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BronyCon 2013 brings thousands of 'My Little Pony' lovers to Baltimore

Hundreds of "My Little Pony" collectibles cover Steve Lucia's bedroom — plush toys, comic books, trading cards and T-shirts. It is a sea of pink and purple, a shrine to a TV show originally intended for young girls.

But Lucia is a 25-year-old man, an electrician who lives in a Pasadena duplex and has what he calls a "healthy obsession."

"Being in the construction industry, there are guys who sit around and talk about women all day long," Lucia said. "I go home and wrap myself in ponies."

There are thousands of 20-somethings who share Lucia's love of the TV show "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic." Called "bronies" (a mash-up of "bro" and "pony"), they not only collect official paraphernalia from the show but also create their own characters (called cosplay), art and even music.

This weekend, Lucia and some 6,000 other bronies from across the globe will head to the Baltimore Convention Center for BronyCon 2013, a celebration of brony culture. Among the events: Music inspired by "My Little Pony," brony dance-offs and panels with such titles as "So I Raised a Teenage Brony: Gender, Stereotypes and Mother-Son Bonding." The convention began in New York two years ago with just 100 attendees, and has exploded in popularity; Baltimore's BronyCon is expected to be the biggest yet.

"It's grown pretty quick," said BronyCon organizer Nick Opels. "We're trying to make it as big and comprehensive as we possibly can this year."

"My Little Pony" is no pop culture newcomer. It began as a television series in 1983 to help sell My Pretty Pony Hasbro toys to young girls. An animated film followed, along with several generations of the show. "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" is the latest — and the first to draw the attention of both girls and grown men. Launched in 2010 on cable's Hub Network, it is now the network's top series for girls ages 2-11, households and men ages 18-34, according to network publicist Dupe Bosu. The show centers on six magical ponies, who battle evil.

Donnie Weiss, an 18-year-old who lives in Rockville and plans to attend BronyCon this weekend, likes brony culture because it defies expectations.

"The whole idea of going against the social norm is kind of exciting for us," he said. "We found that by supporting each other and not letting anyone put us down for liking the show, it's kind of rallied us together."

Many bronies say their obsession centers on the show's cast of well-rounded, relatable characters. Weiss said he's most like Fluttershy, as they are "both kind of socially awkward but we both like to muster the courage to speak out when we need to." And Max Stahman, a first-year graduate student at the University of Maryland, is drawn to Rarity, a pony who is "somewhat snobbish and can rub people the wrong way, but ultimately has the best intentions and is a nice person."

Bronies are "not doing it for shock value," said Samuel Miller, a 34-year-old doctoral student at the University of North Dakota. He's studying how bronies are bending the boundaries of gender, and what their fandom means for masculinity.

"It's one thing if it's ironic," Miller said. "But when you're wearing a shirt with [the character] Pinkie Pie on it because you genuinely like Pinkie Pie, that's different."

Miller said common misconceptions about bronies are that they're gay, pedophiles or have developmental issues. Or, as Lucia puts it, "fat kids that live in their parents' basements" and have no jobs.

The average brony is 21-years-old, and grown men make up 86 percent of the brony community, according to a study conducted by two professors at Wofford College in South Carolina. More than 80 percent are heterosexual, but less than 3 percent are married. And 70 percent are full- or part-time students.

Brony culture can trace its roots to the website 4Chan. The craze grew from there, even resulting in a website called PonyChan (one of many online forums).

Camaraderie and creativity are two of the brony community's biggest draws. They have a large art presence on the site deviantart.com, make brony-themed music (Ibeabronyrapper is one of many performers at BronyCon) as well as fan fiction, compiled on sites such as Equestria Daily.

Lucia is involved with the brony meet-up group "DC Area MLP: FiM Fans," which has more than 650 members. They discuss the ins and outs of the show, and plan activities such as backpacking trips and watching "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" together.

But Lucia wasn't always an outgoing person. Before becoming a brony, he said he would spend hours indoors playing video games such as "World of Warcraft."

"I had no friends," he said. "Now I'm out almost every weekend hanging out with bronies."

Amy Keating Rogers, a writer for "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic," takes pride in seeing how the show has resonated with fans.

"The show itself has such a positive message, and that's what the bronies seem to respond to," said Rogers, who will be on a writers' panel — and playing her ukulele — at BronyCon. "There's so much cynicism and negativity out there in so many shows, and the show promotes kindness and generosity."

The reaction to bronies isn't always as positive. Just wearing a "My Little Pony" shirt has drawn criticism at Lucia's workplace. Other bronies noted similar experiences.

"One friend at school didn't stop being my friend when I told him about it, but he was very negative about it," said Weiss, who recently graduated from Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville. "With its reputation as a little girls' brand, it seemed very weird to him and he just couldn't accept it."

But, yes, they do date. Lucia said he doesn't tell women about his brony life right away, but he doesn't lie about it either.

"I've had girls completely back out because of that, oddly enough," he said. "But personally, I think it was a reason to not go out with them anyway. If they're that closed-minded to what I like, then they're probably closed-minded to everything else."

At this weekend's BronyCon, Lucia plans to go as Scootaloo, a filly on the show. More than the costumes and characters, plush dolls and concerts, he's most looking forward to hanging out with his fellow bronies.

"What do bronies do for me?" he asked. "Friendship is enough."

The first episode of "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" premiered in 2010 and developed a following on the website 4Chan. The craze expanded from there, even resulting in a website called PonyChan (one of many MLP:FiM online forums).

If you go

BronyCon will be held 9:30 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St., downtown. $40-$70 three-day passes, $45 Friday and Saturday passes, $35 Sunday passes. For more information and ticket registration, go to bronycon.org.

Brony 101

What is a brony?

A brony is someone who genuinely enjoys the Hub television series "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic," who is outside the target demographic of little girls and expresses it outwardly.

What is the show about?

"My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" is about six magical and unique ponies from Ponyville that are able to harness their powers to defeat evil.

What do bronies do?

Many bronies express their fandom creatively. This includes art, music, fan fiction, fan clubs, cosplay and animation. Being a brony also involves attending meetups and conventions.

Where did bronies originate?

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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