"Imagen if Senfeld on TV today?" is a question often posed by @Seinfeld2000, an alternate universe of Seinfeld characters in contemporary situations told through garbled English and meme-ready Photoshop renderings. Now @Seinfeld2000's creator has invented his own 2014-appropriate language to communicate with fans: Seinfeld Emoji.
Seinfeld Emoji is one of several Seinfeld-based creations by Jason Richards, the Toronto native who launched @Seinfeld2000 last year (and who is disappointingly eloquent in person). He also wrote the story "The Apple Store," which imagines the characters at their local Genius Bar, written in the same autocorrect-free spelling, mangling even the characters' own names.
"I'm now by default brainstorming what strange side projects I can do," says Richards, who was anonymous until a New York Times profile in May. Emoji are so ubiquitous that they seemed to be the next gradual step, he says, "an ongoing way to recontextualize Seinfeld in as many possible formats."
Richards put the call out for help in making his vision reality and ended up working with two @Seinfeld2000 fans, illustrator Kevin McCauley and developer Shahruz Shaukat, who pulled together the app in a few weeks. "I had an idea for emojis that looked like the four main cast members, and what they did just exceeded my expectations," says Richards.
What proved most difficult was deciding what to include. In the end, Richards and McCauley narrowed the library to 42 images, and Richards is constantly fielding requests from miffed fans: "Where's the top of the muffin? What, no pony?" The Pez was the most requested image, and drawing Newman was the most fun, says McCauley. "The Puffy Shirt was among the hardest objects, and getting Kramer right was one of the hardest characters to express within the standards of the 'emoji face' visual style." (One nice detail that might go unnoticed: the frog on the side of the Frogger game is actually an emoji frog.)
Seinfeld Emoji is not a straight-up homage to Seinfeld the show, it is actually more like an illustrated guide to the @Seinfeld2000 world. So in addition to "Jary," there's a "Jery (modarn)" and of course, "Barry Obame" (Obama makes regular appearances). There's also a "Samsang Galaxy S5" and there was an Apple Store emoji—until Apple requested they remove it. "That's actually the reason why the app didn't come out sooner, is because it got rejected," says Richards. (But Apple was fine with leaving the Galaxy S5 in there, of course.)
The app (which is free) also has a pretty big limitation: The way the iPhone's keyboard works means that Seinfeld Emoji can't integrate directly into your existing emoji menu, explains Shaukat. "We came up with a solution that we felt was the best feasible option, which is to let people compose messages within our app, and then share them out onto Messages, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, as image attachments. The app optimizes each image to look nice and as native as possible on each network." And although only iOS is available today, Shaukat says he's looking into Android now.
To the hearty approval of fans, Richards has also preserved the broken English which makes @Seinfeld2000 such a delight, right down to the description—"feateuring 42 modarn Senfeld emojis"—in the app store. "It's a real balancing act with this orthography, this weird spelling and poor grammar I've trapped myself in," he says. "For these spinoffs, I try to make that ungrammatical side a little more subtle if someone's new to it."
By simplifying the references to icons, I think it makes the grammatical errors even better—you can imagine—sorry, imagen—the fictional @Seinfeld2000 creator being all too happy to resort to these graphic shortcuts to tell his Seinfeld-on-TV-today stories.
Although Richards believes he's protected by fair-use and parody as far as copyright issues, he has had one pretty solid endorsement from the Seinfeld camp. "Jessica Seinfeld [Jerry's wife] caught wind of this and Instagrammed of the original illustration," says Richards. She suggested the "Little Jary" rooster be included, and Richards was happy to oblige. [Seinfeld Emoji]