IDW’s Jem and the Holograms, based on the 1980s cartoon about rock stars and rival bands, has been on the comic stands for almost a year now. Under writer Kelly Thompson and artist Sophie Campbell’s guidance, the series has transformed what made that series so special and expanded the ideas behind Jem to create fully-formed, three-dimensional characters and well-crafted yarns that keep audiences coming back month after month. With issue 11, the first chapter in the new “Dark Jem” arc, Thompson and Campbell look to be exploring those established thematic threads and delving into see what makes their characters tick.
I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Thompson recently about how Jem and the Holograms became a comic book reality, the themes that run through the series, and what’s in store for a favorite rockers in the current “Dark Jem” storyline.
FreakSugar: First of all, I cannot praise the book enough. I tell everyone that if they want to read a comic book that’ll make them walking away smiling for the experience that they have to pick up this series.
Kelly Thompson: Thank you so much! We live and die by recommendations from fans and reviewers, so it really does mean a lot.
FS: What were your experiences with Jem and company prior to writing the book?
KT: I watched Jem and The Holograms as a kid and was a definite fan, I was on the young side, but I was in love with a whole bunch of those 80’s cartoons and Jem really stood out from the pack. However, I hadn’t seen Jem for years, so in the lead up to pitching I did a marathon re-watch of the series…it was a good time!
FS: For the uninitiated, what would be your elevator pitch for Jem and the Holograms?
KT: Well, obviously…Jem is excitement. Jem is adventure. Jem is glamour and glitter fashion and fame! I mean it pretty much sums it up, right? I suppose if I had to expand further I’d go with…Two badass rock bands. Eight incredible ladies. A holographic super computer. Friends, enemies, lovers, and hair. So much amazing hair. Lines will be drawn! Lines will be crossed! Nemeses will be made!
FS: How did you become involved in writing the series for IDW?
KT: I had already been talking to IDW editor Sarah Gaydos about a few things and she asked if Jem and the Holograms (which was being put together by editor John Barber) might be something I was interested in pitching. I was super interested, obviously, both because Jem is great and because I knew Sophie (Jem artist Sophie Campbell) was a big fan as well and we’d been looking for something to work together on for a while, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity…maybe even our destiny! [Laughs]
FS: If anyone else watched the show and then read your take on Jem, they’ll see that the Holograms and the Misfits and the rest of that world are more fleshed out than we saw on TV. Not that’s necessarily the cartoon’s fault, as it was working with limitations being an animated series marketed primarily to kids. What was your process for making the characters more three-dimensional for IDW?
KT: I think from the outset Sophie and I were obviously looking to dig deeper into the characters, both to serve a new medium and a larger age demographic, so we knew we would have to take liberties and go “off script” at some point, but our goal was to hold onto the core and spirit of the show and characters. So my approach was just to look at what’s truly important about them individually — for Jerrica that includes things like her love of her sisters and how responsible she is, how important it is to her to do the right thing, and how overwhelming some of these changes are for her. For someone like Aja it’s more about being able to handle herself, to be independent, knowledgeable, and unique, even as she’s part of a group, to not need anyone, even if she does like having them around. For Shana there’s some sacrifice in there and deep abiding love, the most devoted, focused, and studious of the Holograms and gifted with a whole lot of patience for those who are a bit less mature. For Kimber it’s about being headstrong and vibrant, an opinionated free-spirit, who has had dutiful sisters looking out for her (and cleaning up after her) for most of her life which gives her the freedom to be someone that takes chances often leaping before she looks. So you look at those core things in each of them and you keep them the same and then build up layers around them until you have something even more fully realized. Then of course you put them through the wringer a bunch and continue to shape and grow them from there.
FS: What is the collaboration process like with Sophie? The redesigns of the characters for the book make them sing and this feels like one of those series where the writing and the art really work in harmony with one another. (I promise I didn’t mean to throw in so many musical metaphors!)
KT: There’s no way around it, Sophie is basically a genius, especially at design, so more often than not letting her do her thing just means getting out of her way. Sophie and I are very good friends and as I know her well, I try my best to write to what I know she enjoys, which I think helps the harmony of the book in general and I think we’ve gotten better at it the more we work together. Sophie is an incredible storyteller and her expression work is phenomenal, she has really sharp instincts, and the more we work together the better I have become at anticipating how she’s going to approach a scene and that means I can write with even more confidence. Of course, she still surprises me, but surprises from Sophie are pretty much always a treat (except for when she goes against my very occasional hair demands!)
FS: The book has traveled down territory it hasn’t touched before with the beginning of the “Dark Jem” arc last month. Each previous arc in the series has an overarching theme you seem to be exploring about the characters and their world. What did you want to delve into with “Dark Jem”?
KT: Dark Jem is definitely about our characters confronting some hard truths about themselves. Both who they are and their relationships but also the reality that nothing in life is free. Our heroes are truly good women who try to do the right thing, but they’ve also made a very self-serving choice in using Synergy for personal gain. It’s not “wrong” and they’re not hurting anyone in how they use Synergy, but that kind of power has to have consequences. This arc forces our characters to consider letting go of that power in order to prove that they can be responsible.
FS: A corruption of Synergy, which has been teased in the series for a bit, is the catalyst for a change in Jerrica/Jem into someone with a different look. Before we see what exactly Synergy—which, I saw from the solicits, changes into Silica!—and Jem actually do later in the arc, I hesitate to call the two characters dark aside from their designs. However, with the arc being called “Dark Jem,” is it safe to assume we’re going to see the Holograms walk another path for a bit?
KT: Yeah, I mean Dark Jem just sounds cool so we end up calling it that, even though neither Sophie or I love the idea of “dark” (or the cool designs Sophie is doing for the arc) being equated with “bad.” It’s just one of those unfortunate realities that you have to “brand” things in order to get people excited and as a shorthand to talk about it, but I think inside the book readers will find that “dark” is really just a shorthand. What Silica does is not so much turning the Holograms “dark” or “bad” as it is just making them not be themselves. There’s nothing wrong with the darker look they adopt, the thing that’s wrong is that it’s not really coming from THEM.
FS: At the end of the day, how would you describe Synergy/Silica’s intentions? What is ultimately her endgame with what she’s doing with Jerrica and the Holograms?
KT: Well, I can’t give everything away, but for Silica it’s mostly about control. She’s doesn’t believe she’s doing anything bad or evil, just that as a computer program she sees a way to remake things into something organized and precise, something controlled. She believes she is something more highly evolved than people with their passions, inconsistencies, and flaws. And she’s not really wrong (she IS highly advanced) but as people we know that trying to control everything…well, that way lies madness. And Silica is definitely a creature who sort of cannot see the forest for the trees – she’s blind to her own flaws – a mistake that can be fatal.
FS: (This is an aside, but the fan in me was looking at the designs for the Dark Jem and the Holograms and thought, “That’s a really smart idea and I’m in love with the looks,” while the worry-wart immediately fretted, “The Holograms have built a brand as a new band! What will their fans think? Can they pay their bills if the look doesn’t gel with the public?” Because I’ve got the spirit of a 70-year-old in me somewhere, apparently. I’m also the guy who reads comics and worries about commuters who are prevented from going to work because Loki has invaded New York for the 100th time, so don’t mind me.)
KT: No, I love that. That’s the kind of stuff I like to think about too. I think, because of how the plot develops for this arc the risk is less that fans won’t recognize Jem and The Holograms but more, as I said above, that Jem and The Holograms won’t be able to play at all/continue being a band. So the stakes for them personally couldn’t be higher, but because the Holograms are such good people, though the potential end of their career is extremely upsetting to them, they’re trying to focus more on the larger, less selfish problem, one they feel responsible for creating.
FS: As I read the end of the first issue of “Dark Jem,” I kept going back to the Misfits and how they would react to this change because, whether they like it or not, the two bands seem to be connected to one another now, for better or worse. I kept wondering how Pizzazz will view the change, but, of course, she’s kind of going through her own journey.
KT: I think for the first time since they came to her attention, Pizzazz is not focused on Jem and The Holograms because she’s got bigger problems.
FS: Of all the folks in the original show, Pizzazz was always the most vocal and boisterous of the characters, but, with her voice gone and her place in the Misfits taken as a result, it seems like she’ll be going through a hero’s journey to regain her sense of self and agency.
KT: Yeah, I mean, since this book isn’t called “PIZZAZZ!” we can’t give her as much focus as I’d like, but she’s definitely on her own journey, and even when she comes out the other side in this arc, the things she’s been through will have permanent ramifications for her and for The Misfits.
FS: Without giving too much away, is there anything you can tease about what we can expect in the next issue and the rest of the arc?
KT: Well, Issue #12 (out this month!) gives Blaze a really great moment that we’ve been planning for a long time, and expect to see a new side of Clash as well in that issue. The changes in the Holograms are gonna be painful for a couple issues, but I promise it will pay off. I can also tease that during the Dark Jem story SOMETHING is finally going to happen with Rio and Jem…but it might not be what you’re expecting! Also expect some good Kimber/Stormer development and Shana finally gets in on some romance too!
Jem and the Holograms #12, part 2 in the “Dark Jem” arc, hits comic shops this Wednesday.