Pony Party: Columbus convention offers inside look at adult fans of "My Little Pony"

Jackie Mantey, Columbus Alive

Hark! Do you hear the growing patter of galloping pastel hooves? See the laser-lit dance floor? Smell the fur suits?

The ponies are coming.

This weekend marks the second annual TrotCon, a convention in Columbus for fans of the cartoon series "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic."

Although MLP: FiM was created for children - particularly little girls - it has gained a cult-like following of adult men and women devoted to Twilight Sparkle and her magical pony friends.

TrotCon 2013 expects more than 1,000 visitors (several from overseas) eager for its many forums on things like how to write fan fiction, talks with MLP VIP including one of the show's writers, Dave Polsky, tables of artists and vendors and, of course, the dance parties. Eurobeat Brony, the first DJ to remix a song from MLP: FiM, leads the charge of numerous electronic musicians set to get the trampling started.

It's a pretty impressive reach considering that the first TrotCon was only held last July. Seven hundred people attended that two-day roundup of fans at the Ohio Union. The space the TrotCon team has rented for 2013 is nearly double the space it filled last year.

"We were very surprised with the turnout [at TrotCon 2012]. At closing ceremonies, I cried. Seeing everyone made me so happy," said Robyn Laubach (aka Darkly Cute), a 24-year-old resident from Hubbard, Ohio. Laubach is the TrotCon convention chair and founder of Ohio Bronies, a meetup group of adult fans of the show living in the Buckeye State.

That's right, people. A woman founded Ohio Bronies.

You've probably heard about Bronies in the last year. Commonly misidentified as adult dudes who like MLP, in the fan community a Brony is anyone who is full-grown and likes the show. Female fans are often called Grownies or Pegasisters, but those names present their own inaccuracies.

"The horse that I've created isn't a Pegasus," Laubach said.

Darkly Cute is a unicorn.

Moreover, the misconception that Bronies are only boys and this cultural fascination/gawking at boy Bronies highlights the fact that dude Bronies blow standard gender roles out of the water trough.

One can profess his love for the show's animation, voice acting, writing or comedy (all of which are commonly pointed to as reasons for adult obsession), but the fans with XY chromosomes are often met with more derision or confusion than their femaremale counterparts.

"I definitely get teased but I think that's normal. People tend to laugh at what they don't understand, but I've never felt disrespected based on my allegiance to this fandom," said Chicago-based Byron Olson, a popular fan fiction writer speaking at this year's TrotCon. Olson writes under the pen name PonIver.

(Writer's Note: PonIver is my pick for most awesome pony name. Olson is a huge fan of the indie band Bon Iver. Plus, Bon Iver is French for "Good Winter" and his favorite episode of MLP:FiM is "Winter Wrap Up" so it seemed fitting. Most Bronies listen to electronic and dance music and are unfamiliar with Bon Iver, Olson said, so they mistakenly take the "I" in PonIver to be an "L" and call him "Pony Lover.")

"The staff [that created MLP: FiM] didn't plan on making a show grown men would enjoy, but they did try to make a show that shattered the conventions of media directed at young females," Olson continued. "The show embraces that no matter who you are, that's OK, and you shouldn't be ashamed. That's not a lesson for just young girls, but something many grown-ups could use as well."

Lauren Faust, the show's developer and creative director, said in a 2011 interview with Equestria Daily, a newsite dedicated to all things MLP, that the cartoon was about "making quality entertainment for girls, and I didn't want to be responsible for adding to the pile of entertainment garbage that's so often targeted toward them."

The animation's colors are feminine but not doused in color-by-numbers pink. Romantic relationships or interest in impressing someone romantically is rarely on the agenda; instead the episodes mostly focus on the friendships between the female ponies and learning about their own strengths and shortcomings.

"If I can put the tiniest dent in the perception that 'girly' equals lame or 'for girls' equals 'crappy,' I'll be very satisfied," Faust told the site.

If it were women interested in a cartoon for boys, would the rest of us have reacted so strongly? Is being an adult fan of MLP any different from enjoying Disney World as an adult?

A desire to explain the subculture of Bronydom, particularly boy Bronydom, is part of why a Kickstarter project for the documentary "Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony" raised more than $300,000 from funders. Among clips in its trailer of men singing about sparkles and adults discussing the escapist qualities of watching the show is a grimacing but apparently supportive dad at an MLP convention with his son.

"So what if what we like is 'Just for little girls'?" Olson said. "Times change and people start adapting to new things that go outside of society's norms. The show definitely has a goal of promoting a modern ideal of feminism, but it has helped others embrace their masculinity by saying, 'Yeah, I like unicorns. So what?'"

But this world of rainbows and ponies isn't all rainbows and ponies. Like any time human adults try to unite under one cause, drama can happen. Last year's TrotCon staff had some friction (an internet barnyard rumble?) with the NY-based planners of a Strongsville MLP fan convention called Canterlot Gardens (you might recognize it as the convention Rolling Stone covered because party boy/musician Andrew W.K., a proud Brony, was attending). Some first- and second-generation MLP fans (1980s/1990s pony lovers) think new-wave Bronies are annoying.

Facehoofing aside, the fans of the pony conventions appreciate the unity and acceptance Bronies preach. "Love and tolerate!" is the Brony motto. As tolerance spreads, so do the fan cons. There are around 34 MLP fan conventions slated for this year worldwide, according to a running list on Equestria Daily.

"That's my favorite aspect of the fandom," said Amy Jones, a 25-year-old attendee of TrotCon and barista at the Short North's Cup O' Joe. "People who didn't think they could ever create something are making art. The fan base is so accepting and welcoming. People are happy that they're adding all this extra artwork to the fandom."

Recently Jones has started her own version of fan art - drawing ponies, particularly Pinkie Pie, on the foam of lattes she makes at Cup O' Joe. Customers have started to come in and request the My Little Pony latte, she said.

"All we know is that we like technicolored cartoon horses and that isn't changing anytime soon,"Olson said.

Bronies' self-confidence? Whinnnying!

Sheraton Columbus at Capitol Square

Friday-Sunday, June 14-16

75 E. State St., Downtown

Rates: $40 at the door for a three-day pass; Single-day badges are $25 on Friday, $30 on Saturday, and $20 on Sunday.