Stan Sakai's Anthrocon 2004 Con Report

Anthrocon 2004: Stan gets furry

I've been aware of "furry cons" for awhile, and have deliberatedly distanced myself from them because of their "less than wholesome" reputation. If you'd seen a recent episode of CSI which takes place at a furry con, you'll know what I mean. Furry conventions are those where funny animal books are prevalent, and people dress up in fur suits. I've dropped in on one furry con from time to time, but for no more than a few hours, and certainly never as an advertised guest.

So I was quite hesitant when I received an invitation to Philadelphia's Anthrocon in 2002. Fortunately, there was a scheduling conflict that year, so I had to decline. It was the same weekend as San Diego the following year, and again I had a good excuse to turn down their invitation. This year, it was a good 1 1/2 weeks before San Diego, and they offered to bring the entire family over. My kids, Hannah and Matthew, are at that age where they are studying American history in school, and Philadelphia is the birthplace of the Constitution, so I accepted their offer, though with no little trepidation. As it turned out, wife Sharon could not make the trip because of health reasons, but the people at Anthrocon sent her a bouquet of flowers and gave her an airline voucher, which she used to fly to Hawaii for a week in August.

Wednesday July 7, the kids and I flew out of LAX for Philadelphia. Anthrocon had arranged for guest passes to the US Air Club Room, so we waited in comfort, rather than at the boarding gate. Once in Philadelphia, we were met by our chauffeur and driven in a stretch limo to the Adam's Mark Hotel, where we met Sam Conway, the con chairman. Sam, who goes by the nom de plumes "Kagemushi", or "Uncle Kage", is truly a unique individual. I have never met anyone so perpetually amused with life. He checked us in, then escorted us to our room--a three room suite, with an ample supply of soft drinks, and a large gift basket. The main room, about 500 square feet, had a large conference table, perfect for me because I had 8 pages to ink before the con was over. We also had a generous stipend, so our meals and incidental expenses in the hotel would be covered. We had a quiet dinner on our own at the smaller of the hotel's two restaurants. The food was adequate, the best thing being the black mussels in wine and garlic.

Thursday July 8 was a sighseeing day for us. The con arranged for a town car to drive us to Philadelphia's Historic District. We pretty much saw it all--the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross' House, and an original of the Constitution. There were, however, two things I regret doing that day. On the advice of our driver, we passed up a Philly Cheese Steak from a street vendor in favor of a restaurant which was third rate, at best. I saw them pour Velveeta Cheese sauce over the cheese steak--sacrilege. The other thing I regret, is giving our driver any tip at all. That evening, we dined with the con staff and Michel Gagne, the other guest of honor who had just arrived with his wife. Michel is an animator and the genius behind a line of children's books, including A Search for Meaning: the Story of Rex, Insanely Twisted Rabbits, and Parables: An Anthology. We have since agreed to trade pin-ups for each other's books. The restaurant (the second of the hotel's two) was wonderful, featuring the best creme brulee I've had since Paris.

Friday began with the opening ceremonies in the large ballroom. Michel was presented with an official Flyers hockey jersey. A simple task, since there is a Gagne on the team. My Phillies jersey, however, had to be custom made. The dealers' room was of modest size, with the usual array of funny books, though all of them featuring anthropomorphic animals. One thing that distinguished this dealers' room from most of the comic book conventions I've attended was that there were no pin-up models hawking their 8x10 glossies, or any adult themed merchandise at all. The con took great care to make this a family oriented show.

Saturday and Sunday are pretty much a blur, with the usual Usagi panels, dealers' room activity, and art auction. The artwork for the program book cover, a collaboration between Michel and myself, went for a princely amount, as did a copy of Albedo #2, Usagi's first appearance. We attended Uncle Kage's Story Hour where Sam, a natural born storyteller, related personal anecdotes to a ballroom packed with people. Almost all the attendees and, I would bet, many of the dealers were in that room. His story hours are apparently legendary, and with good reason. The costume show took place on Saturday, the centerpiece being a 9' tall RoboWolf, that really had to hunker down to get through the doors. There were more than a hundred fur suiters in attendance that weekend, Hannah bought a pair of ears, in an effort to mix in. The closing ceremony was on Sunday. It was announced that attendance was more than 2400, up about 500 from last year, and making this the largest convention dedicated to anthropomorphics in the world.

Monday brought the storms. Hannah, Matthew and I had planned on going to Amish Country and Valley Forge in a car that the con had rented for us, but we were not off to a good start. A utility pole had fallen over in front of the hotel, and it took us an hour to find an alternate freeway access. We missed our turnoff, and found ourselves on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. But we finally reached Intercourse, PA at about noon, had an old fashion Amish lunch, and did our shopping and sightseeing. We bought a bunch of quillows for Christmas presents, and it was time to head back. The rains, which had tapered off a bit, now came back so we bypassed Valley Forge, saving it for another trip. Eastern Pennsylvania was under a flood alert, and much of it did get flooded.

Sam joined us for an early lunch on Tuesday and made sure that we left without any problems. There were some con goers waiting for an airport shuttle, so we offered them a ride in our stretch limo. Again, the US Air Club Room, then back to LA.

Anthrocon was one of the best cons I've been to in the last dozen years. It's well run, and the attendees were well behaved. At the rate it's growing, though, it will soon outgrow its present venue. Next year, it falls on July 7-10, the weekend before San Diego and I'm planning on attending--on my own this time. I really enjoyed myself and, yes, I did finish those 8 pages.