On June 2, HarperCollins’ HarperTeen imprint will release Emily the Strange: The Lost Days, the first in a series of four novels starring Emily, a quirky, independent 13-year-old who got her start 15 years ago as a design on a line of t-shirts and skateboards.

Anne Hoppe, executive editor of HarperCollins Children’s Books, first discovered the character around 2001 on a t-shirt in a Brooklyn boutique. "I loved the graphics, with their clean, direct quality, and the wit of the sayings that went with her," she says. "I like Emily a lot for her strong individualism. She’s really meant to be a figure of empowerment."

"Emily is a character that resonates with tweens and teens today because she is empowered, self-reliant and a creative decision maker," adds Jennifer Sullivan, v-p, global account management, at the Gator Group, the property’s new licensing agent. "The biggest misconception about her is that she’s this Goth, dark, evil character. She’s not. She’s like a female McGyver, or like Einstein meets McGyver. She’s a good role model for tween and teen girls."

An Emily the Strange
tote bag.

Emily the Strange was created in 1993 by Rob Reger and continues to be managed by his San Francisco-based design firm, Cosmic Debris. The first products, featuring the character and her catchy phrases, were sold in skate, surf and street fashion stores; the property soon became a global fashion brand and inspired designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino and Marc Jacobs to create their own lines.

Emily moved into publishing in 2001, when Chronicle Books released the first in a series of four gift titles. Dark Horse introduced its first comic book in 2005; that went monthly last year. The comic publisher will launch another monthly series this July, this one for teen girls, and will also debut a coffee table book, The Art of Emily the Strange, in October. Dark Horse includes Emily online comics on its MySpace Dark Horse Presents platform and has a deal with Universal Studios for an Emily film, currently in development.

HarperTeen’s new novels are a logical next step for the property. The Lost Days is in Emily’s voice and takes place as she suffers from amnesia. "We decided the best way to introduce Emily to new readers, while not alienating the current ones with an ‘introduction,’ would be if Emily didn’t know who she was herself and was writing in her diary, discovering herself at the same time the reader is discovering who she is," Reger says.

The novels are written by Reger and Jessica Gruner, a former teacher and boutique owner who has worked on many Emily projects, and are illustrated in the property’s trademark black, red and white by Reger and longtime colleague Buzz Parker. "The three of them have the most amazing creative and collaborative process of anyone I’ve ever worked with," Hoppe says.

Even Emily hits the beach: on a towel.

"Each publisher has played major roles in Emily’s brand development," Reger explains. Chronicle gave the character a wide market and also developed a number of first-time products, such as stationery and postcards, he says, while Dark Horse gave Emily the chance to grow in the comic book market and led to the movie deal. Harper is helping the authors shape longer story lines and is supporting the books with a major marketing campaign. "All of our publishers have been very involved in the creation of the books and products we create with them," Reger continues, "and all have been very true to keeping with who Emily is and have not limited us in our development, but helped to expand on what we have already done."

The Gator Group will widen the property’s presence in product categories such as electronics and room décor, as well as boosting its international presence and expanding beyond teens and young adults. Among the areas of interest: adult products featuring Reger’s fine art and infant and toddler merchandise under the new Emiwee brand extension. Last year, Cosmic Debris partnered with Manic Panic NYC for a line of hair products and cosmetics, with Gibson for limited-edition Ephiphone guitars and, through Dark Horse, with Jones Soda for limited-edition Emily-themed beverages.

Sullivan says the Gator Group is working with retailers on innovative placement for both the books and products, such as featuring books in fashion channels and vice versa. It is also working with Cosmic Debris on the launch of the Emily the Strange Foundation, which will promote creativity and art as outlets for teens.

Emily the Strange: The Lost Days by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner. HarperTeen, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-06-145229-1