Constable: 'My Little Pony' convention corrals girls, collectors, Bronies

 
 
Updated 6/23/2015 5:46 AM
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  • What started as a simple toy in 1981 has blossomed (in full color, no less) into an empire that will be on display this weekend at the My Little Pony Fair and Convention 2015 in Schaumburg.

    What started as a simple toy in 1981 has blossomed (in full color, no less) into an empire that will be on display this weekend at the My Little Pony Fair and Convention 2015 in Schaumburg. Courtesy of MyLittlePonyCon.com

  • My Little Pony began in 1981 as a toy aimed at little girls. But the My Little Pony appeal on display this weekend at a convention in Schaumburg includes a rainbow of fans, including adult males known as Bronies.

    My Little Pony began in 1981 as a toy aimed at little girls. But the My Little Pony appeal on display this weekend at a convention in Schaumburg includes a rainbow of fans, including adult males known as Bronies. Courtesy of MyLittlePonyCon.com

  • Male fans for the My Little Pony animated series have their own convention in August, but the group known as Bronies are welcome at this weekend's PonyCon in Schaumburg. This Brony dresses as an animated character from "Friendship is Magic" for last year's costume parade.

    Male fans for the My Little Pony animated series have their own convention in August, but the group known as Bronies are welcome at this weekend's PonyCon in Schaumburg. This Brony dresses as an animated character from "Friendship is Magic" for last year's costume parade. Courtesy of MyLittlePonyCon.com

  • Last year's My Little Pony Fair and Convention attracted a wide variety of people. This year's PonyCon in Schaumburg is expected to draw 1,500 fans of the iconic toy franchise.

    Last year's My Little Pony Fair and Convention attracted a wide variety of people. This year's PonyCon in Schaumburg is expected to draw 1,500 fans of the iconic toy franchise. Courtesy of MyLittlePonyCon.com

Are you now, or have you ever been a 6-year-old girl? If so, the My Little Pony Fair and Convention 2015 and celebrity guests coming this weekend to Schaumburg might be totally super, awesome and funtastic.

That also could be the sentiment if you are one of the growing numbers of Bronies -- male fans, including adults, of the latest version (Generation 4) of the My Little Pony animation, "Friendship is Magic." Not that there is anything wrong with that.

"We do all-generation appreciation," says convention organizer Summer Hayes, whose name sounds as if it could belong to a My Little Pony. Hayes says that the Schaumburg convention is open to the complete spectrum of My Little Pony fans beyond Bronies, including little girls who like the toys, teens who like to color their hair to match the ponies, moms and dads who are there for the kids, nostalgic adults and collectors.

"That's a big difference between our event and some of the Brony events," Hayes says.

The online world is littered with Photoshopped images of the Charleston shooting suspect wearing a My Little Pony shirt, and The New York Times apparently fell for a made-up story about the shooter being a Brony. Guys fawning over Pinkie Pie, Twilight Sparkle and the Pumpkin and Pound Cake twins sounds as if it could be a description from last weekend's Exxxotica convention in Rosemont.

But PonyCon, as the kids say, is about as G-rated as it gets.

"This is a family show," says Hayes, who once was a 6-year-old girl with her own My Little Pony named Applejack. This annual convention (the only one sanctioned by Hasbro, the maker of My Little Pony) expects to draw 1,500 people to the Hyatt Regency Schaumburg, Hayes says.

"We get people from all over," says Hayes, noting that PonyCon, now in its 12th year, has attracted fans from the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, Australia, Canada and all across the United States.

An empire with figurines, play sets, accessories, TV shows, clothing, school supplies and an army of collectors, the My Little Pony franchise grew out of the imagination of Bonnie Zacherle, an illustrator who joined Hasbro in 1980, and worked a bit on Mr. Potato Head.

Inspired by Knicker, the horse she had as a girl, Zacherle pushed her idea of making an equine toy and finally helped create My Pretty Pony, which was a much more realistic-looking version of the toy that became the brightly colored and mythical stable of the My Little Pony line.

Zacherle, who left Hasbro before My Little Pony became a phenomenon, still teaches art to children at her home in Virginia and will be one of the presenters at this year's convention. She also will host a tea time with a couple of dozen special guests.

The convention features vendors selling My Little Pony figures and accessories from the 1980s through today, a fashion show, art projects, discussion panels and even a My Little Pony Tribute band.

Once a well-reviewed indie-rock band known as The Shake Ups and playing songs such as "Sex Exchange Operation," the band filled a niche by morphing into The Shake Ups in Ponyville and now plays songs such as "Power Pony Up!"

A life-size version of Princess Twilight Sparkle will meet with guests and pose for photographs. Every effort is made to ensure that the pony seems real.

"She has to have her own hotel room," Hayes says of the costume.

An author who has written five books for My Little Pony collectors, the 33-year-old Hayes has been a fan since she got her first pony, Applejack.

"I was 2, and it was right after they came out," she says. "I don't remember a time without My Little Pony."

Now, there are thousands of My Little Pony ponies. They come in all colors and with wings, rainbow manes, mermaid tails, unicorn horns and wedding gowns.

"I never thought it would explode in the way it did," says featured guest Andrea Libman, a Canadian piano teacher with a degree in civil engineering who has won awards for her voice-over portrayals of Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. She can be an invisible celebrity unless she chooses to out herself by using her high-pitched, rapid-fire Pinkie Pie voice or her soft-spoken, slower Fluttershy inside voice.

She says the ponies just make people, including the Bronies, happy.

"It wouldn't be as big of a phenomenon as it is without them. If you hear Brony and think something negative, that's not at all what it is," Libman says, explaining how men have come up to her at other conventions to praise her work and confess, "I was in a dark place until I watched the show."

And while all the pink and purple, big-eyed ponies might seem too saccharine even for a 6-year-old girl, My Little Pony and its latest TV show empowers girls, says Libman, who notes, "You don't see (other) cartoons that have six female leads."

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