An Interview with Roy Calbeck of the Burned Furs and the Arizona Reform Party

Today, we have an interview with Roy Calbeck, a unicorn who ran for governor in Arizona under the Reform Party. My questions will be in bold.

Dan Wolfgang: How about a little introduction for our readers to start things off?

Roy Calbeck: I’m Scott Malcomson, 1998 gubernatorial candidate for the Arizona Reform Party. I was also a state delegate to the party’s split 2000 convention in opposition to Patrick J. Buchanan, and served as the AZRP’s State Secretary from 2002 – 2005.

On a campaign of $1000, with only 800 registered Reformers in Arizona, I was able to get on the ballot and obtained approximately 8500 votes by participating in town halls and the televised debates.

Beyond that, I’m a Gulf War vet who served with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment as an M1A1 Abrams crewman, and am currently semi-retired after more than 20 years as an IT tech.

Dan: Could you tell us more about your time with the Arizona Reform Party? What tenants of the party most appealed to you?

Roy: The RPUSA’s political tenets were—and in my view, remain—the best political platform possible. They were also the LAST party I looked into when I decided to try a run for office.

I first gave the Democrats a shot, and they immediately provided their litmus test: do I support firearms as an individual’s right under the US Constitution. Yes, I said. They said they oppose that position, and believe no US citizen has any right to any arms. So that was that.

Second, I went to the Republicans, who were much more polite but also asserted that they did not want a moderate when it came to abortion rights. So that was that.

Then the Libertarians, whose county chair said he would sue me personally if I ran as their party’s candidate for any office whatsoever without complete and total support for legalization of all drugs across the board. Yes, he said, this also meant legalizing PCP for over-the-counter purchases. When I said that was a completely unelectable position, he said “the Libertarian Party is not about winning elections”.

The only other party in Arizona with ballot access at the time—thanks to Ross Perot’s 8% popular vote in 1996—was the Reform Party. Arizona’s break-point for defining a “major party” required 5%. So even though it had only 800 registrants, it qualified for major party standing and ballot access.

Here was the peculiar genius of Reform: everything was about reining in government waste and spending. All social ideology was relegated to the individual candidates. Therefore, you could have a pot-smoking hippie and a deeply-conservative bishop running for the same office in the same primary and the party would do nothing to obstruct either. The result was not only that the extremes showed up, but also a wide spectrum across the center.

It was the ultimate expression of “Big Tent” ideals, bound only by the central focus that government was out of control and needed some serious pruning. The primary system would allow individual regions to be represented by the ideology they felt best suited them instead of the GOP/DNC one-size-fits-all.

Unfortunately, this is also where the Party’s infighting came from, and it’s what made coalition battles over the internal power structure both a necessity and a curse.

I think that’s a good if lengthy summation.

Dan: Donald Trump’s first bid for presidency was under a Reform Party ticket. Have you met with Trump while in the Reform Party, and what were your opinions of him at the time of his 2000 presidential run?

Roy: He did not have a 2000 Reform Party Presidential run. Trump only launched an exploratory bid, and was asked at the first party meeting he attended whether or not he knew anything about the party’s platform. He said he didn’t, and the response was to thank him for his interest.

In 2000, there were a wide variety of candidates for President—I should know, I saw them all on stage. The National Convention had been split by Patrick J. Buchanan, who made a takeover bid for the party as a whole. In all states where he did not get the party nomination, he founded and ran a parallel group called the “Freedom Party”, which registered State-by-State claiming it was the Reform Party’s actual affiliate.

With one exception, the States refused to rule against Buchanan, claiming “this is an internal party affair” and asserting neutrality.

Buchanan, however, was backed by the RPUSA Chairman and Treasurer, who controlled the party coffers and venue. We were forced to come up with a new National Convention virtually overnight—and we did, ultimately selecting John Hagelin from the Natural Law Party as our candidate.

Trump was nowhere to be seen in any of this.

As for my opinions of him in 2000, they were largely the same as they always have been… prior to his election in 2016, that is. I saw him as a self-aggrandizing real-estate mogul, and little more.

One more thing about the 2000 National—Hagelin was up against about half a dozen other candidates, any of whom could have won by acclamation. Our rule was that anyone who otherwise qualified for the campaign itself could take the stage and make their pitch. Two of those were the bishop and the pothead I mentioned before, the latter wearing an actual muu-muu on stage.

And everyone got to make their pitches with politeness and acceptance. No booing, fighting, shouting people down. I wish all political events could be as open, accepting and freewheeling as the 2000 Reform Party National Convention was. Contrast THAT to Buchanan’s farce and you’ll see why I consider the man a legitimate enemy of democracy.

Dan: Can you elaborate on your thoughts about the direction Pat Buchanan took the Reform Party?

Roy: Purely and simply, it was a hijack with malice aforethought. We eventually managed to eject all of his leadership by 2004, and as soon as that happened the remaining “Freedom Party” outfits (as well as the actual RP State affiliates he’d managed to win legitimately) went dead. They looted the coffers, drove off the membership, refused to hold any functions not required by law, ran no candidates—it was clear that the intent all along had simply been to eliminate a competing party which had just begun to emerge on the national stage.

I took part in a National Convention conducted on St. Patrick’s Day in 2004, when I was serving as the Arizona State Party Secretary, and I helped draft the “Drive Out The Snakes” initiative. This was then adapted in part to reform how the Party did its business—but by this point we’d lost nearly half our State organizations.

Reform never recovered from that.

In short, the most popular third party in America was assassinated by the extreme right wing of the Republican Party.

Dan: You were involved with the Burned Furs for a number of years. In your own words, what were the goals of the Burned Furs movement? What got you personally involved?

Roy: It never went beyond the original Manifesto, which summed up is a rant about lifestyle activists trying to make the fandom as a whole about whatever they personally believed in—politically, sexually, socially, whatever. Part of the Manifesto, for example, is about furries who insist on answering the phone with a “meow”, another is about claiming you can’t be a “real Furry” unless you’re a vegan.

But the biggest problem, as Burned Fur saw it, was that various people were being repelled by (or attracted to) extremely disturbing public behavior at Furry conventions and in online Furry forums—of which there were few at the time, so poor behavior was magnified to newcomers.

The opening to the Burned Fur Manifesto made clear what the basic issue was: ” If you were warped, you tried to hide it, and good for you if you did. If you were going to polish your rod to autopsy photos or bugger a Shetland pony, you did it in the privacy of your own sick, sad home. No one else, especially not me, had to know, and that was great. The best part was, if you decided to crawl out on the roof and inform the neighborhood via midnight megaphone that being urinated on got you hot, you would be told, in no uncertain terms, how very diseased you were.”

At this time, there was only one Furry convention: ConFurence. A second convention would form on the East Coast, going on and off and on again until it stabilized into what would eventually be AnthroCon, but ConFurence was a dominating force in the fandom for the first decade of its existence.

The reason that’s important is because the two people running ConFurence were themselves gay-pride activists. They routinely promoted ConFurence, particularly at other sci-fi and comic-book conventions like San Diego Comic Con and CondorCon, as a place “to get in touch with your animal sexuality”.

They saw the fandom as a whole through the lens of their existing sexual activism, so for example at VegasCon the ConFurence booth had a portfolio of furry art intended to impress newcomers. This included a lot of explicit porn.

The result of all this—and what led to Burned Fur’s existence—was that Furry Fandom became a place where any and all sexual limitations were considered gauche, plebian, even fascist. By ConFurence 4 drag queens and bondage gear were walking the public areas, with zero interest in the fandom itself—they had heard the conventions were just a great place to find a date and go nuts.

This in turn attracted the fringe press, which began running articles about how perverted the conventions were, and then how the fandom as a whole was.

Burned Fur was not the only response to this sort of thing. Yerf, “the Squeaky Clean Furry Art Archive”, would not accept any NC-17 or X-rated art, and it became very popular prior to the rise of FurAffinity.

Animation studios, responding to the bad press, began cracking down on their employees to sever ties to the fandom because of public-relations concerns. It didn’t help when a few of the higher-quality artists in the fandom, with views about sex similar to those of the ConFurence leadership, tried getting jobs at places like Warner Brothers on the strength of portfolios filled with Tiny Toons porn.

Burned Fur was an angry retort to the sexual lifestyles to check themselves before they pigeonholed the fandom’s reputation as being nothing but animal porn. Sadly, in years since, it seems that our view has largely been vindicated… and it’s my experience that most people who actually read the Burned Fur Manifesto respond with “well, okay, this is really angry, but this also makes a lot of sense”.

What got me personally involved was watching how people who raised these sorts of issues were attacked and ostracized by those who wanted to promote sexual activism as a norm for the fandom. Xydexx Unisexx in particular liked to claim that we should all shut up because the press might notice the complaints and look into these problems—nevermind the fact that they already were.

I don’t like injustice.

Xydexx has since made a habit of “correcting the record” on virtually any discussion which crops up regarding Burned Fur. Expect him to attack anything you publish on the subject.

A lot of people have since made a lot of claims about what Burned Fur “secretly” did—they have to say that, because the worst they can point to is that the group’s leader once had an extended shouting match online with Xydexx and threatened to punch him if he met him at a convention. Although he apologized for and retracted the threat, Xydexx went on to market it as proof of the group’s inherent evil. As no one wanted to defend the threat, the group dissolved. Some guy tried resurrecting it years later, but no one was interested.

So, the worst example in history of furry “conservatives”—I put that in quotes because most were liberal, and the group was overwhelmingly bi/gay—is that it wasn’t willing to support anyone threatening violence. Contrast this to current-day Leftist Furs who say there is no place for conservatives in the fandom, and who routinely threaten violence against anyone they deem a “Nazi”.

Burned Fur, in short, was about promoting inclusivity in the fandom by demanding that its membership show a little class when on camera.

Dan: How did you get involved with the Furry Fandom? What do you find most appealing about Furry culture?

Roy: As a high schooler, my personal haunt was the YA section at my local library. It was quiet, I loved Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels, and they also had other stuff—like graphic novels and wargames.

By the time I joined the Army, I was a major tabletop wargamer and roleplayer, and the one shop for both in El Paso (where I was stationed for three years) was Rita’s Fantasy Shoppe. Which also carried comic books.

This was right at the tail end of the ’80s-era Black-and-White Boom-and-Bust for the comics industry. Rita’s had literal tons of comics selling for a quarter apiece. When I’d get bored of gaming, I’d rifle the boxes for interesting tidbits.

That’s how I found Furry Fandom: the B&W Boom had launched in the wake of a few successful titles—mainly the original grim/gritty version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Loads of copycat titles hit the market and speculators went wild trying to pick up on “the next hot thing”.

Many of these were straight-up knockoff parodies like “Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters“… but more and more truly creative titles started popping up, like “Albedo” and “Red Shetland“.

By the time I found Furry comics, the Bust was already underway (which is why all these comics were so cheap to begin with, of course). I’d get into a given title, only to find it had died after three issues or so. Some, like the “Critters” anthology from Fantagraphics, had survived to put out a few dozen. But there were still a handful of survivors…

…and one of those, “Red Shetland”, was local to my home state of Arizona. I decided to put what support I could into keeping it alive, and met Jim Groat for that purpose at San Diego Comic Con in… I think 1989? Not sure.

What had struck me about all these different comics, though, was that there was no “house style”. Every one of them was unique. Every one of them had its own story, style, and passion. Furry comics weren’t there just to make a buck; they were there to make a splash.

And that’s what led me to being impressed with, and staying in, the fandom. It’s immensely creative and passionate, without being locked into someone else’s IP like you see with so many other fandoms. The concept, and not a corporate property, is what drives us.

Dan: What do you think of modern Furry webcomics? Are there any you would favorably compare with the good stuff from the 80s?

Roy: There are a LOT of good Furry webcomics, and there always have been. Early in my IT career, I had “The Belfry” (the biggest webcomic hub I have ever seen to this day) saved to whatever browser I was using, so I could keep up with my favorites during dead time and breaks.

I drifted away from webcomic in general over the years, but I still follow such talents as Tracy Butler’s “Lackadaisy“, Aaron Neathery’s “Endtown” and Dreamkeepers (by that guy who just won the Ursa Award whose name I forget at the moment). (Editor’s note: Dreamkeepers is created by David and Liz Lillie.)

All this being said, there weren’t any webcomics in the ’80s. They really took off in the ’90s, though, alongside long-running furry wood-pulpers like Antarctic Press’ “Furrlough“. I pretty much tried keeping up with everything, and if I were to give my list of faves—both comic and webcomic—it would prolly dwarf the rest of this interview.

Dan: Yes, I meant the B&W furry comics from the ’80s.

Roy: Well, the main thing there is that you couldn’t do a comic unless you could lay out several grand for printing and distribution. Webcomics made it possible to do stories at one’s own pace and for next to nothing. Those who built up a solid following would make the rounds at Furry conventions to sell collected-strip books and merch. So it was pretty much an artistic renaissance of sorts.

I even did a (very) shortlived webcomic for my IT employer called “Boot Sector” back in the day.

Dan: As someone who’s been part of the Furry Fandom for a long time, what do you think of how it has evolved over the years?

Roy: I think that the current focus on art archives and individual images has stagnated the fandom somewhat. There is less interest in “telling a story” and more in “being the story”. This, however, was an inescapable result of the free market and the number of furry artists who want to make some level of significant income from their work. Comic books are expensive with low chance for success. Webcomics are more lucrative due to low overhead. But the real moneymaker these days are individual commissions, where the artist can quickly find themselves swamped by demand.

And while there are certain problems with that as well—mainly in the form of deadbeats on both the artistic and commissioning side of the aisle—it’s not unheard of for furry art to be someone’s main or even only form of income. Add to this the cottage industries for fursuits and fursuiting accessories, may Hank Hill watch over me, praised be his barbeque.

I should also say that Furry social media has ALWAYS had a toxicity problem, even when it was limited to alt.fan.furry on the old Usenet forums and direct email. There were disinformation campaigns, smear jobs, attempts to get people fired—it was all there before, and modern social media has made it that much easier to amplify everything. That’s the downside to being able to share your homedrawn image of a unicorn knight with thousands of people in ten seconds.

Dan: Any closing comments for our readers?

Roy: I still love Furry Fandom as much today as when I first got into it. To me it’s a meta-genre, a place where any genre and rating can be mixed together for an intoxicatingly creative brew. If there’s any threat to the fandom as a whole, it’s a matter of saying “this fandom isn’t for the likes of X” and then trying to bully those people out. LGBT or straight, conservative or liberal, we need to remember that Furries aren’t bound to any such labels. Creation is our lifeblood; let it flow.

Dan: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today.

Roy: Anytime.

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2 Comments

  1. I never knew the real story behind the Burned Furs- I’d only heard it vaguely referenced as some sort of fanatical anti-porn outlet. Learning more was fascinating. Also, speaking as somebody *totally* unbiased, this guy has great taste in comics. Fantastic interview!

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