Here I am surfing around the net in my pre-posting tradition, catching up on my fave blogs and such and I come across…this.  I started to comment, as I felt compelled to do so, and suddenly realized I had way too many words for a comment.  I started to be one of those that comment so long that you wonder why did they just start their own post on the subject and just leave a short comment with their link to their longer one.  Those kind of comments kind of drive me mad.

EmilyStrange The gist of the post (as well as this one and this one)  is whether Emily the Strange was actually plagiarized from a children’s book character named Rosamond.  Now, I’m not condoning plagiarism by any means…but before we start laying blame and calling names and demanding retribution, one needs to think about and maybe research a few things.  Such as, there is something called public domain and whether or not the copyrights were still in effect at the time of Emily’s “creation”…and also, how long can one claim copyright infringement after such a possible hypothetical infringement has been discovered…etc.

Now, I may seem short-sighted here, but the line that most disturbs me in the post I just read, actually, is this: 

“Emily’s claim to fame is that she is one of the biggest sellers at Hot Topic.  She was specifically created for marketing.”

I completely disagree.  That’s putting the cart before the horse.  The fact is Hot Topic found her and has exploited her to the down-and-dirtiest sense.  I have a bit of perspective on this worth mentioning, and here it is.  

The timeline, as far as I can tell, looks like this:

The book in question, Nate the Great Goes Undercover: published in 1978

Hot Topic Stores: first open doors in 1988

Emily the Strange:  created by Nathan Carrico in 1991 for Santa Cruz Skateboards as a sticker. 

Then Carrico’s friend Rob (Reger) started Cosmic Debris (also in Santa Cruz) and acquired Emily, creating cheap silk-screened t-shirts with her image.  I have one of these original shirts…somewhere in my storage unit, but it’s there and it’s mine.  It says, “Emily didn’t aim high…she aimed low” and shows Emily with cats in tow, brandishing a sling-shot aimed at a bullying boy in the distance.  I’m pretty sure Rosamond doesn’t do that the book, I can assure you!

At the time I was working in an independent alternative clothing store downtown Seattle (we’ll call it “The Viv”), which also had two other locations in key districts in the urban core. The clientele were mostly skater-types, club kids and goth/batcavers…and because of our downtown location near the Pike Place Market, we also got a lot of tourists and sometimes a celebrity or two. Our buyer/asst manager worked directly with Rob and Cosmic Debris, having known Rob when she lived/worked/played in the Bay Area, and we first carried the stickers and then the t-shirts when they became available. 

The way a small business like ours would acquire the merchandise is basically like this:  Our buyer “N”  would hook up with Rob and/or his team at low-end expo-type conventions held two or three times a year.  Start-up manufacturers, such as Cosmic Debris was at the time, would have stalls with samples only to show.  After the order was solidified…after and during a few days of partying with said vendors…the vendor (Rob and team) would scurry back to Santa Cruz to screen and print ’til the wee hours of many morns to fill their orders, including ours. This business model means that they really only could market mostly to small independent retail businesses.

While all this was happening in the early-mid-90s, Hot Topic was not yet near the huge conglomerate it is now.  We didn’t yet have one in Seattle during this time…at least not in the urban core…and they did not yet carry anything Emily.  When Hot Topic finally did come to urban Seattle a few years later, “The Viv” started to loose sales and eventually closed it doors, one by one. Our hip 20-something staff moved on, moved up and some moved away:  N went to NYC to work for Ralph Lauren; J went work at Barney’s, got married and had children; and I became a Corporate Whore slaving for a Fortune 500 company in Seattle.   Eventually, I noticed that Hot Topic (where I would now go to get cool cheap hosiery, because The Viv was gone and Nordroms is too expensive and doesn’t have the kind of selection I like) started carrying Emily merchandise…and boy was there A LOT of it now! 

It is obvious to me that Rob struck a deal with Hot Topic to carry Emily stuff and it has been instrumental in skyrocketing his company’s success.  Good for him!  (Go Rob!) Does he or Hot Topic owe the creators of the Nate the Great children’s books?  I don’t know, but I think not.  Emily has become something entirely different than Rosamond…if she was indeed ever exactly like her to begin with.  A little sticker design, inspired by a character in a book, mutated and expanded into the phenomenon it is now.  And I, for one, am actually glad because Emily, who actually looks almost exactly like I did “back in the day” 15 years ago, has reached more children, young adults and yes, even the old fogies that are their parents, than Rosamond ever could have.  And for that I am thankful.

Yep, Thankful.  Thank you Nate and Rob for your fun, dark take on what so many of us were thinking and feeling growing up and even still in our young adulthood.  Thank you, Cindy, for hiring me to work in your store so I could find Emily before she became the mutated marketing windfall she has become.

And thank you, N, J, M, and D for all the fun-filled hours at work, picking up after the likes of Dennis Rodman and others that came to shop there…all the while dancing through the racks to some of the best music of the 90’s.

And by the way…since Emily looks just like I did back then, do I get to claim some sort of monetary recognition from Nate and Rob and Hot Topic?  I mean, come on, really…

© 2008 D. Kessler

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