Outrageously Fun: Geeks With Wives Interviews Jem and the Holograms’ Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell
Reboots of classic franchises don’t always work out for the best, but IDW’s updated Jem and the Holograms by Kelly Thompson (Heart in a Box, Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps) and Sophie Campbell (Shadoweyes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) has been garnering rave reviews since its premiere this March.
Thompson and Campbell have crafted a quirky modern reboot with all the fun of the original featuring fun and timely takes on your favorite Jem characters, and even a few new faces. Geeks with Wives had the chance to chat with Kelly and Sophie recently about what it takes to get ‘80s glam rockers from the screen to the page – keep reading to find out what makes this fun series tick!
Geeks with Wives: I am a super, giant, big time huge fan of Jem, and I absolutely could not believe my luck when I heard IDW was launching a Jem and the Holograms title. How did it feel for the two of you when you found out you’d be taking the helm?
KELLY: I was over the moon. I won’t pretend this wasn’t a big break for me, but it was more than that, I was really in love with and excited by the idea. Pitching is always full of heartbreak, it’s hard not to fall in love – because you’ve got to pour that love into the pitch in order to convince someone that you can and should be the one doing it. I’ve fallen in love with all my pitches – most of which don’t go anywhere. That said, I think I left it all on the field with the Jem pitch. I knew I had done everything I could possibly do and it was just a matter of whether Hasbro and IDW liked our approach, and if they trusted me. I knew they would trust Sophie…because, who wouldn’t!?
SOPHIE: I’ll be honest, and I hope I don’t sound full of myself here, but I knew we would get the job so I wasn’t surprised when we did! I felt it in my gut that we’d get it. I feel like the pitch was lightning in a bottle, Kelly and I together and editor John Barber, somehow I just <i>knew</i> we’d get the job. The best part for me wasn’t being told that we got the job, it was when I got to tell Kelly, I was so happy seeing her excitement. At the risk of being too honest, I was in a rough spot emotionally at the time so I had mixed feelings when we were hired, I was both excited and unexcited at the same time, if that’s possible. I tend to feel great about a new project before it happens but then when it actually gets greenlit, all I feel is anxiety. It’s like stage fright in a way, just like Jerrica! But once I got over that initial hump of fear, I felt better and realized how awesome Jem was going to be, and how great it was to finally be working with Kelly on something.
Geeks with Wives:We’re two issues in so far, and I’m loving how you’ve managed to really modernize this world without losing the original spirit of the show. How difficult has it been to adapt Jem for the age of social media stars?
KELLY: Thank you. It is admittedly a tough line to find – how much social media is realistic for this story and sets our characters firmly in a modern age driven by this kind of technology and behavior and how much is too much and tips it over. Modern audiences are also really savvy and we’re deliberately reaching out for a broader demographic than the original cartoon so we had to make some smart updates that
Geeks with Wives:So far Rio’s new back story is one of my favorite changes, but you’ve made a few really interesting tweaks to all the characters, like introducing Jerrica’s stage fright. Kelly, what went into updating their life stories for this new take on Jem?
KELLY: I think the biggest thing was just recognizing that in addition to updating things for a 21st century audience we’re also working in a different medium. Cartoons and comics have very different demands. A story that might play out in a single 22-minute episode for us will play out over maybe six issues – which means six months – and so we had to be willing to dig a little deeper and add some layers to characters and stories – creating multiple threads that will play out over time and that are worth the investment to keep readers coming back. Some of those updates were small things, and others the whole series kind of hangs on…like why does Jerrica really NEED Jem and the Holograms. That answer is a bit nebulous in the original cartoon, which is maybe fine because of the audience it was geared toward, but I knew for our audiences to invest they were probably going to need something a little more tangible. Jerrica’s stage fright and insecurity also has the bonus of being very relatable.
KELLY: Rio also needed some rehab because he often just didn’t have enough to do on the show. He was there primarily as the function of a somewhat creepy love triangle and thus his old role didn’t have much conflict or stakes beyond the love triangle. I have a hard time believing (or writing) Jerrica falling for a guy that doesn’t have his own life and goals beyond just following around her band, so I hope we’ve added some fun layers to explore for everyone involved.
Geeks with Wives:Can we still expect to see some truly outrageous Jerrica x Rio x Jem shenanigans, now that we’ve seen Rio might be crafty enough to work out Jerrica’s secret on his own?
KELLY: I’ve talked about this a little bit before, but we’re flipping the script a bit on the Jerrica/Rio/Jem triangle. That never really worked for me – even as a kid. The way the triangle works now is more of a Clark Kent/Lois Lane/Superman triangle, but with Lois Lane thinking Clark is great and Superman is kind of a jerk. This presents a hurdle for Jerrica where the guy she’s falling for actively dislikes her alter ego. It’s sort of an interesting problem and a new spin to the dynamic that I’m excited about.
SOPHIE: I’m glad you like Kimber’s look, thank you! For me it’s not exactly updating the look as it is simply doing what I like to draw, what I think looks cool, what clothes I’d personally want to wear, and all that generally synchs up pretty well with a more modern style. I’m just doing what I do. I don’t have any specific inspirations other than real life clothes and hair I see online or people wearing in real life, or amped up versions of stuff in my own wardrobe. I try to give each character her own style, too, like something Kimber wears wouldn’t be something Aja would wear, there’s some overlap of course but I don’t want their styles to be interchangeable. I fuss a ton about clothes and hairstyles, and usually I like to spend time coming up with the perfect look, but when I’m working on something like Jem with constant deadlines I don’t have the luxury to do that, so I often peruse clothes and hairstyles for inspiration, I like to mix and match and use them as a springboard for my own ideas to save time.
Geeks with Wives:Not speaking ill of the original series, which is amazingly diverse as-is, but I loved opening the first issue in March and seeing a bigger girl like Aja, who would have made a huge difference to me as a kid. It was great to see a little more diversity represented with Jetta in the Misfits, as well. Were things like that intentional decisions, in terms of trying to make the book a little more representative?
KELLY: The original was of course very diverse for its time, but nearly thirty years have passed and so we did feel it was important to double down on diversity in ways that made sense for the property and for the time period.
SOPHIE: It’s definitely an intentional decision in terms of character design, but it’s also just what I do with any character I draw. All the work I do is personal and I can’t help but bring that to the project. I like drawing different body types and everything, even with how my characters are stylized it better reflects real life and feels more believable to me than everyone having the same body or face, even though my characters are kind of unrealistically cute. Having wider range of characters is also really important to me.
Geeks with Wives:In that vein, I can’t not say anything about Kimber/Stormer. Whatever happens, thank you so much for introducing this storyline! How exciting has it been to explore a more romantic aspect of Kimber and Stormer’s relationship?
KELLY: Yeah, adding some LGBTAQ characters to the cast was a no-brainer. Kimber and Stormer were the obvious choice both because there’s actually some in-continuity basis for their unique friendship and of course it lends a natural sort of West Side Story “Jets & Sharks” romantic conflict to the two rival bands which helps up the stakes and heartbreaks (I didn’t mean to rhyme that, I swear!) Kimber is also just an especially fun character to write and putting her through romance trauma is pretty fun – she’s so dramatic – everything is the end of the world with Kimber.
SOPHIE: Kimber and Stormer being a couple was one of the main things I hoped we could do. Kelly and I were both on the same page. Both characters are super fun to draw and I feel like even early on like this, they have such great chemistry already, when I draw them I really feel that spark. I know some fans don’t like it but for me it completely fits. I think Kimber is just as fun for me to draw as she is for Kelly to write, she’s so animated and I get to do funny expressions and body language. I’m also a sucker for couples where one character is funny and over the top and the other character is more reserved and shy, so Kimber and Stormer were made for me.
Geeks with Wives:Any other fun new twists you can tease for us this month? Or even some iconic show moments that might make an appearance?
KELLY: Well, classic Jem character Clash will be making her first appearance in issue 3, due out in May, as well as an all new character called Blaze that Sophie and I have created (but mostly Sophie!)
SOPHIE: Yes! Blaze is my baby, I’m so excited for her to be introduced. It’s super cool getting to create a new character with Kelly.
Geeks with Wives:Everyone should add Jem and the Holograms to their pull list because it’s great, but what are some other books folks might already be reading that may mean they’d be a fan of Jem and the Holograms as well?
KELLY: I actually think Jem is quite unique but also for everyone at the same time if that makes sense. But if people are interested in reading about complex lead female characters we have that so covered it’s not even funny – so if you like Gotham Academy and Lumberjanes maybe? There are themes of duality and self that are very superhero-ish in nature – I mean Jem is just this side of a superhero alter ego – so…all Superhero Comics? Haha. That’s a bit broad! For people that enjoy fun cartoon adaptations, we’ve got that going on obviously – so if you are enjoying Adventure Time or Steven Universe?
Geeks with Wives:And, because it’d be a shame if I didn’t ask: favorite Jem jam?
Issue #4 of IDW’s Jem and the Holograms came out this Wednesday. Buy Jem and your local comic shop today, or if you just can’t wait, check out our first issue review before you buy!