It's hard to stand out in the sensory ping-pong that is New York Comic-Con. One way to do so? Be a boy proclaiming your fondness for Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie, two ponies (one a pegasus!) in the My Little Pony universe. A "herd census" places the overall number of such fan-men and boys—known as Bronies (bros + ponies), i.e., the fervent fans of the Hub series, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, currently in its third season—at about 7 to 12.4 million in the United States. (Mind you, these numbers are an estimation.) Frequently left to populate the online communities of Pony fan sites like Equestria Daily and Derpy Hooves, New York Comic-Con gives them a bricks and mortar spot to meet, mingle, and talk ponies at formal and informal gatherings over the four days of the event. When I arrived yesterday to New York City's Javits Center, an otherwise pretty generic convention block, on the first day of Comic-Con, I found it humming with the syncopated electric thuds of people beating each other up at Marvel's new role-playing game and dotted with men and women dressed like characters from their favorite video game series—some wielding massive swords. With all that in the background, Bronies, our pony fanboys, seem, well, a little too huggable.
After all, the world of Equestria, the ponies' planet, is full of pastels and flowing pony manes that are a mashup between Farrah Fawcett's famous locks and the hair of the ladies in Jem and The Holograms. And wings, lots of fluttering wings. Pony story lines revolve around feelings, caring, friendship, acceptance, learning, tolerance and love. Nevermind that Bronies have continually iterated that Hasbro and Hub have a wonderful product with great voice actors and strong storylines on their hands—they've oft been faced with the stereotypical judgments of your average under-enlightened middle-school bully.
"A large percentage of them keep their fandom a secret. I can understand why. Most people who hear about bronies consider the group either ridiculous or creepy," wrote The Guardian's Rebecca Angel earlier this week. "If you think bronyism sounds like something only a serious pervert living in his mother's basement would be into, you're only about 30% correct," wrote Katie Notpoulous in a rather snarky piece for Gawker in December. "[T]he online fan culture of bronies grew out of 4chan, so they have a computer nerd vestigial tail of Mountain Dew, anime appreciation, chronic virginity, and cyberbullying," she added.
With all that to fight against for the pleasure of fanhood, why ponies?
"They're cute," 16-year-old Joel Valentin told me yesterday during New York Comic Con's My Little Pony panel. Valentin, who is all eyes and smile, wore a Pikachu beanie on his head and the Brony shirt pictured. He's a Brony from the Bronx who listens to hip-hop and The White Stripes. The two of us were smashed up against one another at the packed Pony panel in the guts of the Javits center, and I took that moment to broach the topic of why he thinks Bronies are, well, sort of the under-creatures of the Comic-Con community.
"People don't really have good arguments [for being anti-Brony]," Valentin said. "Usually they just say it's feminine and ask me why I like it, but after that they don't really have anything to say or they have bad arguments."
Another Brony, 21-year-old Jacob Simon (pictured left) from Alaska, echoed this sentiment. "It's a little odd when I go buy six packs of pony cards and someone asks me if they're for my nieces or relatives," he said. "The Brony community ... it's tolerant, positive, uplifting and unlike most of the online community where you find trolls and griefers ... And a lot of what drives the show's fandom is the community," he added. During this interchange fellow Bronies interrupted to complimented him on his costume (he was a draconequus, a villain that's half-horse, half-dragon).
Simon and Valentin have a point. A kids' show that promotes tolerance? There could be worse things for boys and even grown men to love. It's just that perhaps Brony love "doesn't sit well with a culture that has exposed these boys to how they are supposed to act since childhood: Lego, not Barbies! Play ninjas, not fairies! War, not peace!" writes Angel. Which means that embracing it a little more would probably be good for everyone.
Take away the pastels and winged ponies and Brony love isn't unlike any other fandom. It was about 6:45 p.m. when the Pony panel opened the floor to a hand forest of questions. Some asked about moon colonies, other asked about parents of their favorite characters, some whispered of this fantastical creature named Derpy. One pony-tailed man in my row was getting visibly upset at some of the frivolous questions thrown out there, his face sharpening when someone opened with, "I don't really have a question but ...". That happened approximately three times. The room felt like it was getting warmer, a bit twitchy, and nervous—which, in fact, is my general reaction when I see people care about stuff and begin to relate and care myself. I wanted in.
The reasons people are drawn to Comic-Con and nerd culture and Bronies is all the same—it's about acceptance and finding common ground in something you consider appealing. But Bronies usually have to go online to find it. So, yes seeing these guys happy and in a room full of people who get them, get their love of Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, get that other people, even that mildly irritated pony-tailed man, care about Pinkie Pie, I imagine, is sort of like being at that rare cocktail party where you actually want to be.
"So you get it? You wanna see an episode now?" Valentin asked me as we were leaving the panel. He could see the smile on my face. I feigned indecision, swatting that smile away. "I miiiight give Pony a shot," I told him, and went home and Googled Derpy.
For Brony readers looking for spoilers, this is your SPOILER warning, and here is your spoiler dump straight from the panel:
- The panel showed an unseen clip and it seems like the bad guy from the Crystal Empire is going to be named King Somber.
- The panel was asked about a movie and they seemed a little down on the idea.
- Story creators talked about griffins and how they could possibly be making future appearances in Pony.
- Discord was mentioned and it sounds like there will be more of him in the near future.
- There is no release date for season three.