Awards are something that is not uncommon when it comes to the various interests that exist out there in the world; there seems to be awards for everything, ranging from actor awards, to music awards, to even non-media things like alcohol, such as at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. As such, it is no surprise that the furry fandom sought to create their own little awards program and ceremony to celebrate achievements within the furry fandom. Known simply as the Ursa Major Awards, these annual awards seek to celebrate well-liked and awesome furry content, whether it be something created by the fandom, or outside the fandom.
The Ursa Major Awards, UMAs for short, were awards that were created in the vein of the prestigious Hugo Awards and other such “fandom awards”. These were originally administered by the ConFurence group, with the award ceremony being held at the Californian furry convention ConFurence, until administration switched over to an organization known as the Anthropomorphic Literature and Arts Association in 2003. Hosting of the UMAs changed as well, with the award ceremony itself switching between various host conventions, such as Anthrocon where the UMA 2016 Award ceremony was held.
The awards themselves cover quite a few different categories: there is Best Anthropomorphic Motion Picture, Dramatic Short Work or Series, Novel, Short Fiction, Other Literary Work, Comic Book, Comic Strip, Fanzine, Published Illustration, Game, Miscellany, Website, Non Fiction Work, and a recently added category of Best Fursuit. As mentioned before, works created by non-furs can be nominated for and win in these categories. In fact the only real benchmark for a work is that it must have been released between January 1st and December 31st for the year it is being nominated for, and has to include at least one character that is non-human that is given anthropomorphic (human-like basically) attributes in some fashion be they mental or physical – the official website lists Watership Down as an example of mental anthropomorphism, and Bugs Bunny Cartoons as an example of the more physical. However, just having an animal wouldn’t work – so a book such as Shiloh wouldn’t quite qualify despite the title character being a Beagle as Shiloh never exhibits any anthropomorphic traits. They also keep an eye out for works that have anything objectionable such as being overly sexual, libelous, offensive, and so on; though the official site states they have never had to remove a nomination due to those factors. Of note also is the ALAA’s Choice Award. First awarded in 2012, the ALAA’s Choice Award was introduced to recognize outstanding anthro works, and while it isn’t an official UMA, it is voted on by the ALAA members and thus could be considered just as prestigious.
So, how does this all work? Well, you may notice that the awards rely a lot on the fandom’s participation. Rather than let some kind of closed-door group decide nominations and winners, the fandom itself gets to nominate works and elect the winners. Nominations tend to open towards the end of January, and furs can nominate works through various means such as E-mail, snail mail, or through other means. The top 5 nominated works become the official nominees for their respective categories, and all nominators receive voter registration so they can return and vote when the official voting period opens; though anyone can register to vote once voting begins, even if they didn’t nominate a work. And as mentioned before, when the time comes it falls on the fandom to vote for their favorite works, with the winners being those who receive the most points, as voters are asked to rank their selections from 1 – 5, with one being the most preferred and 5 being the least.
The UMAs’ official site tries to help out this long process as well, as on their official site there’s a “Recommended Anthropomorphics List” that’s put together to help fans figure out who they should nominate. And works can be added to this list too by fans, meaning this list isn’t just a reflection of what the ALAA thinks is good, but also the fandom’s as well. It’s a list meant to help engage conversation and debate on what the best works should be. In addition, fans and furs can also browse the complete list of previous UMA winners. Now that’s pretty neat!
However, some categories are pretty much dominated by works created by non-furs, such as movies and video games. Understandably so, too, as creating a video game or a movie is a pretty expensive task, and it seems easy for big AAA studios like Disney and Nintendo to have their fill of these. However, that looks like it might change, at least for gaming; 2015’s gaming award was taken by Toby Fox’s UnderTale, and while Toby Fox isn’t a furry (as far as I know, anyways) he and his crew are still indie. Meanwhile Klace Husky took home the 2016 gaming award for his visual novel Major\Minor. Perhaps this might be a turning point; maybe seeing a small developer like Klace – who pretty much worked on the game himself and only commissioned the main theme and the character art – win a UMA might inspire others to pick up the pen and keyboard and get to work on their own projects. I know it lit my own spark.
But I suppose one of the major questions is if something like this is even important or not to the furry fandom, or if weight should be given to it at all – I’ve heard other fellow furries discard the UMAs as not being “important” or not being anywhere near as “official” as say, the Golden Globes or the Hugos. I contest that with a big “So what?” I mean, sure it’s not nearly as prestigious to say that a book is an “Ursa Major Award” winner in comparison to say, the Hugos or even the New York Times’ Bestsellers list, but just browse the list of awards over on Wikipedia, and you’ll find that a decent amount of them are started and ran by small organizations that range from a company’s executives or a group of journalists and critics. Are those awards any less valid than the more well-known awards? I suppose that really is up for debate. Personally, I think it’s a pretty neat thing for the fandom to have its own awards to give some spotlight to works that they enjoy, and I really wish it was more popular among furries. After all, why not have a little fun with our own award ceremony and pat ourselves on the back for some good work? Other fandoms and media get to do it, why should we be left out?
Have any awards ceremonies that you like? Know of any odd or obscure ones? Ever participated or attended one yourself? Sound off in the comments below. Until next time, and have a very happy fuzzy new year!