Kilcodo is a friend of mine; she makes a living making full-body fursuits for other furries. She also moonlights as a lemur. The other night she let me interview her, and get to know her lemur persona, Bingo.
The Rumpus: I want to start with this. I want you to look at this picture.
Kilcodo: You made like a little flow chart!
Rumpus: No, I didn’t make this, I found this online.
Kilcodo: Oh, I’ve seen this. I love the bottom one.
Rumpus: My first question is: this is the hierarchy of geeks, and obviously everything is above furries, and furries are above erotic furries, and erotic furries are above Star Trek fan fiction about furries. So, what is your take on this?
Kilcodo: My take on this is that because furry is a newer nerd phenomenon, all the other nerds need something to look down upon, so there needs to be an uber-nerd that all the other nerds can hate. I think also, here’s a community that isn’t legitimized by liking a pre-existing television show or set of novels that have been heralded by any kind of cultural tradition. This is just a group of people who want to draw pictures of animal people, watch cartoons, or dress up, or do whatever, and it’s this essentially user-controlled, user-made community.
Rumpus: So is there such a thing as furries who dress up as characters that already existed in some kind of a mainstream way?
Kilcodo: There is a small element of people who are costume players who might dress up as Star Fox, but it is actually centered around real people who are drawing right then and there, and their stuff is getting used and publicized by this community.
Rumpus: Are most people in the community artists?
Kilcodo: I’d say at least 75% are artists. The ones that can’t draw still draw. I’d say that creativity is promoted. One of the things I find fascinating is how from year to year it’s such a fluid changing group, and people can really dive in and create something that’s going to impact everybody. So anyone can get involved, and anyone can become important, and anyone can have their own creative power.
Rumpus: How many people in America do you know of who do what you do: making fursuits for furries?
Kilcodo: Not many. A handful.
Rumpus: How many costumes have you made?
Kilcodo: I think I’ve made about 30-35, at this point.
Rumpus: And how many do you own?
Kilcodo: I own 2. All the rest were made to be sold, or were created by commission.
Rumpus: How long does it take you to make a full-body fursuit?
Kilcodo: 2-3 weeks. Sometimes if I push myself I can get one done in five days, but I try to take my time and make each one an actual piece of art. I like to do airbrushing on the head, and individually sculpt the teeth and claws, and do the details that are going to make it original and not just a standard mascot costume. I work 6-7 hours a day, most days of the week.
Rumpus: So you can make a living making fursuits?
Kilcodo: Yes. Anyone who’s willing to do this full-time can make a fully livable very comfortable wage doing this. But it requires dedication, and you have to remain enthusiastic about the work you’re doing. You are catering to a very specific crowd of people who are very specific about the kind of custom details you’re putting on. You can’t treat it like an assembly line. Each one you make has to be a piece of art that stands on its own.
Rumpus: On your website, I saw that you’ll only repair the suits your customers buy for 2 years if they don’t use them for sex – it sounds like you don’t want them using them for sex.
Kilcodo: One of the biggest misconceptions about furries is that they are all just a bunch of people who get together in mascot costumes and have sex. I’m not saying some people don’t do that–I think in any fringe group, especially ones where you are talking about body suits (like uniform, zentai and superhero fans) there is some level of sexuality going on–but it’s much less common than the media likes to portray it. I personally don’t want to spend dozens of hours of a piece of wearable art just to have someone use it like a sex toy, which is why I have the addendum in the F.A.Q. I think in any kind of aesthetic where you’re revisualizing the human body, you’re going to eroticize it somehow, or some people will. I don’t think there’s anything that unnatural or bizarre about it, but it’s not the quintessential facet of the community.
Rumpus: Can you drive in a fursuit?
Kilcodo: I don’t recommend it. You can drive with the head off.
Rumpus: How good is your vision in a fursuit?
Kilcodo: It’s not terrible actually, but I wouldn’t recommend driving. We use this special material for the eyes that you can see out of but you can’t see in, and they’re usually painted. I have this effect that I use that makes it look like the eyes are following you.
Rumpus: Who are your heroes?
Kilcodo: Jim Henson is definitely my hero as far as costume making is concerned, but at my heart I’m a cartoonist. I absolutely love Ralph Bakshi, Robert Crumb, all these cartoonists that took the idea that you can make art with adult themes about anything, you can make funny drug-related insane perverted comics and you can have an ostrich chick and Fritz the cat, for example. Just because it’s a cartoon and just because it’s an animal person doesn’t mean it has to be childish.
Rumpus: When did you first become aware that this was a thing you could do?
Kilcodo: I’ve been drawing cartoons since I was 3. I always liked Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Bugs Bunny, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and any form of anthropomorphism. I continued to draw it until the Internet came around when I was 11, and I discovered there was this world of people that drew it and showed it to one another, and people creating their own characters, and to me that was more fascinating than just drawing someone else’s character. Because it was creator-controlled, it appealed to me. And because it’s mostly done by adults, and you could deal with more adult themes or draw more sexy or violent animal people, and I enjoyed that as well. I think it’s a cool theme to work with, artistically.
Rumpus: How did you come out to your parents?
Kilcodo: I grew up in a house where my artistic skill was really promoted. My parents are real free-thinkers. They saw that I liked to draw animal cartoons, and they just said go for it. They bought me an art table when I was five. And I’ve just been drawing ever since. And when they realized I was starting to make money from this, and that I’d joined a community that had a self-sustained economy of commissioners, they were even more supportive than they were before.
Rumpus: How many furry conventions have you been to?
Kilcodo: Well, three a year since 2005, so, a lot.
Rumpus: What is generally the reaction you get from people, as a furry?
Kilcodo: There’s 2 types of people you’ll confront at a con. There are people who are at the hotel, tourists, that don’t know anything about furry, who will find you adorable and entertaining. And then there are people from the Internet, who consider themselves Internet-savvy, who will taunt you and tell you to kill yourself. There does seem to be some kind of superiority complex going on among the nerd cultures, such as the group known as anonymous or any Internet bully or troll group. They’ll target furries, and anyone involved in this community is putting themselves at risk for being targeted by Internet bullies, because we make ourselves so widely available via email, and because the internet is where we exist. If you exist on the internet, you’re putting yourself at risk.
Rumpus: Is making yourself vulnerable a part of this?
Kilcodo: It’s an unfortunate side effect of being public. I think people involved in any kind of subculture tend to be shy, and they are actually quite bothered by being the butt of a joke, because they come to this place for comfort and escape, and they wind up being tortured for it.
Rumpus: Do you think that mainly comes from other kinds of geeks?
Kilcodo: I think the reason anyone targets anyone is because they have their own insecurities.
Rumpus: Are cartoons sexy? Are animals sexy? Or are both of those statements irrelevant? Is it more the re-imaging idea?
Kilcodo: It depends on the person, but I think if you look at the way that we use language and the way we think about what is and isn’t sexy, we’ve constantly used anthropomorphic language. We call a sexy woman a fox. We call an older sexy woman a cougar. We call men bear, wolf. I’ve heard otter being used in the gay community. And I think that’s because as sexual beings we can see eroticism in many different organic forms, and I think because animals are beautiful, people like to meld the two forms together, so you have a human body and a majestic head of an animal, and people find that beautiful and even erotic.
Rumpus: Is your boyfriend a lemur too?
Kilcodo: He’s not a furry, but he’s an artist, and that’s the most important thing to me, because this fandom is mainly understood by artistic people. Furry is an idea. When you go to a convention you’re going to a place where people conglomerate on the idea that you like anthropomorphism. That’s it. People go and they’re writers. People go and they’re cartoonists, people go and they like to draw ultra-realistic animal portraits. Some people are into leather and they do pony play and puppy play and that’s that for them. Some people are a-sexual Christians and they like to go and read the Bible and relate it to Aesop’s tales…
Rumpus: For real?
Kilcodo: For real. There are religious furries.
Rumpus: That’s the first thing you’ve said that’s shocked me.
Kilcodo: And not everyone wears a costume. Sometimes people don’t like the costumes, they find it creepy, but everyone likes creativity, that’s the central focus.
What really makes this subculture different from others, like the comic book subculture or Star Trek-kies, is that instead of being fanatical about the work of another person who is famous and legitimized in the culture, furry is entirely user-created. Anyone can go into furry, draw art, get friends, wear a costume, and become relevant in the culture. People are talking about art, and artists, and the way people draw and make costumes. To many people, furry is the only way that they feel they can express the side of them that society tells them is uncool or immature–the side of them that still likes cartoons and still likes dressing up and playing ‘make believe’, still likes drawing and inventing worlds and a new identity. Furry is all about creative participation, and it’s unfortunate that it gets misrepresented the way it does. I’m proud of what I do–I can make a living as an artist, people wear my art and perform and have a great time wearing it. That makes me really happy.