Iconic brand expands after twenty years of “staying strange”

When artist Rob Reger created the image of a gloomy little girl surrounded by her black cats in 1991, he had no idea he had created an iconic character. What began as a logo for his line of T-shirts, the solemn character known as Emily the Strange soon gained a cult following. The response surprised Reger who said, “When I started it I didn’t have a vision for it at all. I was just making some T-shirts. I didn’t really have any idea where it might go someday.” Reger added, “I just started to notice how persistent the people who bought my shirts were about always wanting them. Whoever got an Emily the Strange T-shirt thought it really represented who they were in some way or something.”

After realizing Emily’s potential, Reger began to create a brand around the spunky little character. “There became this vision of maybe a world, like where does this girl live, who are her cats, what are their names. Does she have a mom, dad? Where does she live? So we started thinking about all that stuff and then the vision kind of really became to be even less about stories for us to really understand a mythology for her, but more about the graphic style and how to brand it,” Reger recalled, before adding, “To decide to just use red as the only color in the brand; red and primarily black and white; things like that [were] the early vision.”

Over the years Emily has developed from a logo on a T-shirt to multidimensional brand that includes graphic novel comics, video games, apparel, and more. Despite Emily’s iconic status as a staple for punks everywhere, Reger hopes to keep Emily’s mission alive. “She’s kind of grown to this little iconic thing. So now the mission for the vision for Emily gets into how do I spread the message of what she represents? She really represents be yourself, think for yourself and do it yourself. So my vision now is how I use this brand to spread that message,” Reger said. “Especially for young kids who may or may not have parents that are agreeable with their strange ways.”

In many ways, Reger’s message can translate to virtually anyone. Emily’s attitude is a translation of her unique palate molded by her creators. Reger admits that music played a large part in Emily’s makeup: “From the beginning, music was always a part. It’s always been played in the art department. It was like very much non-commercial music. In the early days we’d just have punk rock, bands you couldn’t buy on major labels.”

“I have very eclectic musical taste and I like to attribute those to Emily too,” said Reger, “I love Eastern music, some J-POP even. I like free jazz, speed metal. There’s a lot of stuff that is in her palate. The expression of non-verbal communication is kind of important in Emily’s world, where it’s more about an attitude. A lot of her expression is through a very simple look on her face and that conveys more than her saying or speaking her mind.”

Although Emily’s sullen expressions became her signature method of non-conversational speaking, soon her creators were faced with the problem that perhaps Emily had more to say than what was able to fit in a few comic panels. The idea of branching out into a series of novels soon followed this realization. “Well we knew we had to make novels when our comic book scripts were just getting too detailed,” Reger remembers. “I realized Jessica was writing these panels for Buzz [Parker] to draw that were just impossible to capture. The words said it all; you didn’t even need a drawing because she was writing it so eloquently.” When it came time to actually put pen to paper Reger notes, “We had the decision of whether to tell it first person, third person, or what and I figured if someone’s really [going to] talk about Emily…it should be from Emily’s point of view.” Emily’s creative team decided to write the young adult series in diary format. Reger says, “I wanted people to finally know what’s going on inside her head.”

Emily’s newly found voice has opened many doors for her. Reger recently signed a movie deal to create a live-action Emily the Strange film starring Chloe Grace Moretz as the title character. “The subtleties of the character, just the way she captures the character, she’s just so good at it. I met her [and] we talked a little bit. I can tell she’s gonna be great,” said Reger. The premise of the film will be all original content. Originally they were going to adapt the young adult novels, but decided it would be difficult to stay true to the novels and the comics without disappointing fans, so the decision for all new content hopes to entice all Emily fans.

Emily is also in the works of branching into video game projects as well. “We’re working on an animated band project…so I definitely see that in the future. I see a lot more interactive stuff in the gaming space. We had the DS game and there’s the new skate game on the iOS,” said Reger.

Fans can look forward to “more stuff that just has Emily moving and being alive.”

Emily has remained a relevant character for nearly 20 years because of her ability to adapt to the needs of the new generations and because her message to “Stay Strange” is always relevant. Reger is considering adding a new Emily character called Emiwee, A Little Stranger. “We’re considered an idea of a new character that we came up with years ago, but are finally making it come alive now and that’s Emiwee, a very like baby Emily,” Reger says.

Emily also has a new comic debuting in February 2013, following the making of Emily’s band Emily and the Strangers. In celebration of Comic Con and the forthcoming comic, Reger has teamed up with the website maqet.com to create a do-it-yourself Emily doll that allows users to create her expressions and poses and even design her outfits with the option of having it come to life in a 3-D sculpture. There are also limited edition artist series where Reger notes, “Me and Buzz [Parker] will be doing our own versions of her, those will be limited edition.”

Emily the Strange seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. Her spunky attitude and her universal message seem to become more relevant as time goes on. Reger’s iconic character has inspired many to be true to themselves and “Stay Strange.”