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Emily & the Strangers #1

(Dark Horse; US: Mar 2013)

Let’s face it. There’s a little emo in all of us, that withdrawn, rebellious streak within ourselves prompting us to rage at the world around us. The social collision is your decision, whether it’s through music, attire, or attitude. We all rock the boat in some way. Rob Reger capitalizes on this with his creation of Emily Strange, a trademark character of his company, Cosmic Debris Etc. Inc. Emily is a 13-year old emo girl who excels at inventing things (an edgy, female version of Dexter of Dexter’s Laboratory fame). Emily owns many cats that do her bidding, but her main allies are her four black cats (Sabbath, Miles, Nee Chee, and Mystery). Their latest exploits play out in Emily and the Strangers #1, co-written by Mariah Huehner and Rob Reger with art by Emily Ivie.


The premise of her current series sees Emily yearning to acquire the haunted guitar of Professa Kraken, one of her idols whom she refers to as “the best musician of all time (the gothic theme of death is incorporated here as is the idea of looking for clues hidden in the album).” To win this famed instrument, Emily must enter a rock contest and submit her song by Friday the thirteenth. An ambitious young prodigy, Emily wastes no time in assembling her sound studio. It’s clear Emily’s a perfectionist, as she spends meticulous time fine-tuning all her equipment, including the “ez listening device,” “reel-life projector flute,” and “far-out phonograph.” However, like most inventors, she’s a shrewd delegator; Emily’s cats are her assistants, capable of repairing glitches inside the instruments.


Internal troubleshooting aside, Emily handles the rest. Initially, her plan is to combine all the instruments and equipment to form a giant amp, hoping to capture the diverse sounds when she sings. She soon discovers the rules of music aren’t quite that systematic when it backfires. She reverts to the traditional approach (still a touch of unconventionality being that cats are her band members.) Reger emphasizes the emo ideology with Emily’s lyrics. She sings, “Everybody’s tryin’ to get my attention—but I’m upstairs with my new invention—tuning out gossip and chatter—loud and clear nothing else matters.” These words stress solitude over fellowship and individuality over conformity.


Reger expounded on this philosophy further in an article for Upstart Business Journal. He said, “Emily’s ethos now came out of how punk rock nurtured me.”  Reger went on to explain how that genre molded him into a free-thinker. “I question everything,” he said. Getting back on topic, Emily slaves the night away, feverishly tweaking her recording until it’s flawless; but, sleep, like a train on route, cannot be derailed. She conks out and gets awakened by a loud crash caused by her many cats; needless to say, she’s livid.


Throughout this comic, Reger does an exemplary job on conveying Emily’s temper in a crafty and kid-friendly way; words like “flabberfark” and “zorking” replace typical expletives. With little time to vent, Emily speeds off to the radio station and attempts to submit her song. Unfortunately, she gets knocked off her skateboard by a truck. Ironically, one of her black cats brings her luck by dropping her song off at the station. Emily wins, but there’s a catch; an intern named Evan salvaged the sample Emily’s cat delivered and is thus partially responsible for its success. He will let her have the haunted guitar if she signs a contract to team up with him in a band battle (the winner must do this to keep the guitar according to contest rules). True to emo form, Emily’s reluctant to work with others. A punk rocker himself, Evan convinces her to sign and a band is formed.


I find it very astonishing how well Ivie’s art encapsulates Reger’s dialogue and mood. Readers don’t have to look further than the introduction for proof. Emily states, “My mind is a terrible thing to waste.” She then mentions how she crams it with “odds, ends, and all the best brain junk.” Ivie transforms the figurative into the visual; the first page is a close-up of Emily’s head made transparent so the readers can view the items the young genius taps into for inspiration (plasma balls, test tubes, and a cauldron among other objects).


Other structures Ivie creates are equally compelling, none more so than Emily’s home, which seems more of a castle than a house. Being a fan of the Castlevania franchise, I have a soft spot for gothic architecture, albeit the style here is toned down for the general audience. Although most of the issue is formatted in subdued colors, there is selective use of flashy hues. The haunted guitar has a lime green glow while the melodies Evan plays on his piano blossom in all their orange radiance. The emo personality is ultimately at the forefront, though. Emily dresses in black and has white highlights in her dark hair. Evan has blue bangs that match his blue-striped rocker vest.
Altogether, I was pleased with Emily and the Strangers #1. Reger’s emo/gothic vision shines through in the punk-themed plot and in Emily’s edgy dialogue. Ivie’s art pays tribute to Reger’s creation, adding imagery to support his gritty comic realm.

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