Working in the Archives: Researching Fred Patten, Furries, and Counterculture Media at UC Riverside

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Located on the University of California’s Riverside Campus, the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy is a world-renowned archive of books, films, zines and ephemera documenting and recounting the history of culture. sci-fi and fantasy fans. Originally created in 1969, when collector and physician Dr. J. Lloyd Eaton donated his library of “approximately 7,500 hardcover editions of 19th to mid-20th century science fiction, fantasy, and horror century”, the Eaton is considered to be one of the world’s largest collections of articles and documents relating to its subjects. While much of the collection remains unprocessed – COVID-19 notably limiting work since the start of 2020 – students and staff regard the archive as a hidden treasure, with the collection containing items such as first editions of Dracula, Frankensteinand Fahrenheit 451.

The Archive is frequently lauded for its rare submissions by Instructors and Instructor Archivists, but the collection also contains articles and documents from lesser-known (though very important) figures in science fiction and fandom history, such as furry historian and editor Fred Patten. After his recovery, Patten’s friends and relatives helped move the publisher’s papers to the UC Riverside holdings. Dr. Melissa Conway, or Eaton’s former librarian, explained to researcher Regina Young Lee how “within days [the fans] had everything here, beautifully packaged, [and] they helped Fred get an adapted wheelchair… I hadn’t heard of this fandom community before this work, so six years ago, and this experience was almost the first. It was beautiful.” (“Textual Evidence”). Patten died on November 12, 2018, leaving behind his sister, Sherry, but the work he did lives on both in the collection and beyond. , he’s been such a figure in the growth of fur and America’s history with anime.

Entering Special Collections as a researching, hairy scholar, I have come to accept that the Fred Patten Collection is where the majority of my research takes place, if not the many archives and databases distributed in line that fans have created so far. Furries have often asked what it’s like to walk into the open reading room, lock my bags, and leave my drink out front just to engage with any furry material, or ” stuff,” as Henry Jenkins describes it thinking about the things fans collect and cherish over time. Like Jenkins, I view zines, sketches, conbooks, and correspondence as “cultural heritage”—artifacts that evoke something I could never have experienced, but to which I feel attached in my own way (Comics and more 315). While my own collection of conbadges, sketches, and pins identifies me as furry, seeing Patten’s collection also brings an appreciation of where we – as a fandom – come from. Immediately I can select and keep ConFurence entry forms along with Fred M. Wilcox furry parodies. forbidden planet. zines such as Vootie, rowbrazzleand more waiting to be watched, full of conversations that in many ways still act in fandom today.

The Eaton thus offers a particular direction to the question of what the hairy is. As a scholar, I’m often asked what I study, and when I explain that my work takes me into the furry, interested in how underground comix, homosexuality, pornography and speculative fiction (versus strict science fiction) shaping what it means to be a furry one, I also frequently have raised eyebrows – or erect ears. Some argue that furry isn’t exactly a fandom, but more of a counter-public. Others read furry as a community of geeks with no real alliance. In a 2020 master’s thesis, Benjamin Silverman argues that what gives us our form are our messy yet playful forms (fursonas) created by choosing what we like and using it. He argues that to be furry is to find ourselves as people, yes, but more so how we – as animals – “move” what it means to be someone and how we are born, ultimately allowing a ” virtual world” which ” carve[s] aspirational or speculative worlds” online (“Fursonas” 52, 67-68). hairy means accounting for how it messes up and allows contact with many different interests, subcultures and fandoms at once, even lending to seeing fandom as offering what Silverman describes as a world making space .

Stepping into the Eaton Collection and asking for Patten’s material, of all I could have asked for, exemplifies furry’s closeness to science fiction, fanzine, and underground and queer fan stories. At the same time, his work places the hairy in the middle of a “mess” of archives, other sources and texts standing nearby, but the hairy waits to the side – productively, I would say – where it can hide and enjoy things the way we do: messy.

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