A group of mostly young Pittsburgh men often spend time at their weekly gatherings enthusiastically debating their favorite TV episodes and the most captivating ponies.
Ponies? Yes ponies.
They call themselves "bronies," a combination of "bro" and "pony," to describe the growing fanbase of predominantly male teens and young adults who fervently follow Hasbro Studios' animated television series "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic."
Like most bronies, Edward Garbade, John Drake, Kevin Lemon and Michael McGinnis proudly identify with the movement, even though the show was intended to capture the hearts of young girls.
Their reason: well, it's just a really good show.
So much so, that Mr. Garbade and Mr. Drake are in New Jersey this weekend with 4,000 other enthusiasts for BronyCon Summer 2012 -- the largest brony gathering in the world.
"The show teaches lessons about friendship and being nice to others, a message from childhood that seems to be forgotten unfortunately often in today's culture," said Mr. Garbade, 19, a computer science major at Carnegie Mellon University who heads CMU Bronies, a group founded last fall.
"The characters have distinct personalities, engaging back stories and remain consistent from episode to episode."
Mr. Garbade and the others praised a "Bronyhood," the world's large-scale community of bronies connected through websites and blogs that is nonjudgmental, creative and engaging.
This weekend's BronyCon at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J., is the movement's second convention of the year and the fourth ever. The two-day event gives bronies a chance to interact with other fans while also hearing from show creator Lauren Faust and voice actors.
This summer's event has come a long way since BronyCon's first, then referred to as BroNYCon, which took place in Midtown Manhattan in June 2011 and hosted 100 attendees, said Jade Aurora, head of the convention's public relations.
Even though the show is between seasons, the buzz continues. "We have noticed that fan-created content and art increases during the show's downtime to fill the void," he said.
Bronies craft videos, collages, pictures, figurines, games and other art by taking ideas or material from the show, but molding them into their own creations. The works are shared on YouTube and at sites such as deviantArt, where a search turned up more than 545,000 fan pieces.
Mr. Garbade and Mr. Lemon, 21, a civil and environmental engineering student at CMU, made it clear that the brony community are fans of the modern incarnation of "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic," which premiered in October 2010 on The Hub television channel.
The show originated in 1984 as "My Little Pony: Rescue at Midnight Castle," which Mr. Garbade described as a low quality attempt to advertise Hasbro's toy ponies.
His friend Mr. Drake, 24, a doctoral computer science student at University of Pennsylvania who is living in Pittsburgh this summer, connects bronies in the Pittsburgh area via his Facebook group "PittsBronies," which has 124 members.
He organized gatherings at the Dave & Busters at the Waterfront in Homestead last December and Pittsburgh's Friendship Park in May. About 20 people showed up for each event, some coming from universities an hour away
Among the PittsBronies about 63 percent are male and the rest female, with 62 percent between the ages of 18 and 24.
Two psychologists affiliated with Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., have conducted an online brony survey to dispel some myths about the makeup of the fan base and what attracts people to the show. Patrick Edwards and Marsha Howze Redden, who both have Ph.Ds in clinical psychology, surveyed 5,200 bronies.
Ages range from 14 to 57, with an average of 21. Of those 17 years or older, 86 percent are male and 84 percent described themselves as heterosexual, according to the first phase of the survey.
Mr. McGinnis, 22, a CMU statistics major, believes the show is meant to appeal to older audiences at times, such as parents who watch it with their children, as it presents some comedy and dialogue that cannot be understood by young girls.
"They throw some things in there that the kids are not supposed to get," he said. "There is actual drama in this show; it is not just for little kids."
Rob Wennemer: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1723. First Published June 30, 2012 4:00 AM