Woolworth’s ‘Aussie Heroes’ sticker packs (Image: supplied)

Furries are a subculture of people obsessed with human-animal hybrids, with their interest ranging from admiring furry art, dressing up or roleplaying online in their fursonas (a portmanteau for someone’s animal persona) and, sometimes, indulging in it as a sexual fetish.

They are a big part of the internet landscape and generally a harmless and positive community. They also tend to keep to themselves.

But now the international furry community has burst out to celebrate artwork released by the Royal Australian Mint — and promoted via Woolies — for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Members of the subculture say the carefully designed ‘Aussie Heroes’ must have been done by one of their own.

On Tuesday, the major supermarket chain along with Australia’s producer of currency announced a limited-edition range of $2 coins to celebrate the Olympic and Paralympic teams.  Along with the specially designed coins, there’s elaborate packaging and signage in Woolworths across the country, featuring anthropomorphic animal athletes as mascots. 

Redditor u/unauthorisedcashews posted a picture of some of the packaging to r/Australia, an internet community with more than 700,000 members.

“Woolworth’s ‘Aussie Heroes’ sticker packs are giving me furry vibes,” they wrote. 

Comments flooded into the u/unauthorisedcashews post supporting the hunch. 

“That’s just furry art. I have zero doubt a furry was hired,” redditor u/MintyFreshDragon said. “Just to clarify, I’m a furry artist myself.” 

“Someone was definitely getting yiffy while drawing these,” u/Telcodoctor joked, using lexicon for sexual intercourse among furries.

Photographs of the artwork went viral on Twitter as well, with members of the furry community admiring the artistry. 

So, were they right? Was this the handiwork of someone very interested in animals? 

South Australian anime artist Landeg tweeted on Wednesday evening that they were responsible for the work.

In 2019, a friend of theirs told them that the Royal Australian Mint was looking for someone to reimagine the boxing Kangaroo mascot character for the upcoming Olympics.

“I submitted my portfolio and truly was not expecting to be contacted back. I had no idea I was going to be drawing anthropomorphic animal characters until I was brought on and we started working out the details; until that point I had assumed I’d be drawing people since I had almost zero animals in my portfolio, anthro or otherwise,” the artist told Crikey.

Over a few months, Landeg produced eight pages of black and white comics, a colour illustration for each of the events in both the Olympics and Paralympics, and additional promotional images as well as a redesign of the characters.

Since submitting the final work in 2019, Landeg didn’t hear anything. Then, the Olympics were postponed. The designer wondered whether the project had been shelved and didn’t think any more of it, until recently.

“I only found out when I popped into Woolies trying to find Peri Peri Twisties,” they said.

Despite the attention, they confirmed that they are not a furry themselves. But they took the attention as a compliment to their artistry: “I think it’s the attention to detail that makes people think a furry drew them because furries are usually the only ones who care about making anthropomorphic characters look good, and because you expect promotional art like this to look at least a little bit crap,” they said.

“And also because some folks out there are attracted to the Hockey Kangaroo and they’re trying to make that my problem.”

Landeg said that they are flattered by all the attention — they tell Crikey people have been trying to purchase the coins from overseas while people have been asking if they can commission more art — but they do feel a bit conflicted about their part in the project because of the pandemic.

“The art is releasing in a very different climate now than when I was first working on them and I’m no longer as enthusiastic about the Olympics going ahead, so it’s an odd mix of being excited to see my work go public vs. hesitation about the message it’s being used for,” they said. 

Landeg is worried that the attention from the furry community will make parents think that there’s something deviant about the art — which was not their intention.

“I mostly just wanted to make sure the mascots looked cool as hell so that the sports looked fun and exciting, so that kids might be inspired to try them out or see themselves represented in a hobby they already enjoyed,” they said.

“As fun as the response from the furry community has been, I know what a unique impact visuals like this can make on you when you’re young, so I just hope the kids enjoy them before they move on to the next thing.”