Chapter Four – A Fandom is Born

Chapter Four

A Fandom is Born

JUST OFF TRASK AVENUE in Garden Grove, California, there exists a large ranch house that looks, more or less, like any of the other large ranch houses lining the street. There is one difference, however: An enormous tree stump at least ten feet tall stands in the middle of its front lawn. A sign affixed to it depicts a weasel-like animal in a high-stepping Michigan J. Frog pose, sporting a top hat and diamond-tipped cane, with a pair of antennae sprouting from his head. He’s framed above and below by the words “PRANCING SKILTAIRE.”

Rod O’Riley, Mark Merlino and a Skiltaire

“Skiltaires are an alien species I created, based on Earth weasels and other mustelids. They’re semi-biped, have a natural electro-generative ‘battery,’ electrostatic range sensing and a kind of tele-empathy. I created them in 1969 when I was in high school because I was tired of all the aliens in science fiction that were just slightly different humans—and I happened to really like weasels.

“When I was a kid one of our popular rainy day activities in school was to watch Disney’s “In Beaver Valley” from their True Life Adventure series. The cool thing about the movie wasn’t the beavers—it was the otters. I’d never seen animals that appeared to be playful on purpose. They seemed to just enjoy the heck out of living. You don’t think of that with wild animals, you think there’s always a struggle going on, they’re always hunting or being hunted. Here’s a big group of animals, several families, all sliding down slopes in mud or snow and just having an absolute ball with each other, just crazy fun.”

The speaker is Mark Merlino who, together with his partner Rod O’Riley, owns the house known as The Prancing Skiltaire, their home for more than thirty years. It’s the only house on the street (and most likely in all of Garden Grove) with its own name, inspired by a friend’s fondness for English pubs and a nod to The Lord of the Ring’s Prancing Pony inn. Inside the sprawling five-bedroom house furry art and literature abound: on the walls, on the bookshelves and atop end tables while DVDs of animated features fill a shelf next to the TV.

Someday there may be an historical marker attached to a tree stump as well, an engraved brass plaque reading, “Home of Mark Merlino and Rod O’Riley, creators of Furry Fandom.” An exaggeration perhaps—a blending of cartoon animal, anime and science-fiction fans with overlapping interests in anthropomorphic characters birthed our fandom. But Mark and Rod delivered—and named—the baby…

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The True Story of America’s Most Misunderstood Subculture



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