My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is the animation phenomenon of this decade. A children's cartoon based on a now-retro line of toys that somehow became popular with young adults, Friendship Is Magic has become the defining television series for cable network The Hub. A much-anticipated third season begins next weekend, but, in the meantime, fans have been congregating across North America and Europe. They're celebrating Pinky Pie's love of a good party, DJ Pon-3's turntable skills and, most importantly, Twilight Sparkle's lessons about friendship at fan conventions big and small. Last weekend, Southern California's healthy MLP fan community gathered at the Anaheim Convention Center for Equestria L.A.
The fans -- called Bronies, often regardless of gender (sometimes female fans use the term Pegasisters) -- were packed into one small section of the Convention Center. They wore My Little Pony t-shirts and hoodies. Some were dressed in full costumes, mostly human versions of the shows equine heroes. There were few children here. Equestria L.A.'s organizers expected about 1000 people to show up for the two-day event last week. That's a strong number for a first year convention, particularly for one that had planned to be much smaller.
"Originally, we wanted to have, maybe, a 400 person event for one day," says David Cuyno, who handles the conventions press relations. Turns out that Equestria L.A. underestimated the demand for their event. Cuyno notes that, when the badges first went on sale in the summer, 20 percent were sold in the first week. A few weeks later, they had sold 80 percent of the badges. That was before they announced the show's writers and voice actors were attending. Equestria L.A. expanded quickly and that worked. Later on, they scored guests of honor like Lauren Faust, who developed the show for The Hub, and Tara Strong, the voice of lead pony Twilight Sparkle.
Equestria L.A. isn't the first convention for Friendship Is Magic fans. That honor goes to BronyCon, which has put on four events in the New York area since 2011. Josh Dean, a 26-year-old from Wisconsin, was out at Equestria L.A. to help promote BronyCon. "We see ourselves not as competitors," he says. "All we want to do is bring fun to everybody."
There's a sense of camaraderie among the different Friendship Is Magic events that resembles what you'll see in the anime and comic book fan convention worlds. But it's also something that is indicative to the Brony fandom as well. Events like Equestria L.A. are different from other conventions and they're bringing in people who haven't been a part of the convention world before.
Up next: a Brony who's a former Marine
Stephen Judah was carefully painting MLP miniature figures when I met him on Saturday. This was his first convention ever. Judah is a former Marine and first saw the MLP characters online while he was deployed. "I kept seeing ponies pop up everywhere that I would normally go," he recalls. Upon his return, he started watching the series. "I fell in love with the characters."
Angela Gray was not a My Little Pony fan when she was a young girl. Now, at 27, the Anaheim resident is one of the many grown-up MLP fans. She was at the convention with her husband Jason, selling his chainmail creations, some of which were made in the bright colors of the TV series and featured MLP charms. Gray says that the writing sucked her into the show, which is something that you'll hear from a lot of Friendship Is Magic's audience. Like many other fans, she was also attracted to the show's pedigree. That it was developed by Lauren Faust, who was a director and writer for The Powerpuff Girls, meant something to the show's early adopters.
"Powerpuff Girls was a precursor to the MLP fandom," says Cuyno, pointing to the show's strong female characters, as well as it's stellar artwork and stories.
In truth, Friendship Is Magic isn't some television anomaly -- it's part of something bigger. That much was obvious at Equestria L.A.'s "Attack of the Writers" panel. Several of the writers from the series appeared at the convention for a Saturday morning panel session. When it came time for introductions, they mentioned previous credits. When writers mentioned working on shows like The Powerpuff Girls and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, the crowd bellowed with excitement.
Friendship Is Magic has become a cultural touchstone for the millennial generation. They might be too young to remember My Little Pony toys, but they are just the right age to have been sucked into the world of The Powerpuff Girls and other boundary-pushing animated shows that appeared on cable in the late 1990s, shows that were so influential that the even spawned a panel at the recent Platform Animation Festival. Friendship Is Magic is, in some ways, an extension of the cartoons that have been sparking their imagination since childhood.
"My generation grew up with some pretty awesome cartoons," says Dean. "Taking that with the force that is the Internet, which is how [the Friendship Is Magic] fandom spread, I almost feel that this was inevitable."
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