Are you a fan of Emily the Strange?
If you are, then you should get ready to see more of her. The New York Daily News published a long interview with Rob Reger, the California-based artist who first put Emily on a T-shirt back in 1991. Since then, the character has appeared in her own books and comics, as well as on merchandise such as clothing, accessories, toys, school supplies and calendars. And according to the Daily News piece, Emily is getting ready to branch out further, with a series of four young adult novels from HarperCollins written in her voice, a video game, and a feature film all in the works.
Although I’ve never really been a comics reader, and at this point I’m a bit older than the market that Emily is aimed at, I can’t help identifying somewhat with a character who appears like this:
With her four cats and her outcast status, I also wonder if Emily might have a particular appeal for lesbians. In the interview, Reger talks about her counterculture credentials:
“This character is very different from the typical Barbie Doll type that society seems to encourage in girls. […] Emily is often misinterpreted as a negative or plain old bad girl. To me, she’s more of an icon for the think-for-yourself, do-it-yourself movement. That’s the whole notion that it’s okay to not follow mainstream ideas of what’s cool, attractive or fun. And it’s not only OK to be different, it’s better! We want to communicate that you don’t have to have a lot of money or certain material things, or fit in with the in-crowd; it’s totally cool to do your own thing. In fact, you probably will get more out of life by being imaginative and figuring out your own way of seeing things.
When I first saw Emily, the thing that really interested me was not her Wednesday Addams vibe, but the fact that she reminded me of Emily Byrd Starr in Anne of Green Gables author L. M. Montgomery’s Emily books. Did anyone else read those? Although I very much doubt that Reger has read them or was inspired by them, the similarities are striking. Pale face: tick. Black hair: tick. Bang across the forehead: tick (there’s that great scene where Emily defies her stern Aunt Elizabeth in order to cut a bang). And the love of cats and alienation from mainstream society are in Montgomery’s books, too.
Again, although I doubt Reger was thinking of it consciously, I can’t help wondering if his choice of the name “Emily” for his heroine wasn’t influenced by cultural perceptions of two of my favorite authors, Emily Brontë:
And Emily Dickinson:
Both are women who led secluded lives, who were stubbornly independent, and who have a strong area of mystery around them. When it comes to female characters, there’s just something about the name “Emily” that suggests a little extra.