Just before 8:30 p.m., when the line to enter Toy Art Gallery was at its fullest, a small white car sped through the intersection of Melrose and Curson. The driver screamed, "Bronies!" The crowd let out a deep roar of excitement. My Little Pony Project 2012, a massive art exhibition dedicated to the cute and colorful toys that spawned a cult favorite cartoon series, was underway.
At TAG, the line extended down the block for the bulk of the night. Elsewhere on the avenue, My Little Pony fans -- including, yes, bronies, the term for older men who are My Little Pony fans -- swarmed other participating shops. JapanLA had MLP keychains on hand early in the evening. Store owner Jamie Rivadeneira told me that they ran out in about five minutes. Designer toy shop Munky King was giving away free ponies with a $5 purchase. I stood in line for somewhere between five and ten minutes to enter the shop. The line to make a purchase and collect a pony was longer than that. That this night was also Cinco de Mayo didn't matter -- Melrose was all about ponies.
Inside the small art gallery/boutique, the crowd was thick. People took cell phone photos of the large MLP figures, which were customized by artists ranging from Devo founder Mark Mothersbaugh to Japanese fashion brand 6% dokidoki. They ogled L.A. accessory designer Onch Movement's luxe My Little Pony necklaces and lined-up again at the register, arms filled with t-shirts and other merchandise. The event came at just the right time, when renewed interest in the 1980s toys is at a high, thanks to the surging popularity of The Hub's animated series, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and the Brony phenomenon has reached almost mainstream status.
Compared to something like Hello Kitty's 35th birthday bash or Sanrio's 50th anniversary art show, the My Little Pony crowd was heavy on the dudes. However, the crowd ultimately appeared to be closer to a 50/50 male-female split, more in line with what you would see at a convention like Anime Expo or San Diego Comic-Con. For every group of guys we saw wearing cheeky MLP t-shirts with the typical baseball cap and jeans uniform, there was a group of women, oftentimes sporting Rainbow Dash hair.
My Little Pony is for everyone. Well, it's for everyone except maybe the kids. Though this is a franchise geared towards the little ones, I saw fewer than 10 children on Saturday night, most of whom were gone well before 9:30 p.m.
Mark Mothersbaugh fused together two pony heads for one piece and two tails for another. Both sold by opening night. Japanese artist/fashion designer Shojono Tomo added a handful of plastic toys and curlers to her pony's mane and tail. L.A. artist Luke Chueh dressed his figure in a fetish outfit. But as irreverent as some of these creations are, there's never the sense that it's done in a mean-spirited or mocking way. Ponies can goof around with each other, but they shouldn't be jerks.
My Little Pony is spreading joy and it's prompting everyone from professional artists to college kids with access to video editing software and glue guns to be creative. It's also inspiring an obsession, complete with the rush for exclusive and limited edition merchandise, that could soon rival those found in long-established fandoms. This is much more than anyone can ask for in any children's toy or TV show. That this happened with a series of vintage toys makes the situation all the more bizarre and all the more exciting to watch.