"I've always looked at my work feeling like I was trying to make stuff for girls," says animator Lauren Faust, "and then accidentally getting guys interested as well."
Faust, 37, grew up near Annapolis, Md., with three brothers, no sisters and no female cousins. While she loved the toys that were marketed to little girls in the 1980s -- Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony were favorites -- she wasn't a fan of the related TV shows and books. She preferred her older brothers' comic books and thought Transformers and G.I. Joe were pretty cool, too.
What Faust wanted to do, she later realized, was give the cute characters in her toy box the action-packed lives that seemed reserved for boys.
As an adult, Faust found the chance to do just that. While attending California Institute of the Arts, she landed her first animation gig, a summer stint on MTV's cult classic The Maxx. Eventually she got a job as a storyboard artist for The Powerpuff Girls, a show where the artists actually wrote the episodes. Faust's claim to fame, though, is reviving her own favorite childhood toy. She developed My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, the cartoon series that has captured the hearts of children and adults, women and men.
Yes, men. Have you heard of Bronies? They're grown men, often the same guys who obsess over comic book superheroes and sci-fi movies, who are rabid fans of My Little Pony. Faust is essentially responsible for that phenomenon.
The Bronies caught Faust by surprise. The show was geared toward 6- to 8-year-old girls, and she had already prepared herself for criticism from male viewers.
"Think of the girls," she told herself as she worked on the show. "They need to believe that the stuff they like isn't stupid."
Then Faust and the team noticed something peculiar. The characters were popping up on 4chan, birthplace of some of the funniest -- and sometimes meanest -- Internet memes. Initially, the ponies were the subject of jokes. Soon, though, they saw that the anonymous 4chan users were becoming big fans. After that, there was no stopping the show's popularity. Young adults -- male and female -- were dressing up as "Pegasus pony" Rainbow Dash at comic conventions and parties, and viewers were posting homemade My Little Pony music videos on YouTube. They had a hit.
Up next: Faust's other projects