We are beyond thrilled that Kelly Thompson is writing the comic book adaptation of the beloved 1980s cartoon Jem and the Holograms. We're debuting the second comic cover featuring the rocking Misfits, and chatted with Thompson and series artist Ross Campbell about how they've updated the outrageous Jem.
Campbell drew the cover for the second issue of Jem and the Holograms, which IDW is launching in March 2015, with new looks for the Holograms' rival band. If you missed it, also check out Campbell's cover for the first issue, featuring Jem and her pals.
Our own Rob Bricken spoke with both Thompson and Campbell over email to find out how the world of Jem will be different in 2015:
Are you both fans of the original series? What was your favorite aspect of the show?
Ross Campbell: Of course I am! I was a child of the 80s and Jem is pure 80s. My favorite aspect of the show was always the music, just so addictive, and that it focused on women. All those surreal music videos, too. The main thing I remember thinking was how much I hated the Misfits, though, that's still the first thing I think of when I think ofJem. I took it seriously as a kid so I hated the Misfits so much, I didn't understand why they wouldn't just leave the Holograms alone.
Kelly Thompson: Yeah, I was definitely a big fan of Jem, I was pretty young but I loved it. I think growing up my favorite aspect was just how the show was wall-to-wall women, unlike most other cartoons I was watching. I think when I re-watch now it's the same – total love of the insane number of female characters – even most of the supporting cast are women. Obviously, the camp factor is a huge plus, especially when watching as an adult.
What's new in this Jem comic, both the story and the character?
Thompson: Well, I think when it comes to story we're really just using new versions of the original stories – like a classic battle of the bands plot line – but updated to a new generation that treats music and celebrity very differently. I think the core personalities of the characters are the same as well; we love them, so beyond modernizing them I'm not sure we're interested in much change on that front. However Jem was always really great when it came to diversity and so we've expanded on that by changing some of the characters to reflect a more integrated world, as it should be. I certainly understand why that didn't work for the cartoon both due to the time period and the age group they likely considered their primary audience, but in 2015 it wouldn't speak to the diversity that made Jem so great.
Campbell: I think the main thing, other than the plot details and the obvious differences in character design, is that it'll have a more 'real' feeling. The tone will be different than the show. Kelly and I both have a sort of grounded sensibility, even when there are fantastical things or weird situations, and I think that will be a big new thing we'll both bring to it. Even with all the outrageous hairstyles and hologram technology, it'll feel less like fantasy, not necessarily realistic but maybe more down to earth is what I mean. Going along with that, my versions of the characters will have a bigger range of facial expressions and more body language going on, I'm not sure it's something I can control even if I wanted to make it all surreal and weird, it's just how my brain is wired and I end up giving everything an earthy quality, I guess, for better or worse. Maybe my favorite new things are the hair and outfits, of course. I get very fussy over that and sometimes I'll tinker with the hairstyles and outfits for hours, but I'm really excited to bring my own fashion sense to the characters.
We can see from the exclusive cover image you gave us that there are some definite changes to the Misfits visually, can you talk about that at all?
Thompson: Yeah, as many fans will notice right away The Misfits have undergone some significant changes. In our research we learned that Jem creator Christy Marx actually originally created Jetta as a black character, which makes a lot of sense given The Misfits lack of diversity compared to The Holograms (and the show generally). So, we've gone ahead and corrected that. Additionally, in the original Jem, Jetta played the saxophone, which is clearly a mark of the time period. I mean you can't throw a rock at an 80's movie without hitting a sax solo, so it made sense for the time period. However, it's a bit out of place in a modern punk rock-ish band – certainly when you don't even have a drummer it's an odd choice.
Originally we just put Jetta on drums but Ross and I agreed that it was a little odd to have the two black characters on drums - it felt like it pushed them into the background a bit when it came to the visuals - so we ended up moving Roxy to drums and Jetta to Bass. Ironically there's some original canon to that move though! As die-hard fans may remember, in Season 2 (Danse Time) Roxy actually plays the drums. Anyway, I know all of that sounds like some crazy inside baseball stuff and maybe nobody cares, but I know people get attached to things a certain way and so sometimes I feel like explaining how and why we got there helps them understand the process and see that it's not stuff we're doing cavalierly — there's always a method to the madness — I promise! Meanwhile, Jetta is easily my favorite of Ross's designs so it was pretty easy to feel that was the right call.
Campbell: I love the Holograms of course but I loved designing the Misfits more! I went a little less futuristic with them than I did with the Holograms, they're more of a hodge podge of styles and less visually united than the Holograms are, and their look is of course more aggressive. I color coded the Holograms (Jem/pink, Kimber/red, etc.), but the Misfits all have more than one color so they seem a little wilder to me. With them I also strayed more from my fan designs I did a few years back than I did with the Holograms, I'm not sure why but I decided to almost start from scratch.
The first one I worked on was Stormer because she is my favorite Jem character, I wanted her to have small, more realistic hair to set her apart from the other characters and maybe suggest that she's more reserved or doesn't quite fit with them. I fussed a lot over her dress, too. As anyone can probably tell from my character designs, I lovvvve mohawks, so obviously Pizzazz had to have one! I wanted her to be more playful-looking than she is on the show, more mischievous sort of. I always thought Jetta was the most stylish character next to Minx, and I really loved whenever she was in plain old stark black and white, I love that look, so I did that with my design except for the little splash of color on one eye. Roxy was the one I fussed the most over, though, particularly her hair. Like all the characters, she'll have different hairstyles but I like each character to have a 'base' hairstyle, I guess, their default look, and that's what I got hung up on with Roxy. I'm excited to draw them all in the comic, I have a feeling they'll be really expressive and funny.
What can you tells us about how and why Jerrica transforms into Jem?
Thompson: Well, I was surprised when I was re-watching and researching to do the Jem pitch that there's not really a clear reason for why Jem is actually needed. Jerrica and her sisters need money to save Starlight House and Jerrica's solution is to win a battle of the bands concert. But there's no clear reason for Jerrica to perform asJem instead of just as herself. So we've rebuilt the concept a bit to establish The Holograms as a talented band that includes Jerrica, a talented singer and songwriter with crippling stage fright that has always prevented them from achieving their dreams as a band. Which gives Jerrica (and all of them) a very real NEED for Jem. We've also retooled things a bit so that the girls, and Jerrica especially, have a bit more agency in the creation of Jem, instead of it being something their father left for them "fully formed." I think it's pretty powerful and manages to honor all the original ideas while updating it for a bit savvier and older audience.
What have you kept from the original cartoon, and what have you jettisoned? What's the deal with the Misifts? Are they still trying to murder their musical rivals or have you toned that down a little?
Campbell: Most of the original cartoon is still intact, with a modern twist, I'd say. Obviously the technology is updated, and Synergy's technology is more modern and maybe less magical, although I wouldn't mind if we hadJem hologramming herself into a surf board like in that one episode. We changed the Starlight Girls a bit, too, I'm pretty excited to design them and I hope I get to draw them being brats. The Misfits are still rivals with the Holograms, of course, but we've toned down their cartoonishly evil side, they're a bit more complicated and they use more modern means to destroy their rivals. Stuff like social media, stuff that ruins the careers of real famous people today.
Thompson: I do love it when Jem turns herself into a surfboard! I wish someone had tried to pick her up on and surf on her! So great! Yeah, Ross is exactly right, I mean, we don't want to lose all the camp, because that's a great part of the concept. But when it comes to The Misfits I think we're going to really earn their hatred of and competitiveness with The Holograms in this first arc and set them up as believable nemeses...but probably not ones that try to literally kill them in every issue. I think the other big change is in retooling the Jem/Rio/Jerrica love triangle to make it a bit less icky for everyone involved. But really the biggest change is that a cartoon that has a 26 episode demand in a season is very different from a storytelling perspective than a comic book that tells only one story arc over 6 issues/months. So we are doing something more deconstructed in that sense, the two mediums just naturally demand different things.
How would you describe the Holograms and the Misftis' music? What bands would you use to describe them?
Campbell: I always imagine the Holograms sounding kind of synthy and airy. I still think they'd have the 80s influence, maybe like a Swedish synthpop sort of sound but with a bit of a rock edge. I think the Misfits are more rock-sounding, sort of punky. Sort of like Paramore, maybe.
Thompson: You know, I don't really want to pin down specific bands/singers because I hope that each person can bring their own idea for how the bands would sound. I will say that it was one of the most fun parts of creation for me – Ross and I sending youtube videos back and forth and trying to agree on what we thought the general sounds should be. I think one thing we definitely discovered in that process is that even though the instinct is to make Jem & The Holograms way more pop and The Misfits way more punk/rock/alternative/ whatever, you really need the music to have a fair amount of crossover. You can't push either of them too far in either direction because the reality of the concept is that they need to be competing for fans and listeners. I tend to think The Misfits have a slightly edgier, darker, less accessible, less mainstream sound; and Jem and The Holograms being just a bit more accessible and commercial. And this reality – Jem and The Holograms popularity – obviously fuels no end of frustration for The Misfits who want nothing more than to dominate!
What music do you listen to when you guys write and draw the comic?
Campbell: I haven't been listening to anything Jem-specific, I'll admit. But I listen to lots of stuff! Mostly Brandy and Celine Dion, though.
Thompson: Again, hesitant to pick out specific music for fear of pushing people to a particular sound, but I will say that I definitely have a Jem playlist and a Misfits playlist when I write.
Regardless of the cartoon, Jem was a fashion doll line — will their fashions and styles evolve in the comics?
Campbell: Oh definitely! That's part of the fun! They can be really out there and kooky with the fashion. Really experimental. That's the beauty of being a popstar. Think Lady Gaga or Katy Perry or Nicki Minaj. I'm super excited about all the fashion, even though like I was saying I get really fussy and even frustrated sometimes. I get so into it.
Thompson: I'll leave this one to Ross but just say that anyone who knows Ross's work knows he is ALL ABOUT the clothes and the hair and all of it. I suspect the book will be a constant fashion show, much to the delight of everyone.
Kelly, how did you score the gig writing the comic?
Thompson: Luck and timing and a really great pitch. I was lucky enough to be talking to an editor at IDW already and she put my name forward as someone interesting for Jem. Ross and I had been talking about working together for years, but it's tough because he has a really crowded and demanding schedule. When I found out about Jem I just knew this was the thing for us. After we knew what IDW was generally looking for we pulled together a pitch – including two new illustrations from Ross. I will say that though I was super nervous and wanted the job so badly, I knew our pitch was great. It was one of those few times where I sat back, looked at something I'd done and thought, "nope. I cannot do that any better." All I could hope at that point was that IDW would agree, that it lined up with what they wanted to do. All that said, I'm sure I would have had no hope of getting the job without Ross as co-creator. If there is anyone anywhere destined to do a comic book, it is Ross doing Jem. I'm just really lucky to be getting to come along for the ride.
Ross, how did you conceive the new look of the characters? What inspired you?
Campbell: Well, I did some Jem fanart a few years ago and that was definitely a springboard for me. I was inspired by their old designs, of course, and I wanted them to be recognizable as themselves. But I really just looked at a ton of different sources of inspiration, as well as my own ideas and fashion sense. There's some retro-futuristic aspects to their designs, some cyberpunk, some 80s, and some modern pop fashion styles. It's just a mishmash of looks. And it was very important to me that they all look distinct from one another, not like all the same face or same style, different bodies, that sort of thing. I wanted them all to look like their own person, like if you swapped their hair and clothes, they'd still be recognizable as themselves.
What's the chance of getting Jem dolls based on the comic?
Campbell: Only time will tell! It would be pretty cool, though! I would love to have those, especially Stormer and Jetta. I figure the movie is what will be getting all the merchandise, though, and we'll get left out. :(
Thompson: This is my dream. I have no idea if that could even happen. Still...dolls based on Ross's designs? Truly outrageous, it must be said (couldn't resist!).