A Conversation with Fred Patten
by Phil Geusz
Tomorrow, December 11, 2015, Fred Patten will celebrate his 75th birthday. If you don’t already know who Fred is and why it’s important that the fandom (and especially the FWG!) should honor him, well… Perhaps the best way to learn more about who Fred is and what he’s done for us both as furries and as authors would be to read on.
1) You’re often credited as being among the handful of founders of the furry fandom. Can you give us an idea of what it was like, who else you personally knew that was involved, and generally tell us how it all came together?
I remember attending the 1980 Worldcon as a regular s-f fan, one of several from the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. I was particularly close with Mark Merlino at the time; we had recently created the C/FO and “invented anime fandom”. One of the favorites of both Merlino & I was Kimba the White Lion, though most of the other early anime fans preferred the giant robot cartoons. At the 1980 Worldcon, Merlino & I and Nicolai Shapero were intrigued by a painting in the Art Show of a cat-woman in a military flight suit standing next to a realistic futuristic fighter plane. The artist was nearby and introduced himself as Steve Gallacci, a USAF technical illustrator. The painting was a standalone illustration from a series that he’d had in mind for years, about a star system of artificially-evolved animal peoples who had forgotten their past and rediscovered it during a space war between the cat and rabbit nations. He had a manila folder full of rough notes in cartoon form that he offered to show us. We didn’t just glance at it; we studied it in detail. At the convention’s Art Auction all three of us got into a bidding war for that painting. None of us got it; I don’t know who did.
I don’t know who else joined the “Gallacci group” to look at his notes at the 1980 Worldcon, but Tim Fay and John Cawley were early members. Gallacci was just getting out of the USAF; he settled in Seattle, and came to most of the s-f and comics conventions on the West Coast during the 1980s. We used to gather around Gallacci at these conventions to see his latest addition to his notes, and the group gradually grew. Many of us were cartoonists, and traded sketches in the ever-present Black Sketchbooks. During conversations with each other, we discovered that we all particularly liked the stories that featured intelligent animals and animal-like aliens; Watership Down and Animal Farm, Kimba the White Lion and Bambi, and so on. During 1982 Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH came out and was a big topic of discussion.
As a separate matter, Vootie, the fanzine of the Funny Animal Liberation Front started in 1977. I had tried to join, but was turned down because I wasn’t a cartoonist. It was an APA for comic-book fans who didn’t like costumed superheroes and could draw. One of its members was Marc Schirmeister in L.A. During 1981 and 1982 it became obvious that Vootie was dying because of apathy among its organizers. Schirm tried to keep it going but he failed; the last Vootie was in February 1983. Schirm then organized Rowrbrazzle as its replacement, but he made an interest in funny animals rather than an ability to draw cartoons as the criterion for membership. I could write about them so I was accepted, as were several members of the Gallacci group, ex-Vootie members, and others who could draw funny animals; some friends of members. Schirm went on a recruiting drive among the 1983-84 Cal Arts students and made several of them Rowrbrazzle members whether they wanted to be or not. Most of them never contributed; Bruce Timm provided a “Duck Savage” drawing that he’d already done.
Rowrbrazzle #1 appeared in February 1984. By that time, early furry fandom was dividing between those who were in Rowrbrazzle and contributing to its quarterly issues, and those who gathered at conventions who were organized more by Mark Merlino & Rod O’Riley. Gallacci was concentrating on finalizing his story into publishable form as the comic book Albedo. The members of Rowrbrazzle #1 were Marc Schirmeister the Official Editor, Greg Bear, Jerry Beck, John Cawley, Dave Bennett, Jerry Collins, Tim Fay, Jim Groat, Richard Konkle, Brett Koth, Steve Martin, Bruce Timm, Ken Sample, Taral Wayne, Deal Whitley, Colleen Winters, and me. Some like Bruce Timm weren’t interested in furry fandom and dropped out right away. Jerry Beck got interested in animation. Deal Whitley was as active in furry fandom as his health would permit, until he became the first furry fan who died. John Cawley shifted over to Merlino’s group which evolved to putting on parties at conventions. Merlino’s Furry Parties, advertised on flyers throughout the convention, were responsible for the fandom coming to be called furry fandom. Other early furry fans were Roz Gibson, Mike Kazaleh, Stan Sakai, Tracy Horton who married Mike Kazaleh, Edd Vick, Diana Vick (no relation), Monika Livingston, and Kjartan Arnorsson. Merlino & O’Riley expanded the Furry Parties at s-f & comics conventions into the first furry conventions, the ConFurences, in 1989.
One of the early discussion topics in Rowrbrazzle was what was happening in the fandom. This is why I say that Rowrbrazzle wasn’t responsible for furry fandom, but it does prove that furry fandom existed by 1984. It was more than the Vootie membership and the Gallacci groups at conventions.
2) You’re also credited in a similar way with the founding of the anime and “My Little Pony” fandoms. Have you any comments on how they came to be and your role in the matter? And… Just how did it come to pass that you’ve been at center of so many important cultural movements?
I may have co-founded furry fandom and anime fandom, but I’ve never watched My Little Pony. You can’t blame that on me.
I joined the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 1960, which meets every Thursday evening, and I was an active s-f fan from 1960 until I had my stroke in 2005. I credit many of the LASFS members of the 1960s through the 2000s with helping me get established as an active fan who was on s-f convention committees, helped organize s-f theater parties, etc. I attended some of the first meetings of mystery fandom and Oz fandom, but I never became a leader in those. I was active early in comics fandom — I had an article on Mexican comic book superheroes in Alter Ego, one of the first comics fanzines, in 1965 — but I was not very interested in the costumed superheroes that most comics fans concentrated on. That’s why my interest ran more to the funny animals, the French bandes dessinées, and later the Japanese manga. I’ve always had a habit of volunteering, usually as a Secretary. When anime fandom and later furry fandom began to coalesce, I used my experience from the LASFS in organizing anime and furry clubs that wouldn’t fall apart in a few months.
3) All of the fandoms you’re involved in can in at least some fairness be described as a bit “geeky”. (Keep in mind that I’m saying this as a proud, card-carrying geek myself.) Do you consider yourself a bit of a geek? Do you have any observations or comments on geekdom in general?
Yes, I’m a geek and proud of it. I was never interested in the social life of high school or college. I’m a lifelong bachelor. My mother wanted me to become a doctor or lawyer or something prestigious, but I’ve always liked books and became a librarian. I became nervous about what would happen to me when I graduated from college, and I joined a fraternity to force myself into a social life, but I hated it. When I discovered s-f fandom, they were my kind of people.
4) You’re a bibliophile and book-reviewer of note. About how many reviews do you suppose you’ve written over the years? Care to share some happy memories of the very finest or otherwise outstanding works you’ve read or reviewed?
I’ve probably written over a thousand reviews of furry books alone. Probably over 2,000 all told. My earliest review was of an arguably furry book; H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy, in a 1962 fanzine. I’m depressed to read today a list in ISFDB of the reviews that I wrote in the 1970s; I don’t remember many of the books at all, much less what I said about them. From 1975 to 1977, I was the publisher, co-editor, and a major reviewer for Delap’s F&SF Review, a monthly s-f reviewzine; about 28 regular issues. Richard Delap & I argued about the direction that it should take, and he “fired” me to edit & publish it himself. It only lasted two more issues.
The review that I remember best was of Stephen King’s The Shining. I said that it was a very suspenseful horror novel, but there were several of what seemed like buildups to horror subclimaxes that were aborted and didn’t go anywhere. I got a letter from King saying that was all his editor’s fault. His original manuscript had been twice as long, and all those buildups had led to horror scenes that the editor had edited out; like the ominous firehose on a wall of the hotel that had attacked the boy before the scene had been cut.
Another is of Forest Wars by Graham Diamond; a truly awful novel that I had fun tearing apart. It had a vast empire that it took a man on horseback three whole days to gallop across. Since a galloping horse can only cover about 20 miles a day, that’s about 60 or 70 miles across. Some vast empire. Retreating farmers cut down their fields of grain rather than leaving it for slavering hordes of wild dogs to eat. Were the dogs expected to harvest the grain and bake it into bread for themselves?