As a huge fan of the original Jem and the Holograms cartoon by Hasbro in the 80s, I was very excited to find out that not only was 2015 the year of Jem the movie but the launch of a new Jem comic series. Truly, truly, truly outrageous! I chatted with Ross Campbell (artist) and Kelly Thompson (writer) of the series to find out more…
How did you become involved with the Jem comic project?
ROSS: Kelly had heard about it through one of her contacts, and then I hooked up with the editor, John Barber, through my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles editor who also works at IDW. Kelly and I put together a pitch, we did a conference call with John, and that was pretty much that!
KELLY: Yeah, like Ross said, I had been talking to an editor at IDW and she let me know about the project and put my name forward. Ross and I had been looking for a project to work together on for years and he’s such a huge Jem fan this seemed like the perfect project. We got the approval to submit a pitch and put together something really comprehensive including two new illustrations from Ross – one of Jem and one of Pizzazz – and here we are!
Jem and the Holograms cartoon
Were you a fan of the original show?
ROSS: I liked the show but I didn’t watch a ton of it, I didn’t generally watch a lot of cartoons as a kid. I liked that all the major characters were women, I’ve always gravitated toward that, I liked the look of the characters, the theme song of course. And I HATED the Misfits for always going after the Holograms, I took it really seriously as a kid, so I guess I hoped the Misfits would get sent to jail and that tension appealed to me.
KELLY: Haha. I love that Ross wanted the Misfits to go to jail…I don’t remember feeling that way but I’m sure I also hated them, I was pretty young and they were always so unreasonably angry at Jem and The Holograms! I was a big fan of the show — Jem was both like all the other cartoons I loved from around the same time (G.I. Joe, Thundercats, Dungeons & Dragons, etc.) and yet it was totally different than all those shows because it was so focused on female characters. There were interesting female characters I loved on all those shows, but Jem was wall to wall with female characters – they were ALWAYS the leads – which was so unique and cool to me back then.
What were your main influences for the character designs?
ROSS: I don’t know if I have any specific influences other than the original designs and fashion in general. I know a bit about modern pop stars like Beyonce and Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga, so there’s some of that in there, but mostly my own fashion sense. I also have folders full of outfits and hairstyles that I come across on the internet, so I distill a lot of that into my own designs and mix and match as well as making things up from scratch.
What is the plot for the comic, how accurately does it follow the original series?
KELLY: I think in the pitch we said something like “revisiting some of the classic stories but in a 21st century way that addresses the changing face of music, media, and celebrity” – so don’t be surprised to see us revisit classic ideas like a battle of the bands face off, but with a more modern twist and the Starlight Girls but in an updated way.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in the process?
ROSS: So far I’d say there haven’t really been any big ones! It’s been very smooth so far. I think the biggest challenges are on their way, and I’m nervous.
KELLY: Well, it’s still early, so things could get much more challenging, but I think the hardest thing is to take something that people already love and have huge nostalgia for and turn it into something that both respects the original and re-invents it into something more modern and relevant. I like to say that we have nostalgia working painfully against us because things we’re passionately nostalgic for we don’t necessarily remember accurately. So creating something new, you’re basically trying to outdo something that doesn’t even really exist – but has rather taken a perfect shape in someone’s mind. All I can hope is that the die-hard fans will find something wonderful in this reinvention, while we can also make a ton of brand new die-hard fans.
Did you have any alternative designs/concepts which were discarded?
ROSS: As far as the art goes, at least, no. I had to design the characters really quickly in order to get the first cover out there, so I didn’t have time to sit and mess with the designs or mull them over, so there wasn’t much of anything on the cutting room floor. Kelly and I collaborate on some of the story together, and there were some ideas we got rid of or decided to do something else with or move to different spots in the story, but nothing big was removed that I can think of.
KELLY: Yeah, Ross is right, we had to move really fast on the design side especially. But Ross is really awesome about sharing his process with me, shooting me sketches and letting me give my opinion. He frequently ignores me completely, as he should, since he’s the visual genius, but I enjoy seeing and being a part of his process immensely. I hope fans – both new and old – will give a us a chance to convince them that we really have put a lot of thought into this book. More generally, IDW and Hasbro have been really encouraging of all our ideas – visual and otherwise which is great.
Out of all of the characters you have drawn/written for Jem, do you have a favourite?
ROSS: Stormer! She is the best. I love both her personality and the new design I came up with for her. I also really like drawing Aja because of her hair.
KELLY: Oh man. It’s really early yet and I hate picking favorites. Traditionally, leads are not my favorite characters but I really think we’re doing something smart and interesting with Jem/Jerrica that I hope people will respond to and find emotionally engaging. Aja has always been a favorite of mine, both from back in the day and our new Aja. I lovvvve what we’re doing with Jetta…especially her design by Ross. All that said, Kimber, as the youngest and most ambitious Hologram, is proving to be great fun write.
ROSS: Jetta is pretty awesome, too, yeah. But I have a feeling I’m going to be kicking myself later on for giving her such complicated hair.
Ultimate question, Jem and the Holograms or The Misfits?
ROSS: The Misfits!
KELLY: Oh man! Well I really like a lot of the changes we’re making with The Holograms and Jem so I want to say The Holograms but I also really like the way we’re building The Misfits story too…and The Misfits songs are way easier for me to write, so…MISFITS!
Can we expect to see some future designs of Synergy, The Stingers and other characters being released/shown in the comics?
ROSS: Definitely Synergy! We’ll also have a new version of the Starlight Girls, and Raya will show up eventually. I have my fingers crossed for Techrat and Danse.
KELLY: I’ve seen the Synergy sketch. It’s awesome. Rio too, and Jerrica! You guys should all be jealous of me! Unfortunately I don’t know when those will be released…as you can imagine we need to space these things out a bit. There is no plan for The Stingers in the first arc but maybe later. As Ross said, Raya will be showing up later – right now we plan to introduce her as a key part of the second story arc.
ROSS: Synergy still needs a lot of work, though! Oh, and Clash! I think we’re having her show up, too.
KELLY: Oh yeah, we’re definitely having Clash – she’ll show up in the first arc. If I had my way the Clash design will be just like the 2014 doll, which I lovvvve. Such an awesome look.
Are you looking forward to the Jem movie – do you think it will do the 80s cartoon justice?
KELLY: I actually know very little about the movie. Probably because it’s still so far away I’ve only seen these tiny little glimpses of it – too little to judge anything. But I’ll certainly be going to see it.
What other projects are you working on at the moment that we should keep an eye out for?
ROSS: I should have some news soon-ish about my comic Shadoweyes, and I hope to keep going on my web comic Can’t Look Back.
KELLY: The second book in my Storykiller series (Storykiller 2: All Of Them Are True) is scheduled for release in the spring/summer of 2015. I have a short story in Dark Horse’s Creepy #20 that will be out in April 2015. I’m pitching a lot of really interesting comics work right now, both corporate and creator owned, but there’s nothing I can announce just yet. I do have a graphic novel with artist Meredith McClaren forthcoming from Dark Horse in probably the fall of 2015, but we don’t have a firm release date yet.
Thank you for the interview and I can’t wait for the relase of the Jem comics!
Remember to follow Kelly and Ross @rosscampbell on Twitter for all the latest news on the Jem comics and their upcoming work.