Together We Howl: How TF and Furry Converged
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
"Howl," © Gryf. Used with permission of the artist.
When the change begins, there is no stopping it. Is this what we want? Would we want out even if we could stop it? Now the change is talking: from the fingertips, the blunt piercing growth of dark half-moon claws, the cruel popping and reshaping of bones, the stiff pads blossoming in the texture of hide. Our vision hazed with blood, we watch the creep of fur down the arms, and we feel the blunt push of our muzzle. As our thoughts grow more and more instinctual, we see, at last, an emerging whole, a new us.
TF, or Transformation, is a fascination with changing from one body or self into another body or self. As with furry fandom, the story of TF fandom is one that stretches across media—not just the prose stories, films, and mainstream comics that precede the fandom, but the media that helped it proliferate in tandem with furry, including zines, furry comics, MUCKs, Usenet groups, personal websites, online art galleries, and convention gatherings. How did the TF community get up and running? How did furry and TF find one another? To what degree do they overlap versus being distinct interests and occupying distinct spaces? These are some of the questions I examine in what follows. Buckle up, cause you might experience some…changes.
Transformation Across Time
TF might seem like a recent niche interest, but transformation has been an interest of humans since we were drawing cave paintings 44,000 years ago. The idea of depicting half-human, half-animal bodies is fascinating because, even as the creatures thus depicted belong to the realm of fantasy, they suggest that humans have long linked themselves with non-human animals. In other words, TF has always been about using make-believe to help us humans understand our place in the world.
TF has also always been about exploring who we are. In Homer’s Odyssey (8th century B.C.E.), Odysseus’s men are famously turned to pigs by the sorceress Circe. One such pig, when invited to change back to human, refuses on the grounds that being a pig is a more comfortable life! In the first-century C.E. Metamorphoses of Roman poet Ovid, the transformations of humans into many different things—e.g., wolves, bears, deer, spiders, quail, trees, and opposite-sex humans—are as varied as the reasons for those transformations. TF might be a punishment for crimes, a punishment for mistakes, self defense, salvation, and even erotic exploration. At its heart, Caroline Bynum Walker writes in Metamorphosis and Identity, transformation is about
how we can change yet be the same thing [...] The identity we carry with us questions — and by questioning conforms — itself. In this sense, we are all Narcissus, as we are all also the werewolf, a constantly new thing that is nonetheless the same. (189)
Athena turns Arachne into a spider in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Image © Elderscroller on DeviantArt. Used with permission of the artist.
As Jamie Hall shows in Half Human Half Animal, TF stories have sprung up all around the world, from Japanese kitsune (intelligent, multi-tailed foxes) to Navajo skin-walkers (a type of werewolf who transforms by donning a wolf pelt) to Celtic selkies (a kind of were-seal) to the legendary pink were-dolphins of the Amazon. And what’s more, many folkloric were-creature stories share similar themes, such as the idea of transformation as punishment for wrongdoing. As for the ever-popular werewolf of Western mythology, some of what we assume to be the most fundamental aspects of these stories—such as the idea that the transformation will happen under the full moon, or that a werewolf might be killed by a silver bullet—are in fact the inventions of Hollywood dating to within the past 100 years! Not to knock Hollywood, of course, which has come out with some great well-known and lesser-known TFs. You know who doesn’t get enough TF love? Manimal!
Furry and TF: Prehistory
It is in part because of this complex and many-sided history that TF and furry didn’t immediately converge and indeed still don’t overlap entirely. But one way to think about it is that, as with other hobbies and interests—such as funny animal comics, anthro literature, and dancing—furry has become an umbrella under which many (though not all) transformation fans would place TF. Particularly in the 2000s and 2010s, Furry helped create spaces for fans of TF to more easily meet one another. There is no better evidence for this than the many “TF Meet and Greet” events at conventions such as MFF and AC, which regularly see participants bursting out the doors.
But what were some of the immediate influences of what would become TF fandom? Certainly there were werewolf fans aplenty before the rise of the internet, in no small part owing to the brilliant special effects work of Rick Baker in An American Werewolf in London (1980) and Rob Bottin in The Howling (1981). It is also notable that, just as furry emerged in part from other media (particularly comics and sci-fi), so too did TF have precedent in numerous media. Werewolves and other were-creatures roamed not just Hollywood but also short fiction and novels (Guy Endore’s Werewolf of Paris (1933) is often considered the Frankenstein or Dracula of werewolf lit, and let’s not forget the transformative classics of our youth such as Animorphs and Goosebumps: The Werewolf of Fever Swamp!), TV shows (many furries describe TF scenes in 90s cartoons, including Aladdin to Gargoyles, as the earliest indications of their fascination), and comics. Marvel featured numerous werewolves, such as Cap-Wolf, Jack Russell (from Werewolf by Night), and Rahne Sinclair (a.k.a. Wolfsbane), in the 1970s. These provided source material for the 1974 comic, The Curse of the Werewolf, whose front cover advertises that it comes with a record for kids learning to read: “The action ‘comes alive’ as you read!”
The Curse of the Werewolf (1974). Power Records no. 17N. Written
by Marv Wolfman. Art by Mike Ploog and Frank Chiaramonte.
The 90s: AHWW, the Transformation Story Archive, Comics, Webrings
TF fans were a small but mighty contingent; they just needed some means of connecting with one another. And that’s what the early internet made possible. Before the browser-dominated web that we are familiar with today, furries in the early 90s turned to multi-user text games (particularly furryMUCK), “an online gathering place for furry fans to meet and socialize in a virtual role-playing environment” (Wikifur, “FurryMUCK”). Much of the community was text-based at this time owing to bandwidth concerns. As one early user reported to me in an interview, “If you wanted to view any furry artwork, you basically just had a list of links ordered by date that linked to a low resolution image (50-80 KB max, roughly). One site didn't even allow JPG because they were considered too new and too slow for many computers” (ShadowChaser).
With websites being mostly static, folks tended to connect via IRC (internet relay chat) or Usenet (sometimes called “internet news” protocol). Not unlike Reddit today, Usenet catered to different interests, allowing small, like-minded communities to form. One such community was known as alt.horror.werewolves or AHWW. And still is: IRC and Usenet groups may not be as front and center as they once were, but many are still active, and many inactive places still have archives visible on the web.
Anyway, if you search the earliest AHWW(ooo, if I may?) threads, which date back to November 1992, you’ll find that a) the overlapping but distinct communities that we now call TF and Therian (ΔΘ) existed in mostly undifferentiated form in these forums; b) a lot of the same topics that the TF and Therian communities still talk about today were being talked about back then. Users frequently, for instance, discuss ways of becoming a werewolf, which include getting bitten, wearing a wolf pelt under the full moon, and drinking from a wolf’s paw (though please be-were, one user cautions, that doing so IRL could actually make you sick!). One user praises Nathan Juran’s 1973 The Boy Who Cried Werewolf because “you get to see the werewolf early on and get plenty of him through the movie; none of this coy don't-see-the-werewolf-till-the-end business” (Joan V). Folks shared TF media, lore, and their individual “werecards” – or, a description of one’s were-self, including name, phenotype, and physical appearance. Here was a world in which TF fans and therians could finally be themselves, together. Though centered in the US, this was already a diverse community. Even in its earliest years the list saw participants from the UK, Germany, France, and Australia. If any Australian greymuzzles want to teach me about Loup-Garou Underground, I’m all (fuzzy, pointed) ears!
As AHWW gets a little older, threads on TF mingle with “HORROR/SCI-FI soundtracks for sale,” “WRITERS SEEKING PUBLICATION,” and other spam—a testament to the transformation of the internet into a commercial hub. One also sees a rise in “flamers” trolling lists. Writes one flamer, too cowardly to share their full name, “You are a human being. You are not a wolf, and never were.” AHWW transformed in its own identity, too, as folks debated changing its name to reflect users’ broader interests in all things were—different species, different genres (beyond horror), different questions and answers and identities.
At the same time, other communities were starting to emerge. Many TF fans will remember Phaedrus’s Transformation Stories List, a place where contributors reviewed TF books and stories using a clever abbreviation system to encapsulate each text’s TF themes (eg, “GC: Gender changes”; “PC: personality changes”). One oft-visited site—still online, though no longer updated—was known as the Transformation Story Archive, “The Finest in Transformation Fiction Since 1995.” Founded by Thomas Hassan in May 1995, the TSA created community through a mailing-list called “TSA-Talk,” where a number of stories later featured in the archive were first shared among members (though, when the site got too popular, this got to be too much and stories instead needed to be submitted for consideration). This, too, was an international community. As the editors note on their TSA-Talk FAQ page, “we have members living in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Brazil, and France, so we have a lot of different perspectives on life all in one discussion forum.” As with JPGs, size was a concern here too. “The whole thing was running on a 30mb hard drive,” Ryan Campbell, furry author and one of the TSA’s original editors, told me in an interview. As the TSA got more popular, that drive would fill up with emails. Even still, the editors worked hard to make sure every story was read and considered!
From Lycanthrope Book Club: Book I (p. 19) by Tristan Eifler.
Image © Lobo Leo. Used with permission of the author.
“For a lot of people TF is really horrifying,” Campbell said to me. “But for some of us there’s something about it that’s interesting, alluring, exciting, instead of scary.” Not only that, but for a lot of folks TF has also always been sexy. As happened in furry, not a little drama was stirred up on account of folks expressing sexual interest in the process of transformation, or the idea of being a werebeast, which might be portrayed in fiction or art. Discussions on TF kink and role-plays were already happening on places like AHWW and various personal art websites, as well as Tapestries MUCK (an adults-only furry MUCK). But there were reasons to be anxious about such conversations. When the U.S. Congress first began regulating pornographic content through the 1996 Communications Decency Act, people were left unsure of what was okay to post since the law was vague. (One user on AHWW caused quite a stir by impersonating an FCC officer in what they thought was a hilarious joke. Other users were quick to call out the extremely inappropriate "prank".) Additionally, efforts in TF communities to drive a wedge between TF and furry may have owed to a view among TF fans that furry was too heavily associated with sex. Even as late as 2003, one AHWW user suggests that “Were” could take ground back from furry with “more sex.”
Yet erotic TF stories, art, and discourse were in circulation within the blossoming TF community from its early days. In answer to the question “Why do some people find transformations sexually exciting?” the TSA-Talk FAQ page notes that TF can be a form of role-play attuned to becoming a different self:
Transformations allow someone to consider "what if" scenarios without the personal embarrassment (even if they never tell a soul) which would go along with images of themselves acting out the fantasy. Going beyond the limitations of what and who you are is a very powerful concept.
Another theme that frequently comes up even in early sexual TF role-play and erotica is the idea of an altered mental state—not just losing one’s inhibitions and submitting to instinct, but in some cases losing thought altogether (the subject of many an inanimate TF). TF role-play is an exploration not just of self but of selves—exploring the mental and physical potential of different bodies. Though a lot of erotic TF was shunned or kept secret in the earlier days, that attitude has changed over time, and with the help of more public exposure. For instance, The Ocelot, a 1994 adult comic by Ron Wilbur published by Eros Comix (an imprint of Fantagraphics, who published Critters, the first seven volumes of Usagi Yojimbo, and an Aesop’s Fables that FF&F’s Tofte has discussed), features transformed ocelot and puma characters fighting a villain named Trauma. Flinters’s Xfrmations Unlimited, first published in 2009 by Jarlidium Press, ran nine issues focusing on adult TF art and stories and featuring prominent TF artists. There have even been convention panels, such as legendary TF artist Angrboda’s “Transformation After Dark” panel at AC 2018.
Xfrmations Unlimited No. 1, feat. art by Flinters, © Jarlidium Press.
Poster advertising Angrboda’s “Transformation After Dark” panel at
AC 2018. © Angrboda. Used with permission of the artist.
Some furry fanzines also catered to the shifters out there, such as Fang, Claw, & Steel: Modern Lycanthrope Review (1997-2006), edited and published by Terry Wessner. According to their submission guidelines, Fang, Claw, & Steel was dedicated “to positive portrayals of werewolves and other werecreatures [...] heroes, workers, diplomats, homemakers, or anything under the sun (or moon).” This alone tells us a lot about what TF fans were up to in the 90s and 00s: thinking beyond the bloodthirsty monster and toward were-ness as a positive. As with other furry zines of the period, one finds in this journal a mixture of stories, character art, comics, and artists’ advertisements. It is notable that several artists advertise personal websites located on FurNation.com, an early furry social networking site operated 1996-2009.
Covers to two issues of Fang, Claw, & Steel (nos. 1 and 7), with art by
Terry Wessner and Eric Elliott, respectively. Cover images, contents,
and samples can still be found on Terry Wessner’s website.
Late 90s and early 00s: Art Galleries and Transfur
Lair of the Weremoose, Gryf’s Pix, Lancer Advanced (and Ian Williams’s XFormations), Edmol Life, Naga’s Den, Doc’s Lab, Circe’s Fun House.
These names bring anyone else back?
In the late 90s and early 00s, TF artists started creating their own websites where they could post art featuring transformations of all sorts. And for many a TF fan, these sites were the first indications that other weres existed. These personal sites—many of which are still active, if not recently updated—were a place to showcase not just new artworks, but new internet capabilities including frames (which would split a window into two or more smaller windows) and clickable icons. Technological innovation didn’t just affect internet capabilities; it also influenced the art itself. Thus, for instance, photomanipulation artists use photo editing tools such as Adobe Elements and Photoshop to create realistic-looking TFs—as with the image, by TF art legend Gryf, that opens this article. As photomanip artist Toledo told me, some such methods can be rather TF-like:
I rarely drew anything from scratch. Instead, I would lift the human parts from the photograph, reshape them into animal/anthro form with the Liquify tool, and then recolor them with photo editing tools (levels, hue/saturation, dodge and burn, for instance). I would then paint on a smattering of fur for texture. (Toledo)
While a lot of these sites are no longer active, some artists have kept updating through the years. I asked prolific TF artist and master of the TF sequence, Arania, how many TF pages she’s drawn, and she estimated (conservatively) over 25,000, with nearly 1500 unique transformation sequences!
But one of the big issues in the late 90s and early 00s was that the TF art community was fragmented. Since art took a lot more space and bandwidth owing to the size of files (not to mention the necessity of waiting for images to load on slow dial-up internet), it was harder to create community around TF art, especially compared to text-based communities. While dynamic sites such as Velan Central Library (launched in 1995), DeviantArt (launched in 2000) and FurAffinity (launched in 2005) would grow into major art galleries, they appeared later and were dominated by furry at a time when furry and TF didn’t necessarily get along. One way around this issue was webrings, such as Transfur co-creator Waggs’s TF-Ring—essentially a curated list of links with descriptions of sites, so that links to artists’ personal sites could be gathered in one place (Waggs). Transfur’s other co-creator and main programmer, ShadowChaser, told me about how some early dynamic sites, such as Yiffco, were doing really new things, including indexing artworks and adding thumbnails which linked to an image in a gallery. But after Yiffco went down in 1998,
[t]he furry art community was more fragmented than ever, which is why I figured a Yiffco-like indexer to bring TF art together would help start up a community for it distinct from the rest. Most sites' search [features] were terrible too - you couldn't just search for "Transformation" and expect to get anything. (ShadowChaser)
Mid-2002 TransFur, feat. art by BlackRat.
And so, Waggs and ShadowChaser stepped in and created Transfur.com, still the largest dedicated TF art gallery and one of the earliest dynamic furry art galleries on the web. Though the site made it easy for TF artists and fans to converge, starting it up was by no means easy. Waggs told me, “For one, getting the server and the connection back then required a fair bit of money and hosting had to be done at a facility where I had to take in my homemade desktop computer housing the website to get a reliable always-on connection.” Plus, Waggs often had to pay the high costs for being hosted out of pocket (Waggs).
The other problem was how to get the site up and running. It was difficult to be hosted because, as Waggs told me, companies tended to have stricter regulations on adult and sexual content than they do now. Then there was the question of building the site. ShadowChaser described to me how, frustrated with the closure of Yiffco, he taught himself how to program dynamic websites by installing and learning Active Server Pages (ASP), Microsoft’s competitor to Adobe’s ColdFusion. ShadowChaser learned everything that was needed to reproduce some of Yiffco’s unique art gallery features, and together ShadowChaser and Waggs eventually launched Transfur. “It was an evolution from AHWW, wanting to bring therian and transformation-related art together into one place.” (ShadowChaser).
Early layout planning page for Transfur, feat. art by SolidAsp, who
would later draw Transfur’s still-visible werewolf theme.
Early 2000s: TF everywhere
The rest may be history, but how much history there is to capture!—certainly more than can be done in the space of a single article (and so I encourage all of you TF aficionados out there to help me by reaching out and teaching me parts of this history I don’t yet know!). In the 2000s, TF blossomed right alongside furry, and indeed the line between the two worlds became—dare I say—fuzzier? For instance, you know how TF was already a partly international community as of the AHWW days? Well, ShadowChaser also translated the Transfur UI to French, German, and Japanese, which sparked a whole #Transfur movement in Japan that culminated in TransFur, Japan’s only furry con from 2005 to 2007. Things like the Therian movement, which developed in tandem with the TF movement of the 90s, have blossomed. Native Realities Publishing’s recent A Howl: An Indigenous Anthology of Wolves, Werewolves, and Rougarou (2021) is “inspired by the aim for Indigenous creatives to convey wolves, werewolves, and rougarou in self-determined ways” (LaPensée, introduction). TF has also resonated with transgender and gender-nonconforming communities, perhaps because TF is a good metaphor for expressing what it means to have outside match what one feels inside.
A Howl, edited by Elizabeth LaPensée. © Native Realities Press.
Scarcely the marginal interest that it was back in the day, TF has become a major community and fandom in its own right, spawning all kinds of specific sub-communities. The only question is: How will we keep changing?
THANK YOU to Ryan Campbell, Waggs, ShadowChaser, Toledo, and Arania for taking the time to answer my questions. And thank you to the artists for permission to use your works!
Correction: I mentioned in the article that Waggs and ShadowChaser together launched Transfur. Rather, Waggs launched the site, and Waggs and ShadowChaser together launched the image gallery function on it.
Alt.horror.werewolves. Archive available on Google Groups. https://groups.google.com/u/3/g/alt.horror.werewolves.
Campbell, Ryan. Personal Interview (in person). 15 September 2022.
Eifler, Tristan. The Lycanthrope Club: Book I. Daemoneye Publishing, 2012.
Hall, Jamie. Half Human Half Animal. 1stBooks, 2003.
Joan V. “two movies.” Alt.horror.werewolves. 19 November 1992. https://groups.google.com/u/3/g/alt.horror.werewolves/c/njNR_s0n_uM/m/rSf0VWLmkcYJ
LaPensée, Elizabeth (ed.). A Howl: An Indigenous Anthology of Wolves, Werewolves, and Rougarou. Native Realities Press, 2021.
ShadowChaser. Personal Interview (Discord). 29 November 2022.
Toledo. Personal Interview (Telegram). 30 November 2022.
Waggs. Personal Interview (Telegram). 25 November 2022.