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The best way to text, 'Running late'? With a Bitmoji of yourself piloting an X-Wing, of course

Jacob Blackstock, inventor of the Bitmoji, considers the cartoon ‘an ideal way to communicate ideas.’

Jacob Blackstock, inventor of the Bitmoji, considers the cartoon ‘an ideal way to communicate ideas.’

Jacob Blackstock, chief executive officer and creative director of Bitstrips Inc., is buzzing with excitement over the phone from Scotland, where he's taking a break from an investor's conference. The inventor of the hugely popular app that creates personalized emojis featuring textable cartoon avatars of its users has big news and he's not sure how much of it he can share. The last thing he wants, he says, is to get into trouble with Disney.

Then, he comes out with it – the big reveal that will surely delight every Star Wars nerd with a cellphone. "You'll be piloting the Millennium Falcon. You'll be hanging out with Chewbacca. You'll be a Jedi. You'll be going into hyperspeed!" he says. Translation: Bitmoji is releasing a special Star Wars theme pack this week that will feature six new Bitmojis that will place your avatar inside the Star Wars universe, marking a new high for Blackstock and his 27-member team.

Millions of people have used Bitmoji since the app was introduced through the iTunes store and Google Play in October last year, including a host of celebrities. Lena Dunham is such a fan that Bitmoji released a special Girls theme pack in March. A slew of other TV themes have followed: Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Curb Your Enthusiasm.

"We actually got notes from Larry David telling us how to refine his smirk," Blackstock told me earlier at the Bitstrips offices in Toronto.

Last month, Bitmoji upped its game with the launch of Bitmoji Fashion, a new feature that lets users dress their avatars in clothes from Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, Diane von Furstenberg and others. It means that even if you're a mess in the morning, your avatar can still rock the fall runway's looks.

As Blackstock sees it, Bitmoji is flourishing because it adds something essential to the way we now communicate. "Texting is really great and convenient, but it has also stripped a lot of the humanity out of our communications," said the 40-year-old Toronto-based inventor, who has been known as "Ba" since he was 6 (a friend's two-year-old brother called him that, and the name stuck).

Emoticons, with their smiling faces or teary eyes, brought emotional nuance to texting. "But there was still something else missing that's even more fundamental, which is identity," Blackstock says.

That's where his app comes in. Bitmoji allows you to create a cartoon version of yourself from a large menu of hairstyles, head sizes, body shapes and other features. (Mine has my unkempt mop, although he's wearing a suit, which I rarely do. It gives him a professional vibe that I like.)

Then you can pick from more than 500 versions of your Bitmoji – staring out over a coffee mug beneath a cheery "Good morning," or flipping a table over in anger.

Blackstock's team adds six new Bitmojis every week that satisfy three criteria, Blackstock explains: They must be "visually appealing, really fun and really useful."

Of course, some are simply amusing or silly, such as the one of your avatar sitting on the toilet or high-fiving a dog.

As a cartoonist, though, Blackstock's proudest partnership to date was for the movie Inside Out because it gave him the chance to work with Pixar.

"Cartoon is a language, and for me it's an ideal way to communicate ideas," he says.

Not everyone, however, loves a cartoon when it's foisted on them, as Blackstock learned from his previous invention.

His earlier mobile app, Bitstrips, which allowed users to make and share their own comics, was a success when it was released in the fall of 2013. But the comics began flooding Facebook pages, whether users wanted to see them or not, and their ubiquity quickly became a source of controversy. Within weeks, people went from loving them to despising them.

The backlash didn't shake Blackstock's faith in the power of cartoons. And even given the success of Bitmoji, he still feels he has plenty of big-eyed, bobble-headed work to do.

"What I've learned over the years is that every time you get to the mountain top – and I don't feel like I'm on the mountain top right now – but when you do get there, what do you see? More mountains," he says. "I feel like we're just getting started."