn’t uncommon. Like most archives, there’s no proofing and no editorial control. FurRag’s design suggests a belief that filtering will allow readers to be their own quality control department, or allow other readers/reviewers to act as editors for them.
There are other webzines and web archives out there. One I found and then lost again, which signifies one problem: these things are hard to find through casual web-surfing. If you hop around from site to site you’ll find most of them in the link sections. Maybe. Many stories exist only on their own islands—the personal home pages of their authors. (I have a couple of stories out there like that myself.)
So after this survey, what conclusions are there?
There are still more offline fanzines than online. Despite the fact that the fandom’s locus has pretty firmly moved online, it hasn’t brought the fanzine with it. There are a few major “art archives” which serve as some measure of replacement, but there’s nothing comparable for writers.
Offline zines are dying. Despite the previous observation, most offline zines maintain little, or even no, online presence, which makes them all but invisible to the fandom as it exists now. I suspect many fans haven’t heard of most of the print publications. While there are exceptions, it seems a lot of fanzines are tacitly or explicitly embracing irrelevance.
Quantity or quality: pick one. There’s nothing wrong with a goal of being “the biggest
$genrecollection on the net.” If someone asks you for the best furry stories out there, though, you’re much better off handing them a copy of Sofawolf’s Best in Show anthology than handing them a crate of fanzines and saying, “Dig around, they’re all in there!” Most archives are, ultimately, big crates.
(3a) Chipotle’s Corollary: Quantity begets porn. I’m not talking solely about Yiffstar here (although the argument that the “furry = sex” meme is solely, or even mostly, the fault of non-fans gets a blow to the kneecaps from Yiffstar’s existence). While FurRag is ostensibly “all audiences,” it’s clear where the weight lies there, too. Why? Simply, most amateur “erotic stories” aren’t stories, they’re sex scenes. Stories are difficult to write, but a scene can be tossed off in a night, particularly if the only criteria for success is titillating its own author.
While I’ve been trying to avoid (too) much opinion, using filters and search strategies to “sift through the crate” is valuable, but it’s not the same as having an editor. Picking a random story at an archive is all discovery and no consistency. While a filter isn’t the diametric opposite, it still places higher emphasis on consistency than discovery: you’re searching for explicit-defined criteria, and thus the possibility of finding something cool outside those parameters is greatly reduced. Neither of those approaches changes the nature of what’s in the crate to start with, which is what an editor does. (And even in writing and art, quality is not an entirely subjective measure: it may be subjective to say Hemingway is a better writer than Faulkner, but anyone honest will admit it is not subjective that Hemingway is better than L. Ron Hubbard.)
So where from here?
Good question. What I have right now is a survey of the land, but not a road map. I do have ideas, of course—but I’m curious what other people might think.
One interesting thing I’ve noted is that while online fiction zines in other genres have largely kept the standard offline model of editorial control and discrete issues, furry zines largely haven’t. In fact, every furry fiction site except Anthro that I can think of has been an archive. I don’t have a definitive answer as to why that is, other than the likelihood that art archives are being used as a mental model for “the right way” to put things online (which in turn, I suspect, largely share a mental model with software archives: data is just data).
There are a couple last points that others have made previously to me.
Artists have an advantage in online fora that writers don’t: the posted version of an illustration can act as an advertisement for the real product, garnering art sales; the posted version of a story is the product, and once it’s published—and “free on the web” counts—it’s hard to sell it anywhere else. What are the benefits, both tangible and intangible?
What would foster a sense of community in the disparate groups involved: writer to writer, writer to reader, and reader to reader?