A conversation with an Arctic Unicorn and an Arctic Kirin
February 13, 2018
Visitors to the opening night of the current Anchorage Museum exhibition The Art of Fandom included two fans of the sub-cultural art of "fursonas". Fursonas are large, often furry, anthropomorphic fantasy animals represented in elaborate costumes at gatherings.
"Aaryck," a woodsman unicorn, and "Gryph," a mage (paranormal or fantasy magician) kirin, have also been sighted around Anchorage in recent years at events such as the Three Barons Renaissance Fair and Senshi-Con, an annual anime [Japanese Animation] convention.
The burly unicorn and enchanting kirin, both of towering stature, returned for another visit to the Art of Fandom on a recent Sunday morning. They sat with Curator of Public Engagement David Holthouse for the following interview in the exhibition's Harry Potter room, next to a crackling digital fire.
DH: Please introduce yourself and describe your character.
Aayrick: My name I Aayrick. I'm an Arctic Unicorn. Basically, I've had this character for about six years. I go to a lot of different ren (renaissance) fairs. I go to conventions. The Fandom exhibition. I have a lot of fun. My character itself is kind of based on a ranger, woodsman concept, which I think fits very well with the look.
Gryph: I'm Gryph. I'm an Arctic Kirin, which is kind of a cross between a dragon and a unicorn. I am generally portrayed as more of mage-style character. I enjoy going to various conventions and events and just kind of wondering around in suit and enjoying the reactions as we meet people. We go every year to Senshi-Con and the Three Barons (renaissance) Fair. Last year we also went to the downtown trick or treating event on Halloween and marched in the Fourth of July parade. And, of course, we attended the opening night of the [Art of] Fandom exhibition at the Anchorage Museum.
DH: For the uninitiated, what is a fursona?
Aayrick: A fursona is basically a character, and it means something different to everybody in the fandom. (For) some people it's a spiritual connection. Other people it's just, "Hey I think this is cool."
Gryph: Really, you ask a dozen different people you'll get a dozen different answers as to what a fursona actually is. And that goes the same for the fandom in general.
DH: How often do go out in public in your suits?
Gryph: About a dozen times a year. Unfortunately, we don't get to wear the suits probably as much as we would really like to, overall.
Aayrick: You gotta work for a living. You gotta work to be able to go have some fun. This is a fun thing that we do, and we do our best to make as many events as possible, but sometimes… [shrugs]… priorities.
DH: I just realized I'm making eye contact with your suits instead of where I guess your human eye-level to be. I'm unsure of the etiquette here, is that rude of me?
Aayrick: No, no, everybody does that. I've had people stare right at my suit's face and say, "How do you see?" And just because I'm in character I always point up to the eyes of the suit, like they're my real eyes.
DH: Talk about staying in character and what the parameters are for when you need to be in character, and when you can break character, and how you judge that situation.
Aayrick: For me, it's kind of an "as I go" thing. Normally when I'm in character I try not to talk. Because, obviously, the lips of the costume don't move. So that can make things a little weird. But if somebody's doing something that I'm uncomfortable with, I have no problem kind of saying in a lower voice, so I'm not like projecting, telling them "stop" or "this isn't going to work." [With] the character itself, I'm trying to be reserved, I'm not out there doing a lot of crazy stuff. Some characters, that's what they do, they're out there just to make a spectacle of themselves. Which is cool. I am normally a little bit more reserved. At least, I try to be.
Gryph: I try to stay as quiet as possible. Because when I'm talking, in a way it ruins the magic of seeing this big dragon-like creature walking around. I'll kind of imply that I can't speak, at least in human (language).
Aayrick: You get good at gesturing and emoting using your hands, using your body language.
DH: Who made your suits?
Aayrick: The maker of these costumes goes by the fursona of Beastcub. She works in California. She's in very high demand and only takes a few commissions a year. Basically, when she opens her request period for the year, you send her a request, telling her what you want, then she goes through all her requests and decides which ones she wants to create. Once the idea and the concept is all ironed out, then you send the down payment.
Gryph: Usually that's at least a quarter of the total price.
Aayrick: And then it's monthly payments for about six months. It can take up to a year between when you first submit your proposal and when you receive your suit.
DH: How much do suits like yours cost?
Aayrick: When I purchased this one, the average price for something similar was between $2,000 to $5,000. Prices have gone up since then. Now you're looking at $4,000 to $6,000 depending on complexity and materials, electronics, that kind of thing.
Gryph: There are a lot of options when you're putting these things together. Do you want something 'toony? Do you want something realistic? Do you want something in-between? Do you want it more human looking? Do you want it more animalistic? What sort of effects do you want to go into it? Special markings? LEDs? There's just so much stuff that goes into these suits and into costuming and fur suiting in general.
DH: How do you define a fandom?
Aayrick: A fandom in my opinion is just people who like a particular topic. It can be everything from comic books to sci-fi to Wild West to ancient times. Furry characters. Cartoons.
Gryph: Video game characters. TV characters.
Aayrick: You name it, there is probably a fandom for it.
Gryph: Basically, it's just a group of like-minded people who enjoy a specific topic.
Aayrick: And a lot of them do overlap. Sci-fi, fantasy, cartoons, movies, video games. A lot of those characters and concepts, there's a lot of overlap. It's cool. It's a lot of fun.
DH: What are you two fans of?
Gryph: A little of everything, to be perfectly honest. I do gaming, I watch a lot of anime, read a little bit of manga, I was really into comics for a long time. I love collecting Transformers and various figures. Obviously, I enjoy dressing up as a big dragon.
Aayrick: I enjoy sci-fi, fantasy. I love watching monster movies, mainly because I love trying to figure out how they did the special effects. My personal preference is for the older style practical effects. CG [Computer Generated] just does not look as good to me.
The Art of Fandom is on view at the museum through March 18.