From feline to Fender: ‘Planets aligned’ for New Jersey native
It may be difficult to believe that as little as three years ago, you could mention the name “Coopertom” in fursuiting circles and get a lot of blank stares of non-recognition.
In the relatively short amount of time he’s been active in the fandom, Coopertom, an I.T. specialist for an advertising agency who goes by “Jim” in real life, has developed quite a following with his crazy fursuiting antics and hilariously popular video work.
As of press time, Jim’s YouTube account, “ninelivesnails,” has 3,090 subscribers, he’s currently on the staff of the convention FA: United, and gets to pilot one of the most well-known fursuit mascots in the fandom.
Life is good for the 29-year-old, but he owes a lot of it to sheer good fortune, as well as the tremendous friendships he has made in the furry world.
LURKING IN THE SHADOWS
As a high-school junior back in 1999, Jim had to write a science report about big cats.
He hopped online to do research, and a few curious clicks later, stumbled upon a website devoted to Chakats, a fantasy feline taur species, and was fascinated by his introduction to anthropomorphics.
Having loved Disney movies since he was a kid, Jim continued to check out furry art, but shied away from conventions or meeting other furs for nearly a decade.
“I saw some convention pictures, and back then conventions weren’t like they are now,” he said. “It was mostly art-based, I did see some fursuiters but their heads were about 50 feet wide and scary-looking.”
Fast-forward to 2008, after Jim had graduated with a degree in Visual Communications and accepted a job in New York City.
One night while browsing on YouTube, the thought occurred to him that those “fursuiter guys” might have some videos up. Had that aspect of the fandom changed in almost 10 years?
After typing in “furry” into the search box, he was about to find out.
“I came across Greifer, Tilt Longtail, and his video of him throwing pies at a lawn chair,” Jim remembered. “It was not like the fursuiting I saw in the late ’90s. It was totally different, I was on YouTube every night looking for new fursuit videos.”
Some of those videos were from Anthrocon 2008, and after seeing that footage, it was more than enough to pique Jim’s interest and want to get more involved in the fandom.
“Conventions weren’t more of people standing around and looking at art like it was back then,” he explained. “Now it’s like a party, all these people dancing around and having a good time in their costumes. That’s what sparked my interest again.”
GUEST OF HONOR
A resident of Seaside Heights, New Jersey – a stone’s throw away from where the MTV series “Jersey Shore” is filmed – Jim soon tried to make connections with those fursuiters that inspired him through their videos.
Admittedly, he “never said anything to anyone” in the 10 years he was lurking, but one day he got the courage to contact Tilt Longtail.
“I opened a LiveJournal account and sent him an email… and he (replied), ‘I see you’re from New Jersey, I’m going to be at the Doo Dah Parade next weekend in Ocean City. Come on down!’” Jim recalled. “I had never met any furries before, anyone in the fandom. I go down there and the first fursuiters I see are Tilt and Foxwell. They were really friendly… and then I heard they were going to make me the Guest of Honor.”
As tradition with the event’s honored guest, Jim’s introduction to live fursuiting was capped off by a memorable, and messy, welcome.
“I get there and an hour later I’m surrounded by fursuiters and they’re throwing pies at me,” Jim said. “Going to bed that night knowing I was massive pie fight with giant animal people was a totally surreal experience for me. I craved more of this insanity.”
Soon after, he found (April 2012 Featured Fursuiter) J.D. Puppy’s LiveJournal, and that was when the celestial bodies started to align.
Through a journal post, Jim learned that J.D. has just started his job at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which was directly across the street from his own office building.
“We’d go out for lunch once in a while,” Jim said, adding that he told J.D. that he was anxious to get out and meet everybody. “I told him, about two and half months before Anthrocon, that I didn’t have any reservations but I wanted to fursuit at AC. He goes, ‘That can be done.’”
After a half-hour of talking and sketching at a nearby Chipotle, a mohawked black-and-white dog named Shedz (right), Jim’s first fursuit character, was born.
J.D. made true on his promise, sneaking Shedz to a Memorial Day Barbecue just a few weeks before AC, and giving Jim the surprise of his life.
“(J.D.) asked me to come over and give him a hand with something, so I go over expecting to pick up something, and he turns around and says, ‘Here’s your fursuit!’” he said, adding that he was fortunate to find an open spot in someone’s room at AC that year. “It blew my mind that I could go from saying hi to Tilt to fursuiting at Anthrocon in a couple of months.”
Shortly after the Doo Dah Parade, Jim still believed, as many new furs do, that they’re the only furry fans within a 50-mile radius.
“Not only did I find out there’s (furries) in New Jersey, but there are two that live five minutes from my house,” Jim said incredulously. “I became really good friends with them, and they turned out to be long-term friends with Dragoneer, even before he owned FurAffinity.”
Jim ended up dragging his two friends along with him to AC, where once again, an amazing opportunity afforded itself to him through an amazing stroke of luck… and his energetic performance ability.
“Here I am in suit, and I’m bouncing off the walls… I’m going nuts. Dragoneer was there, watching me act like a total crazy person, and he said, ‘This is exactly how I want Fender to be,’” Jim said, admitting that he had no idea who or what Fender was at the time. “To be honest, I had just opened a FurAffinity account… I started looking things up and discovered, ‘Oh my God, Fender’s like, the mascot, the guy you see on the front page every day.’ It was a lot on my shoulders… I thought it out really thoroughly and said, ‘I’ll do it.”"
Although Dragoneer offered to pay for the suit in full, Jim wouldn’t let him do that, instead paying for Fender’s creation out of his own pocket.
“I thought that was crazy, him paying for a suit he’s never going to wear,” Jim explained.
Having fallen in love with the style of Rock-It Wolf built by White Wolf Creations – a partial Jim picked up on Furbid after acquiring Shedz – the duo worked together to commission the beloved FurAffinity mascot from White Wolf in early 2010.
Fender’s public debut occurred during the opening ceremonies of FAU: 3 in 2010, which ranks as Jim’s greatest fursuiting memory. He was also the fursuit track lead at the convention.
“It is a blast, it’s surreal, just an insane experience,” said Jim on fursuiting as the FurAffinity mascot, a suit he maintains on his own. “You walk there and you just get attacked by people, ‘Oh my God, it’s Fender!’ It was cool when it came out the first year, and even now when I put it on, people are everywhere asking for pictures.”
After getting Fender made, Jim soon realized that he now had three fursuits, and was yet to create a suit of his own fursona, Coopertom.
Late in 2010, he decided to do something about that.
THAT DARN CAT
Early in his experience with furry, Jim knew that his own character was going to be a feline of some sort.
“I always liked animated cat movies,” he said. “There’s not too many of them, but they’re always really cool-looking. I thought if I was to do the furry thing, I wanted to be a plain house cat. People make these really exotic animals… there’s dogs and things but there really wasn’t any, ‘Hey, I’m a cat!’”
Passionate about cars, Jim took a page from Audimutt and created his signature Coopertom handle, due to the fact he chose a tomcat character and drives a Mini Cooper – and the name wasn’t taken yet on LiveJournal.
Early on, he had sketched up a basic yellow cat with a red hair tuft, but when it came time to make the 3-D version of Coopertom, he ended up choosing realism over fantasy.
“I decided to veer away from all the crazy, bright colors – it wasn’t really me,” Jim explained. “I worked with Jill0r, and we made up a very natural-looking cat.”
Almost 12 years after he found the fandom, Coopertom came to life, debuting at Anthrocon last year. It was worth the wait.
“I could finally be the cat I wanted to be in the fandom, it was great,” he said on finally performing as his fursona. “(Jill0r) was showing me pictures, I was obsessing over the work-in-progress pictures, I couldn’t stop looking at them. Eventually when I got it, it was amazing… Anthrocon 2011 was just a blast.”
Having started his resurgence of interest in the fandom through YouTube videos, it only made sense for Jim to start contributing his own.
He did just that after his experience in Anthrocon 2009, posting a pair of videos of him fursuiting as Shedz, as well as a post-con depression short of Jim showing the best way to ease the pain of PCD.
Much to his surprise, the video count shot through the roof, and furry fans across the globe couldn’t wait to see what Jim, as Shedz, and then later Rock-It Wolf, would say or do next.
“I posted those two up, and they shot through the roof, people were saying ‘Oh, you’re so funny,’” he recalled. “People started subscribing and wanted to see what I was doing. I never really thought of that actually happening. I remember looking one time and having 400 subscribers, and I thought that was great, now when I log on I get 20 new subscribers. It’s really nothing I ever expected. People are coming to me and saying, ‘I became a fursuiter because I watched your videos,’ and that’s really great.”
In addition to posting a library of convention videos and other random hilarity, Jim also helps out with promotional material for FA: United, having recently done a new video highlighting the convention’s new hotel, which garnered more than 3,700 views in two weeks.
“Your whole life you do stuff, but I never would have experienced the volume of people… 3,000 people have the possibility of seeing (my work),” Jim said.
Outside of the furry world, Jim’s hobbies include car collecting – he has eight cars including a number of classic air-cooled Volkswagens – vintage electronics (5.25-inch floppy disks, 8-tracks, laserdiscs), building computers and playing the piano, and he even has a Neo-Geo arcade machine in his bedroom.
But his most prized possession is one that will make most car collectors – and Back to the Future fans – green with envy.
In 2010, for his 27th birthday, he decided to get what he really wanted.
“Growing up, I always wanted a DeLorean,” he said. “After I started doing the furry thing, I started taking more risks… taking chances with crazy things.”
Crazy or not, Jim drove all the way down to the DeLorean dealership down in Florida, and picked out a DMC-12 right out of the lot. After having it shipped back and rehauling the fuel system, among other things, he finally got it to run last year.
Most importantly, he has no regrets.
“It’s a great feeling having something you’ve wanted your entire existence,” Jim said. “Once you get it, it just puts a brand new page on your life, because you’ve achieved that goal. It’s a real great, great feeling.”
As far as his convention schedule, he will definitely be at Anthrocon later this month, as well as FA:U and FurFright, with a long-term goal of someday attending European conventions Confuzzled (England) and Eurofurence (Germany).
It’s been a crazy three years for Jim in the fandom, but he wouldn’t trade his memorable experiences – or the friendships he’s made – for the world.
“There’s drama and all sorts of things, but the people you do find that you ‘click’ with, and the friendships you make in the fandom, are the very best friendships that you will ever find,” he said on what he enjoys most about the furry fandom. “It’s such an obscure idea, anthropomorphic animals, but through sharing that common interest, you branch off to other interests and find that you relate to people so well. There’s so much more that you share other than just anthropomorphics and an interest in that.”
Additional Q & A with Coopertom
Q: You started doing improv comedy in college, how much does that experience help you when you’re out performing in suit?
A: I started running around Anthrocon in suit, and it clicked – this is kind of like what I was doing at improv. I’d see that someone was holding a cup, or a hat, or something and you can play off of things. I use a lot of that now, and it allows me to incorporate the person when I’m fursuiting, to joke around. It’s helped a ton… I’m constantly kind of throwing stuff around in the back of my head when I’m fursuiting. It’s coming up with stuff quick, on the burn, when something pops up or somebody says something I can be quick with a joke.
Q: What other fursuiters do you look up to as far as being great performers?
A: There’s so many. Some suiters that I’ve come across that are totally amazing, but they’re people that have been inspired by what I’ve done, and what Tilt’s done. The new people coming in, they’re awesome people. A good friend of mine is K.G. – King Gourd, and he was a person that (told me) ‘Dude, you’re funny as hell.’ I see him doing videos and getting subscribers every day, and his videos are hilarious.
There’s so many people out there that get to experience his ideas and his jokes, it’s really great to see him. KartFox is another guy, I’m so happy he’s part of the fandom. He got a suit and is making videos now, I met him in person, and he’s a great person and great addition to the fandom.
Q: What is your most memorable fursuiting moment?
A: It would have to be FAU: 3, when Fender debuted. That was really awesome, because no one saw the suit really… until the opening ceremonies at FAU: 3. The whole room was full of people, and everyone was going through the plans and the events and everything, and I was getting into the service hallway backstage. I really didn’t know how many people were going to be at the Opening Ceremonies, sometimes people just skip them, and I go out there, and (Dragoneer) introduces Fender. It was first time anyone’s ever seen him, and people are all cheering and clapping. I started goofing around and dancing around the floor and stuff like that. That was the craziest thing I could have experienced.
Q: What does your convention schedule look like for the foreseeable future?
A: I’m going to be at AC, it’s going to be an awesome time, looking forward to that. After that, it’s going to be FAU: 5, I’m in charge of the whole fursuit (track), the fursuit games and the parade, all that stuff. I’m going to get all the supplies for that… after FAU I’ll be at FurFright. I typically do the same conventions every year, I mixed it up a bit last year and went to Wild Nights. I don’t like flying a lot, so if it’s something I can drive to, I’ll go. I drove down to FWA this year. I really want to set my sights on EuroFurence. For someone that hates flying, that’s the worst thing to do, but I really want to go. I have people over in the U.K. that are begging me to come, that want Fender to be at Confuzzled, and things like that. I have my sights set on EuroFurence, and FC one of these days.
Q: I noticed you seem to have a theme of picking up a new suit every year. Do you have any new suits or characters in the works this year?
A: This year, I looked back and was like, “Oh my God, every year I’m getting a new suit. I’ve got to stop!” (laughs) When I finally got the Coopertom suit, I (decided) I didn’t want to focus on anything else. Next year, I’m not going to get anything. I’m going to wear this suit a lot and enjoy it, this is what I actually wanted and commissioned myself. The problem is, I really love Jill0r’s work, and the way she makes fursuits, and she just opened her commissions. I want to commission another suit from Jill0r, and I love the way she makes cats. (Coopertom) is an angry cat character, so I was going to make an obnoxious happy cat, the complete opposite of Coopertom, make him Coopertim or something. Either that, or I was going to make a generic fox, and see how much I can NOT stand out.
Editor’s note: The FNN Featured Fursuiter of the Month is a bi-monthly profile series written by Kijani. Every other month he will choose one well-recognized figure in the fandom’s fursuiting community, offering a unique “behind the mask” look at their characters and how they found fursuiting/furry fandom, as well as a snapshot of their lives outside the fandom.
The next feature will be released in August 2012.