Emily the Strange is a rip off of a 1978 book character


The page on the left is from a 1978 book called Nate the Great Goes Undercover, by Marc Simont. The poster of Emily the Strange on the right is from 1991.

From "You Thought We Wouldn't Notice," a blog that points out art swipes:

If you’ve ever walked into a Hot Topic, you are somewhat familiar with Emily, but on the off-chance that you haven’t, you can get aquainted with her at her big fat website. She was designed in 1991, according to creator Rob Reger, as an image for use on skateboarding merchandise. Since then, she has morphed into a kind of goth pop icon. At first she was just a mouthpiece for typical Hot Topic tee slogans (”I WANT YOU to go away,” “Problem Child,” etc. etc.) but since has moved to full-fledged characterdom, with her own comic book series and a film slated for 2010.

Google searching for any information on this rip has yielded a tiny handful of bemused observers (this one offering the most analysis), but as far as I can tell no real action has been taken. I doubt that neither Marjorie Weinman Sharmat nor Marc Simont (the author and illustrator of the Nate the Great books, respectively) is aware of the appropriation of their character. I plan to send a letter to each c/o of their publishers as soon as possible. I really do think something should be done. This stolen character has already made millions for its “creator” and the fact that she will have her own film is clear testament of how big she’s gotten.

I wonder if Reger is giving Simont a percentage of the sales from Emily merchandise?

Emily the Strange is a rip off of a 1978 book character


  1. The title of the blog, “You thought we wouldn’t notice”, makes me think of Jon Stewart’s line: “Don’t they know we’re taping this stuff?”

    When half the world is networked and ready to cry ‘Foul’, it’s a lot harder to get away with certain kinds of bad behavior. Whether it’s lying about what you said publicly (the context for the Jon Stewart quote), or selling other people’s ideas as your own, it’s really only a matter of time before you’ll get called on it.

  2. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/05/12/080512fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=1


    They found a hundred and forty-eight major scientific discoveries that fit the multiple pattern. Newton and Leibniz both discovered calculus. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace both discovered evolution. Three mathematicians “invented” decimal fractions. Oxygen was discovered by Joseph Priestley, in Wiltshire, in 1774, and by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, in Uppsala, a year earlier. Color photography was invented at the same time by Charles Cros and by Louis Ducos du Hauron, in France. Logarithms were invented by John Napier and Henry Briggs in Britain, and by Joost Bürgi in Switzerland. “There were four independent discoveries of sunspots, all in 1611; namely, by Galileo in Italy, Scheiner in Germany, Fabricius in Holland and Harriott in England,”

  3. I personally don’t care for the Emily character, but seriously? Reger has done just a tad bit more with Emily than appear to appropriate a single panel from a children’s book in 1978. (He claims to have independently derived the character after learning of Simont’s book.) The merit of that work is questionable, but unless he appears to be have made a pattern of it it’s hardly worth tar and feathering him.

    You could also argue he steals liberally from Edward Gorey, since his art is much more inline with Edward’s styling than Simont. Frankly, who cares? Strange girls with cats is not new material. He took an idea and ran with it, turned it into something new and built an empire. Go Reger.

    Save your outrage, this one doesn’t seem worth it. I agree with Takuan, plead unconscious plagiarism and settle.

  4. @ #5 – I think there’s a difference between coming up with a similar idea and coming up with basically the same drawing AND wording.

    A better example to support your point would be Disney coming up with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit… if Oswald said things like “What’s up Doctor?”

  5. Well let’s be clear here – this single image is clearly plagiarized; unconsciously or not, who cares?

    And “who cares?” is really the important thing. It IS important that culture borrows or steals, otherwise we will quickly run out of new culture.

  6. Why people are apologizing for this obvious case of art theft is beyond me. And anyone claiming that this was created independent of the original source material is being naive at best. Case and point- the cats are pretty much exactly the same, just flipped and repositioned. Not to mention the text is an obvious rip.

  7. “You could also argue he steals liberally from Edward Gorey, since his art is much more inline with Edward’s styling than Simont.”


    I implore anyone agreeing with this statement to do competing Google image searches for “Emily The Strange” and “Edward Gorey”.

  8. @12: Cory, if it’s exactly the same thing stolen from another source, how is it “new” culture, rather than “lazily regurgitated” culture?

  9. I think I’ll start selling shirts and bumper stickers with pictures of a round headed blond kid and his stuffed tiger Nietzsche.

  10. Other than the two cats, it’s just two skinny girls with long hair. So the similarities could be coincidence. Same goes for Tuesday from the Adams Family.

    Is it a rip off, or a riff on an earlier pre-gothy/emo theme?

    /voting for latter

  11. This news is extremely amusing to me… my ex-girlfriends best friend was a tall thin english teacher and I was informed that the “emily” character was based on her sister, who was also tall, thin and raven haired. Apparently they were all friends with Regar… growing up together in San Jose. A claim I found dubious even then.

  12. Krex @ 5: Relevance? Do you believe the girl, her hair, her position, her dress, her tights, her shoes, the cats and the phrase describing her were always there—just waiting to be independently discovered by multiple creators? How Jungian :)

    Church @ 6: Why, did Adams have a comic with all of the above elements with a caption in the following pattern?

    “(Name) didn’t look (blank) or (blank). She looked like she always looks. Strange.”

    What’s at issue isn’t appropriating a macabre, Gothic style—it’s swiping a specific character and section of text without attribution.


  13. How can so many people decide that plagarism only refers to ideas and not their execution? By that token, how many people have ripped off Isaac Asimov by writing about robots? Or Homer by writing stories in which a hero completes a journey?

    Think, please.

  14. @Jason Pitzl-waters – I don’t see a Gorey influence in the Reger style either. However, when you think about, Simont’s Rosamind kind of looks like it could’ve been influenced by Gorey.

  15. Well, while this image is obviously a direct re-creation of the source material, it’s obvious this one page of this one book has inspired a completely new body of work.

    I mean, this is an obscure children’s book hardly anyone has ever heard of. More importantly, the creators of the original work seem to have done precisely nothing to change that. There was very little danger of the “success” of the original character being overshadowed by Emily.

    I’ll also point out that I find Emily vastly more interesting than Rosamond, from a purely aesthetic standpoint. She just looks cooler.

    There’s a word for taking something that we see that inspires us, and creating from that fragment an entirely new thing. It’s called culture. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants.

  16. What seems especially comical to me is that the Emily Strange website says “Don’t get caught buying rip-offs… Stay Strange!” at the bottom of the page, and yet it would appear they are the ones doing the ripping off!

  17. cinemajay@18:”So the similarities could be coincidence.”

    Did you read the text on both images? Do you really think that’s just coincidence?

  18. A bit of comparison in Photoshop (or GIMP, my particular choice) shows that the original graphic’s cats were flipped horizontally, her torso shifted to the right, a new leg drawn in, and the whole thing traced over.

    That’s fairly Goldmanesque.

  19. Coincidence my ass. It’s not about the skinny goth girl character or the cats or the Addams family – you missed the point. It’s the presentation that’s plagiarized – and that’s the word for it. Hardly a remix.

    And Sharmat’s “Nate the Great” books are wonderful. I always loved Rosamond best.

  20. I think that most people who get worked up about something like this aren’t as creative as they think.

    Do you know the circumstances under which he created the original image? Did he do it planning to end up with an Empire? Does everything he do with the girl owe itself now to his earlier “mistake?” More than likely he did his drawing based on the earlier image, and then later it took on a life of its own.

    Roger Myers, Jr.: Okay, maybe my Dad did steal Itchy, but so what? Animation is built on plagiarism! If it weren’t for someone plagiarizing The Honeymooners, we wouldn’t have The Flintstones! If someone hadn’t ripped off Sgt. Bilko, there’d be no Top Cat! Huckleberry Hound, Chief Wiggum, Yogi Bear? Andy Griffith, Edward G. Robinson, Art Carney. Your honor, if you take away our right to steal ideas, where are they gonna come from? Her?

    Marge: Uh… Um… How about “Ghost Mutt?”

  21. I loved Nate the Great when I was a kid. When I saw Emily the Strange everywhere, I vaguely remembered her visage, but couldn’t place the book series she was in. I figured she was the same girl all this time. :/

  22. @Bardfin, No it wasn’t. Or at least, it’d be easier to use it as reference (c.f., Homage) than to actually photoshop one into the other.

  23. Ok, in most of the examples where we need to “steal culture to get new culture, the new culture is based on old culture. This isn’t *based* on old culture, it’s the exact same thing made to look a tiny bit different.
    Thus, it is not new culture, it is ripping something off wholeheartedly.

  24. Each of you who are acting as champions for this obvious rip-off are either irredeemably obtuse or simply purveyors of the same sort of plagiarism. This is not parallel development or accidental reproduction. This is theft. Some of us still care about that… that is, those of us who are actually capable of creating original material. Folks today think that the phrase “fair use” and access to a stolen copy of Photoshop (and/or Illustrator) is the equivalent of talent. It is not. I stand proudly for fair use, but if you want Art (please note the capital “A”) to mean anything in the future, stop lowering your standards of what it means to bring something new to the world.

  25. There is a clear difference between ‘remixing’ for personal or non-profit purposes (and most remixers I see do give credit where due) and completely re-packaging someone else’s images, concept, text AND characters as your own.

    I make illustrations and sell many of them as stock images. I have no problem with people using them for whatever purpose (business pamphlet, web-site background image, CD cover… whatever, they don’t need my permission). That’s fair use.

    However, I would be very crossed if someone would actually sign and take credit for my illustration and claim they drew/paint it themselves. That’s theft.

    It is absolutely possible to both promote fair use and loathe plagiarism. It’s not that gray an area.

  26. Not that hard to tell the artists from the non-artists in this thread. I wonder if non-artists are literally unable to parse the similarities.

  27. Talk about timing! Tonight’s the first night of a college writing class I teach, and after finding six outright plagiarisms (plus the usual raft of sloppy instances of citation) in last term’s set of research papers, I’m making appropriate use of sources a focus for this term.

    For the sake of saving paper, I’m just going to project the Rosamond/Emily images in class, but it’s nice to know that BoingBoing’s Creative Commons licensing would allow me to give students photocopies–with attributions, of course.

  28. #37 Church:

    *AHEM*. Let me rephrase. I took the two graphics, loaded them up in the GIMP, made the Emily graphic 50% transparent, flipped it horizontally, moved it over the Rosamond graphic, and re-sized it.

    Try it yourself!

  29. I know BB is usually very remix-friendly, but this is different, for several reasons. Personally, if he’d taken the character, attributed it, and remixed the content, I’d be all for it. As it stands, the dude stands to profit off of a near-identical replica of the work of a previous artist– seriously, the Hot Topic market is HUGE, and a MOVIE? Yes, it takes marketing acumen to get to that point, but what was it that started the “trend?”

    It was those stupid little stickers, of that one measly panel. Those stupid little stickers that made Reger a great deal of money and made the original author no money. To me, that’s wrong, and I think a lot of people who are shrugging this off as no big deal would agree if you step back and look at it as if you were the one ripped off. This isn’t a remix; it’s not a selection of anime characters singing “Phenomenon” with credits at the end; it’s a straight, blatant rip-off or another’s work for financial gain.

  30. In all fairness, Nate the Great is hardly an obscure book (unless you’re older than 35, in which case you just missed it). It’s a series of dozens of books that are all still in print and used in classrooms across the country. So it’s not like he found an old book in a used bookstore somewhere and used it for inspiration….the N the G franchise (and Rosamond) are still alive and well, and ought to be challenging this one, I’d say.

  31. It’s a single image, and from that single images, many, many others have been created that aren’t exactly the same, and do not further “infringe” on the original. And that original image appeared on a free sticker to promote a skate company. You shouldn’t confuse this initial drawing for what came after it.

    People get so worked up bout the limbs being in the same place, they miss the fact that the characters don’t look the same and aren’t drawn in a similar way.

    Is Planet Rock the exact same thing as Kraftwerk?

  32. money spoils everything. I for example, have never had an original thought or idea and remain un-sued despite copious postings because I have nothing to take. Well…apart from that persistent rash…

  33. I think you’re right, Antinous.

    As an illustrator, I’ve incorporated Jack Kirby poses, Chip Wass noses, and Jack Hamm hands into my drawings. Poster artist Frank Kozik uses lots of Disney animator Preston Blair’s characters in his work. But he does it in a way that moves it forward. Same with Shepard Fairey’s use of old work to create his art. Kozik and Fairey do it right.

    Reger’s use of Simont’s character not only copies the art and the text, it also copies the context in which it was originally presented. That’s where it crosses the line, at least for me.

    1. When I was in design school, I was always told that there would be people who could never read a floor plan. How would you see the world if you had never explored the concept of negative space or learned color theory? Artists, or anyone with specialized training, see more than those without training.

  34. No excuses.

    No doubt it is an obvious case of art theft. look at the two compositions; they are identical (flipped)

    Oh, & read the text.

    Rob Reger or whoever the plagiarist is owes Marc Simont a ton of royalties past present & future.

    As an illustrator/artist I find this crime (& the perpetrators) extremely disgusting.

  35. Im an artist and I see the similarities, and they’re superficial and limited to two specific and isolated images from two artists’ much larger careers.

  36. This comes to mind:

    “Everything you love, everything meaningful with depth and history, all passionate authentic experiences will be appropriated, mishandled, watered down, cheapened, repackaged, marketed and sold to the people you hate.”

  37. Im an artist and I see the similarities, and they’re superficial and limited to two specific and isolated images from two artists’ much larger careers.

  38. well, the “right” thing to do is settle. Considering the amounts involved though, I would counsel assassins, extortion, blackmail, kidnapping family members and using the legal system to delay for a few decades until everyone dies. You know,the usual.

  39. I’d give the artist a chance to explain himself before villifying him. It disturbs me how everyone is about ready to stake the guy in the heart based on the one snarky, megahostile blog post (the linked post, not this one).


  40. @ Regaechristmas – I’m not an artist, but I wouldn’t say that the similarities between the two images are superficial. And while Simont’s “image” may be isolated and only a singular example of his body of work, the Emily character is not isolated in terms of Reger’s body of work in that Emily recurs, quite a bit. That one image is isolated, sure, but not the character. Where do I stand? I dunno…

  41. @58: Why should the tone of the the linked post bother you more in incurring everyone’s wrath than BB’s, which offers the exact same point (perhaps not as colourfully, but just as strongly)?

  42. Is Planet Rock the exact same thing as Kraftwerk?

    Again, in this case credit was given. Kraftwerk is mentionned on the album’s back cover.

    It makes sense that most illustrators/artists commenting see this as wrong: We probably all agree that if we’d practically xerox a page off another’s work, we just wouldn’t feel comfortable to profit from it without at least giving very explict credit, especially if it hit it big.

    You know when you didn’t create it.

  43. They’re not necessarily superficial when you compare the two images (though I think they are), but what I meant to say theyre superficial when you consider the limited view of both works when you only look at those two images. If you look at what Emily The Strange (which by the way, I don’t even like, at all) is now, the fact that it came from the earlier drawing is insignificant.

  44. I must echo the sentiment of #39. I wrote the text below before reading their comment, so I am not plagiarizing it ;)

    I personally find it funny that I see both “fair use” and “outright thievery” to describe this.

    I believe the whole notion of Fair Use needs to be better explained, so that people can look at Fair Use and identify it as such, and separate it from outright thievery. I have seen other comments that indicate to me that some folks just do not ‘get’ Fair Use. A concept that central to the creative process needs to be better understood.

  45. #60.. I’m not sure. Just my perspective perhaps. She seemed quite furious. My point was mainly I was put off by the blog post on that page, I was trying to not offer insult to any of the people here. :P

    I’m not sure why I’m all defensive, I don’t particularly care about Emily the Strange one way or the other. Perhaps its only that I’ve been ganged up on before when people didn’t bother to listen to my side of the story, and it sucks a lot.

  46. @30 (Mark)
    Yes, I read the text. I concede it’s not likely a coincidence since a riff would be premeditated–after all you’d know you were emulating another style, yes? Pardon my thinking out loud. But….

    @32, Remixes don’t need to ask permission–ask any rapper who’s sampled a track. I’m not saying it isn’t–or is–plagiarism. But many an artistic endeavor–indeed all of art–owes to its predecessors.

    So the rip/riff off question here is: should an homage be paid? Or a dollar figure?

  47. But where does “creation” end and the evolution of thise work begin? Is Emily The Strange still exactly the same as Rosamond? Is his entire body of work now forever invalidated by his earlier indiscretion? I agree fully that the two images are similar, and that one came from the other, but it was a sticker he gave away and put up on walls and parking meters. What happened from there is what’s important…

    The character now, by anyone’s judgment is much more refined and bears less similarity to Rosamond than before. Should he have to put an asterisk next to her that lets people know that 17 years ago she looked more like someone elses work?

  48. I think what some commenters aren’t aware of, or are forgetting, and that isn’t mentioned in the article here, is that Hot Topic has a history of carrying merchandise with plagarized art on it.

  49. I wrote a comment substantially similar to Frauenfelder @#49, but checked before I hit “Post”. *whew*. That was a close one.

  50. Wow. That’s really blatant. If I held the copyright for “Nate the Great Goes Undercover”, I’d be on the phone with a good lawyer discussing a copyright infringement lawsuit (don’t assume that Simont still holds the copyright).

    There are lots of people involved with “Emily Strange” and lots of money is changing hands. This goes well beyond one person ripping off another’s work, as pathetic as that is. We’re talking cubic bucks on a corporate scale here, folks.

    Q: Would you invest megabucks of capital toward making and selling licensed products and most especially a movie unless you knew there was a rock-solid, unassailable copyright for the materials you were using to back you up? Only if you were a clueless, reckless fool… of course, the unfolding Financiapocalypse shows us there are indeed many fools out there. This is the purpose of hiring a good legal team, preferably one that does its work before a major investment is made.

    We’re not talking about an obscure work that’s been ripped, either. There are thousands and thousands of printed copies of “Nate the Great Goes Undercover” out there. Feigning ignorance ain’t gonna cut it.

    This is all moot, of course, if the copyright holder for “Nate the Great” struck a deal beforehand to allow the use of the imagery and text for Emily Strange… but why do I think that is unlikely?

    1. Would you invest megabucks of capital toward making and selling licensed products and most especially a movie unless you knew there was a rock-solid, unassailable copyright for the materials you were using to back you up?

      That’s one of the most common business models. You weigh the low risk of getting sued against the high profit of repeatedly doing something wrong. Remember Edward Norton’s speech about recalls in Fight Club? That’s largely how America does business.

  51. This is what Emily The Strange looks like. He owes all of his royalties because the sticker he made came from that other drawing? That ridiculous.

    As fruit from a poisoned tree: Yep. As for his ‘larger career’, what he did was rip an artist and writer off and then turned it into a major commercial enterprise.

  52. #66 I think amending any books/property to note the “character inspired by” credit would be appropriate, as well as some percentage of the profits.

    The character’s at least partially his own, he developed her a lot.

  53. When you compare her to Rosamond, Emily the Strange doesn’t seem so strange.

    I think I’d rather be friends with Rosamond. Something about that smile.

  54. One of my books was ripped off in a similar way with both artwork and text by a famous author. I suggest that Marc or his heirs get in touch with an IP lawyer and pursue the case. I received a settlement and enjoyed every minute of holding their feet to the fire. This looks like copyright infringement to me. It’s quite likely that Marc Simont’s publisher registered the copyright in his name, which is crucial. BTW, we both worked for Jerry Snyder, freelancing Sports Illustrated back in the good old days and I was a big fan of his artwork.

  55. So the rip/riff off question here is: should an homage be paid? Or a dollar figure?

    Either is good. If an artist gives credit, then his audience is made aware of the original inspiration and the original artist has increased exposure. I see it more as respect than just a money matter. The whole idea behind free and shared culture should be to give back a bit wherever you take.

    I agree fully that the two images are similar, and that one came from the other, but it was a sticker he gave away and put up on walls and parking meters. What happened from there is what’s important…

    Yes. That’s exactly when he should have spent 10 minutes making a statement on his web site/book sleeve/interview saying that he was greatly inspired by the Nate the Great books and hoped to have their whim re-discovered by a new generation…

    That would have looked a heck of a lot more honest.

  56. @MARK

    Best part of that interview:

    What does your job entail?
    Traveling, drinking beer, smoking pot, sleeping with strange girls that want to hear my dumb ideas…ha ha ha. Then, when I finally wake up, I usually have some great IDEAS about what to do next…

    I never get IDEAS, I just have ideas. Maybe that’s my problem.

  57. What if I were to pick up my daughter’s copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and find myself inspired to create a character that was nearly identical to, say, the Zans (who is quite good at openning cans). But i changed it a bit by calling it the Gans, and created for him a similar ability to open cans. And then, what if I were to establish a profitable business based on this character (books, shoes, purses, movies, etc). Would that be ok?

  58. I’ve been a professional artist as well, and there is no excuse for this. Remix is one thing, but direct, unattributed ripoff is theft. I don’t see how anyone could call this a “superficial” similarity or fair use.

  59. …but it was a sticker he gave away and put up on walls and parking meters.

    No, it was a design he did for Santa Cruz skateboards in 1991. At that time, SC was a profitable, growing company. They may have given stickers away, but in all likelihood paid Reger for his ‘design’.

  60. From Emily the Strange website section “Who is Emily”

    “Designers including Jean-Paul Gaultier, Valentino and Marc Jacobs have paid tribute to her, but she doesn’t care! Emily wants you to be yourself, think for yourself, and DO IT YOURSELF. There’s nothing more boring to her than copying everyone else. Emily is the link to the Stranger in us all.”

  61. I think the most interesting bit about this (besides the similarity itself) is that in Rob Reger’s comment to the “…notice” blog he seems to be doing two things: throwing “Nathan Carrico” under the bus and responding with a series of legalisms. I wonder if it was his lawyer who wrote the post, given some of the words he uses:

    “…a variety of original expressions”
    “unique Emily designs”
    “different and readily distinguishable”
    “…to individualize the idea of Emily”

    On top of this, I’d be curious to know the legal/rights history between Messrs Carrico and Reger.

  62. It’s possible that the copying was unconscious, that the author read the book as a child, remembered the image, and reproduced it.

    But I still think that the original artist deserves to be compensated. I think that any fair remix culture will send some of the money from highly profitable remixes upstream to the artists who were borrowed from.

  63. I think all of you are missing the obvious.

    It was made for a skateboard company in the early 90s. Of course it was ripped off.

  64. Where the image on the left came from:

    Spending your childhood drawing pictures, money and years invested in art school, a career choice with more guaranteed risks than rewards, shopping your work around publishers and agents who either criticize or ignore you, finally getting published and making a little less from a year’s work than the bus driver who took you to school as a kid.

    Where the image from the right came from:

    Going to the copy shop, making a copy of a page from a kids book, turning the copy upside down, and tracing it from the back.

    Which of the two artists above deserve to get credit?

    Making a living off your art is a long, demanding process. Marc Simont’s little drawing was years in the making. The other wasn’t.

  65. Are you guys kidding?

    That’s not an inspiration or a parallel act of creation or a remix; that’s a blatant swipe. Look at the cats, which have been copied and flipped. Look at the text, which is way too similar. Look at the loss of understructure and resolution between the first and second images — there’s nothing added. The outlines have thickened and lost resolution. The only new bits are the simplified hair, less expressive and far less original face (which could have come from clip art), disproportionate arms, and big clunky shoes. It wouldn’t pass muster as original work if it were a middle school art project.

    The arms, shoes, and cats are all tip-offs that you’re looking at mechanical copying. In the original version, Rosamond’s arms are proportionate to her legs. The rip-off version added thicker, more “realistic” arms, and big clunky shoes. That fits the theory; it would be easier to tack on standard cartoon parts than to try to match Marjorie Weinman Sharmat’s distinctively stylized versions. But they’ve kept the original pipestem legs, which make no sense in their new context. That’s not taking something old and making it your own. That’s copying.

    As for the cats, the two in the foreground are pretty distinctive. It would be remarkable for Reger to have inadvertently duplicated one of them, much less both, much less put a third, seated cat in exactly the same spot in the background. But in my opinion, the real telltale is that the cat on the right in Reger’s version is missing one of its legs.


    The hell is this a parody or an ironic commentary. Reger’s “Emily the Strange” doesn’t engage with Nate the Great, or with Rosamond’s role in the book. Also, since Reger has listed the influences on Emily during interviews but never mentioned Nate the Great, he can hardly claim now that it was intended as parody, satire, commentary, tribute, or pastiche. It is what it looks like: a straight steal of the likeness and the character concept. It’s also classic plagiarist behavior: “This is old and obscure. I’m sure no one will notice.” (There’s a reason the blog is named that.)

    As for the “I got it from Nathan Carrico” story — well, it might be true. But haven’t any of you seen a panicked student caught in plagiarism explain that she hadn’t had time to do the assignment, so her roommate did it for her, and therefore the absent roommate was the one who committed plagiarism?

    I gather Rob Reger has announced that they’ve stopped using the telltale original character design. That isn’t enough. If the original character design belongs to someone else, which in my opinion it pretty clearly does, then I believe the other Emily material qualifies as derivative work in the eyes of the law, which means he doesn’t have sole rights to it either. If the author dies tomorrow (which god forbid), that work isn’t going to be public domain for another seventy years, and the heirs will have every bit as much right to sue as the author.

    There was a mention of a film project being in the works. I’d say there’s a good chance Rob Reger is about to find out how remarkably touchy Hollywood can be about clearing the rights before starting on a project. Even if you’ve got to pay out a big chunk of change for film rights, once you’ve got them, you’ve got them. But if you only think you have them, you could suddenly find yourself unable to proceed, or to show the finished film, until the rights issues get cleared up. And at that point, the rightsholders have no incentive to settle quickly and cheaply.

    In short, Takuan had it right: plead unconscious plagiarism and settle with the rightsholders. If I were Reger, I’d do it now. Elder authors and artists are usually a lot more easygoing than their heirs.

  66. @44 Bardfinn: I don’t have to fire up the ‘shop to see it’s not a simple horizontal flip. (Although, feel free to prove me wrong, I’m just lazy like that.) The cats… possibly bordering on probably, but the girls are different enough that it’d be easier to do a similar (and they’re not *the same*) image by hand.

    That *one* image is clearly a reference. I’d call it an homage. Marc can call it unholy theft of his astonishingly original idea, in which case I hope he gets his royalties from the skateboard sticker empire.

  67. Correction to my earlier post (73), 3rd paragraph: Replace “unless you knew” with “without knowing”… too much last minute editing… but I think most of you got it.

    @78 (Antinous): Sad, but true. Just my silly ethics clouding my perception of the world again, it seems.

    To the apologists: Inspiration or reappropriation is one thing, but how can you deny that a blatant swipe is going on when it isn’t just likeness of Emily to Rosamond we’re talking about, but damn near everything shown? Concept, character design, layout AND text? Coincidence? Come on now.

  68. Blatant. He’d have to prove he had an eidetic memory if he claimed unconcious plagiarism, to account for the almost exact mirroring of the cats.

  69. The thing that’s blowing my mind here is that there is a film in the works. A movie, based on a character that is basically a t-shirt brand for Hot Topic? That has to be a joke.

    I thought funding for film production was drying up all over the place. I’m thinking this is one bad idea that will never see the screen.

  70. I thought we all had potential eidetic memory. Hypnosis? We can also fool ourselves into anything over time. Like when I’m in a bar and attractive young people focus on me because of my innate beauty and wit, rather than because of my sedan chair and bearers. By 3:00AM I’m convinced they’re right.

    1. I thought we all had potential eidetic memory.

      We mostly store everything. When we speak about good memory, we’re not referring to complete storage but to efficient retrieval.

    1. you think Hollywood occupies this mortal plane

      Tolkien made reference to “the lidless eye of Hollywood.”

  71. As fruit from a poisoned tree: Yep. As for his ‘larger career’, what he did was rip an artist and writer off and then turned it into a major commercial enterprise.

    After looking at these two pictures until my eyes crossed, I think it comes down to two things: a caption and some cats. Yes, the original artist (who was not Rob Reger, let us remember) ripped off the caption and the cats. But except for the word ‘strange’ and the three-syllable name, that has very little to do with the character Reger created.

    Come on, you guys are graphic designers and artists, would you just look at the two girls? Yeah, they’re identical — except Emily’s shoes are bigger and of a different style; her legs are thicker and in a different position; her body is in a 3/4 pose instead of dead-on to the viewer; her visible arm is thicker; her dress has a different shape to it; her head is bigger; her hairstyle is different; her face is of a completely different artistic style; Emily has a neck.

    I don’t see how the caption and the cats adds up to “Emily’s a rip-off,” when everything about Emily in that picture is original. Part of the charm of the picture is the face and the body language — the two things that are the most changed from the Rosamond drawing.

    I know this is the Internet, and we’re not supposed to be reasonable here, but I think we can get out of this without disparaging or overly praising anybody: some dude swiped some cats and a caption to go with his weird little girl drawing. Another dude saw the weird little girl drawing and was inspired to create a character that connected with enough people to be a financial success. It’s wholly innacurate to say Emily’s a ripoff of Rosamond, but I suppose “Early Emily sticker stole some non-essential elements from a children’s book” doesn’t have that sensational twist a blogger needs.

    (Side note: I’m amused by the people going on about Photoshop and how easy it is to trace things on bittorrented software — guys, this was made in 1991. That’s pre-broadband. That’s pre-INTERNET for most people. That’s pre-some starving artist being able to afford primitive Photoshop)

  72. Mr Tak – as a rule of thumb, one should always endeavour to be surrounded/framed by less attractive people/creatures. I realise that this might not always be achievable.

  73. I can’t believe this. It’s a girl in a mono colored sleeveless dress, tights, long hair and cats.

    Differences image: angle on subject, posture of subject, different shoes, 4 cats vs. 3, small distant cat’s tail different side of cat, small cat different size, subject has wide-mouth vs. small mouth, subject has dash for nose vs. two dots, monochrome vs. three spot colors, lighting effect shading used for top of head vs. flat no-shading, pupils vs. no pupils, detailed cat bodies vs. black silhouette, hair different.

    Differences in text: “did not” vs. “didn’t”, different rejected potential apparent emotional states.

    No one can truly be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that this wasn’t co-created by two separate individuals having no knowledge of the others work. The text is a basic construct, I don’t doubt that were we to search the entire history of the English language we’d find many other people using nearly the same construction and none of them guilty of ‘plagiarism’ – for the love of civilization folks, that’s not an accusation to casually throw around because you see two SIMILAR images/texts in different contexts.

    The on-going existence of Emily has no reference to the earlier similar work. There’s no relation here. It’s not an homage. It’s not even a reference. It’s an illustration of an idea and _not_surprising_ that two separate people wanting to illustrate/communicate that general concept of a ’strange’ girl would make that exact image/text.

    Do you seriously think you can paint a burly guy with long hair and a sword sitting on a horse and “own” that concept?

    So – does a creator now have to do a similar image/text search of the entire history of humanity to prove originality? It is not a photocopied cut up reproduction, the Emily sticker is surely redrawn, it would be harder to do it other than redrawing. but I don’t believe it was a copy or “theft” in any way anyway.

  74. even if the person who made the first Emily sticker was aware of the earlier similar art work, the person who made the sticker drew their own different version and changed the text around. It’s the only instance with any convergence. Emily could also be seen as a short version of Gaiman’s Death too. So what?

  75. the Addams family were stolen from a single cartoon of carolers about to have boiling oil poured on them. Gorey, I think.

  76. Seems simple to me. He stole the original image for Emily and the caption.

    But he was a skateboard artist in 1991. Stealing and repurposing images and ideas was de rigeur in that culture at that time.

    Everything that has been done with the Emily character since that time has, to my mind, redeemed that theft. Reger stole an idea, but later morphed it into his own creation.

    It’s an interesting footnote to the Emily character, but it doesn’t somehow invalidate the merit of Reger’s later work with her. (I’m not particularly an Emily fan, and am making no judgement as to whether that “merit” exists or not, but it seems to me this issue has nothing to do with the merit discussion.)

  77. yeah, was about to bring up Gorey… I can’t seearch through his entire life’s work, but I would not be surprised if somewhere in it sits a picture similar. The Emily drawing is a significantly different style than Simont’s Rosamond, all those little differences add up.

    In the end if the guy who made the skateboard sticker (not Rob Reger BTW) says he didn’t consciously know about the Simont illustration, I’m willing to believe him. I’d rather be wrong about that in this case than call someone a plagiarist lair for no reason or benefit to anyone. Because… If he does say he knew about it and set out to make an altered, changed, customized, “rip-off” version, that’s still OK by me. It happens all the time and it’s nothing to get upset about or fuck with people’s lives over. Rob Reger and cosmic debris were inspired by that first sticker to grow the Emily character and nothing but that first sticker has any significant relation to Simont’s Rosamond, so that’s it… much ado about nothing.

    Now if the whole thing had been brought forward as, “cool, look at this artistic sycro-parallelism! intentional or accidental?” that would have been better. It’s just not a case of big bad corporation stealing and exploiting something from an old children’s book.

  78. oof. If the image up there is the very first image of Emily The Strange, then it perfectly captures her creation as being lifted from the image of Rosamond from Nate the Great, in an act of swipery just shy of the heinousness of Todd Goldman. not an homage, not a loveletter. The same elements, the same text, and a thinly veiled change in execution with the hope nobody would notice.

    An homage is one thing. a loveletter. i’ve done a few in my career. But this.. this feels like when Vanilla Ice was profusely defending his stance that the beat of ‘Ice Ice Baby’ was indeed not from Queen/Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure.’ pretty contemptible.


  79. Darue, I’m sorry if you can’t see what we’re talking about.

    Prom77, legally you don’t “redeem” a rights ripoff by building other works on the stolen original. You still don’t own those basic rights. Adding material to the original property creates derivative works, not redemptive ones. And since in this case the swiped material included the primordial character concept and character design, and Emily the Strange doesn’t have much going for it besides that character, I’d have to say the swipe is pretty thoroughly unredeemed.

  80. You know, when your defense of an accusation of plagarism is ‘oh, when we noticed [iconic image that brand was created from] was a near perfect copy of something else, we stopped making that image,” it’s a FAIL.

    You derived your whole brand from that image. just because it’s evolved away since then, doesn’t change the fact that without that image, your brand wouldn’t have existed, and thus I’m totally with the others who say they owe the original illustrator *something*.

    At the same time, as I said elsewhere, I can believe that the guy who originally created this did intentionally (but not maliciously) copy the image for a non-commercial purpose, and I think that’s okay, if ethically irresponsible. Where it gets objectionable is when a) you create a way to make money off of the image and b) refuse to admit that it even could be inspired by the same thing. Which means I really blame Rob, not Nathan.

  81. @110

    Darue and all the people saying it’s not photoshopped – I agree.

    It *does* look traced and/or photocopied though. The outlines match too much. The hair bumps, the cats, the bigger lines in the original.

    How it looks to me: The general picture was traced, didn’t look very good (not surprisingly) and was fixed up a bit for quick buck. I did the same thing in elementary/high school for projects and we’re talking someone who was probably about the same skill and effort level when this started, from what I see.

    The text! So bad.

    And then it grew bigger. The embarrassing source came back to haunt, which can happen when you take the lazy route.

    I’d like to hear both sides too, but it does look bad for the sticker artist.

  82. There are a few interesting questions here, and a lot of posters have touched on one or the other of them…

    1. Despite posters to the contrary, it’s obvious the original image of Emily is a direct copy of Rosamund, albeit flipped and modified. It’s not “coincidence.”

    2. If you believe Reger’s story that it was a skateboard artist that created the first image (the copied one pictured) and Reger “asked for permission to use the character of Emily,” is Reger at fault for not being sure that the image wasn’t someone else’s work that was just copied? Was it the skateboard artist’s duty to tell him?

    3. If Reger really didn’t know about the original ripoff, and then creates a whole Emily-based empire using his own ideas and creativity, isn’t what he’s created original, despite the allegedly unbeknownst ripoff origin? And more importantly: how much of the Emily empire should he [morally, if not legally] owe royalties on?

    Personally, I think Reger should admit flat-out (which he never does, probably for legal reasons) that the original skateboard artist ripped off the image and text. Reger might also take responsibility for not asking that question of the skateboard artist (“Is this your original work, or is there someone else we should be talking to?”). I think it would be nice if Reger acknowledged that Emily had its origins in Rosamund’s character, and gave written credit to the original author/illustrator. Financially, I think Reger should estimate or guess how much money was made from Cosmic’s sales of items *with versions of the original ripped-off Emily image* and offer a percentage of that to the original illustrator. But to me, considering the bulk of the Emily corpus was Reger’s original creation and has been since 1991 or whenever, I disagree that Reger owes a percentage of profit on *all* the Emily empire. I guess I don’t agree that the original plagiarism taints the entire body of creative and actually original work that came afterwards.

  83. It’s also important to recognize that this isn’t limited to Reger’s work. I’ve seen plenty of other articles over the years indicting other Hot Topic designers for this sort of thing. Of course this isn’t limited to Hot Topic; Urban Outfitters comes to mind as well. Whether or not culture should be “open” or whatever, most people can recognize that there’s something exploitative in large corporations copying artist’s work and marketing it without payment or acknowledgment.

  84. same cats, same text, same idea, new drawing.

    i’m amazed that it doesn’t slap everyone in the face upon first glance. #111 was right, “Clearly pattern recognition is not universal.”


  85. From a legal standpoint “ownership” is based on Origin of Concept. For a current and very expensive example look at the lawsuit Matel won against the dollmaker Bratz.

  86. In other news:

    – Duchamp blatantly ripped off a successful urinal manufacturer with his Fountain.

    – Warhol blatantly ripped off Campbell’s Soup, many a time.

    – Lichtenstein blatantly ripped off, well, lots of people.

    Art is context, context is art.

  87. the real villains here are the thousands of people who over`the years said “I’ve seen that before” and did nothing. Swine.

  88. I kinda fail to see how anyone can look at that and whine that it’s just coincidence. Sure, the concept of a dark-haired girl with cats isn’t copyrightable, but presentation of a fixed form of an idea is. The cats’ poses are nearly identical, if flipped. The breaks in text are nearly identical, although the width of the sticker forces one more line break than in the original. The same broken TENSE is used, for gawd’s sake. (ie…”she looked like she always looks,” instead of “she looked like she always looked.”) Yes, Emily’s posture is shifted a bit in comparison to Rosamund’s but not that much.

    I’m an artist, but I wouldn’t be able to redraw a panel from one of my favourite kids books with the same degree of accuracy. Not from memory. Not from unconcious inspiration. No way. Try it. All you people claiming to be artists, go and draw a page from Doctor Seuss or Amelia Bedelia or Maurice Sendak WITHOUT looking at it. If, for example, I drew a scene inspired by Eloise, without looking at a picture for reference, there’s no way I’d be drawing Skipperdee’s feet in the exact same configuration as the original. I really rather think whoever drew the original skateboard sticker had to have been using reference, if not loosely tracing. The cats are too close to identical.

    Granted the original artists haven’t done much with Nate the Great (other than keep the books in print) and they may be unaware of their marketing opportunities. (Charmingly so, I think.) BUT…if they wanted to market anything based on Rosamund as a character, would they be able to in the face of the Emily merchandise? Granted, in recent years, there’s a good argument for it taking its own turn, but those early stickers are based on somebody else’s work.

    If Reger had once said this was homage, or loosely inspired by the character, this wouldn’t be such a problem, mind you. But he seems bound and determined to claim parallel development when that doesn’t seem to be the case. Somebody somewhere made bucketload off of a character design that wasn’t their own.

  89. I rented the TV miniseries “The Mists of Avalon” not very long ago, and then finally got around to reading the novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which I’d owned for several years but never read.

    I enjoyed it. I found it to be a clever retelling of the Arthurian saga, through the eyes of the women. I’d have enjoyed it much more if certain concepts and in some cases actual verbatim phrases weren’t taken from Parke Godwin’s writing.

    Parke Godwin is my favorite author nobody’s heard of. He’s written several novels, but my favorites of his are the Arthurian-era books: “Firelord,” “Beloved Exile,” and “The Last Rainbow.” I first read “Firelord” when I was 14, having found it on the paperback novel rack at K-Mart and intrigued by the cover art.

    “Firelord” predates “The Mists of Avalon” by about four years. I mean, MZB is still a talented author, but did she think nobody would ever notice?

    All that is my way of saying IT DOES NOT MATTER how old or obscure the original source material is. It doesn’t matter how few people will notice. It’s still stealing. There’s homage, and there’s repurposing, and then there’s outright theft.

  90. 1. Despite posters to the contrary, it’s obvious the original image of Emily is a direct copy of Rosamund, albeit flipped and modified. It’s not “coincidence.”

    The Mona Lisa is a direct copy of every portrait before her’s, albeit “modified.” Possibly flipped.

    I notice that despite the constant assertions that it’s a direct horizontal flip, nobody had bothered to show how well they match up. (Not all that well, unless you’re a generous soul.)

    It’s clearly influenced, but to what degree only the artist could tell us (if he weren’t under legal pressure.) Maybe a direct homage, maybe an unconscious re-creation, who knows?

    I’m more disturbed by the people who claim that since the Emily skateboard sticker was (I’m guessing) inspired by Rosalind, the entire body of work is forfeit. Sorry, go back to your dead-end jobs and fantasize about how creativity *should* happen, because you obviously have no real concept of what actually goes on. The whole “gotcha” moment has spilled over from newstainment to art criticism.

  91. An obvious plagiarism. Pattern recognition must be the privilege of the intelligent. For example, the coldplay rip of Kraftwerk’s ‘Computerworld’ or Broadcast’s rips of Al stewart, Mort garson and a plethora of other ‘obscure’ ’60s bands. Even Jennifer Lopez ripped the Yellow Magic Orchestra’s ‘Firecracker’… Everyone’s at it to some extent, thinking that ‘the kids won’t have heard this before’… to the downfall of originality. Pah.

  92. Fruit-of-the-Loom sued Paul Frank Industries because of the use of the term ” Fundies set”.
    That case was iffy.

    This is a definate case of plagiarism.

  93. Looks like this was resolved:


    The agreement resolves a dispute concerning alleged similarities between Emily the Strange and Rosamond, a character featured in all of the Nate the Great Books. “We recognize that Emily and Rosamond are both unique and original characters, and we are pleased that we were able to resolve this dispute,” said Marjorie Sharmat and Marc Simont. “We wish Rob, Cosmic Debris, Emily and her fans all the very best.”

    My family loves Emily! Of all of the “unoriginal” characters and stories out there, I see this as more of a case of appropriation…and believe that Emily will continue to rise above!

  94. Ever notice it is possible to do this on PURPOSE?! And this is NOT the real Emily Strange made by the REAL creators… It is obviously a FAN-MADE drawing that was obviously MADE to relate to this character!

  95. I just read in Wikipedia the same thing that ScarNoir posted but the similarities are too close, in wording, art, and personality. The makers of Emily the Strange, or should I say the thieves of Rosamond, should not continue their sales as original and should pay the original creators of Rosamond their due respect and a pretty nice fine for their hard work and trademark. That’s my opinion. I would never take credit for drawing a mouse that has red pants with two large white buttons on the front and white gloves with four fingers and represents the happiest place on earth. It’s not art if you’re not original, it’s called stealing and plagiarism. Be original people!

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