Emily the Strange heads to big screen

Cult comic icon getting feature treatment

Counterculture icon Emily the Strange is on the road to the big screen, with Dark Horse Entertainment president Mike Richardson coming on board to produce a feature film that would tell the origin of the gothic figure and her four mysterious cats.

Skateboarder Rob Reger created the character among a multitude of designs he was printing up for stickers, T-shirts and skateboards in Santa Cruz in the early 1990s. The Emily design took off, with Reger's company, Cosmic Debris, going on to become a multimillion dollar business with toeholds in fashion, books and comics, toys, school supplies, and accessories. The character, often seen with four cats, has also become a figure for female empowerment and anti-conformity. Reger has remained the creative director behind the character and is one of several artists who work on "Emily."

"Emily's" connection with Richardson comes from the comic book line Dark Horse publishes. The company began publishing the title in 2005, with "Emily the Strange #1: Chairman of the Bored," which was followed by several other popular miniseries.

"Emily herself is very appealing little girl, there's an edge to her," Richardson said. "There is something very alluring to her image; people see it and respond to it immediately."

Richardson, who's been a producer on such films as "Hellboy" and its upcoming sequel as well as "30 Days of Night," said he and Reger will be looking for a filmmaker who "gets the character." The filmmaker choice may in turn dictate what format will serve the story best: live-action, animation, or a combination of the two. The project is not yet set-up at a studio, though Universal is a contender as Dark Horse has a first-look deal there.

The story line is being kept under wraps, though Reger, who concocted it, said it will offer up some backstory and will feature Emily's four cats -- troublemaker Sabbath, schemer Nee-Chee, imaginative Miles and leader Mystery. It will also have 13 new characters with names like Earwig, Umlaut, McFreeley and Officer Summers. The story forms the basis of an "Emily" young adult novel, which will be published next year by HarperCollins.

Reger, who is influenced by Dr. Suess and M.C. Escher among others in his designs, said Emily's popularity is due to the character's punk fashion sense, the clean and direct graphic quality of her design, her feline companions, and the message of empowerment she represents.

"In their life, everybody has, especially in the teenage years, looked to find themselves and felt like they don't fit in," said Reger. "Emily represents that person, but in a positive light. She prefers to be different and to look at things in her own way. She's a great role model for people to think for themselves."

He adds: "It was one my many designs that just stuck. I remember three years (after I created it) thinking 'They're still ordering the same dang shirt!' There's something there."