Interview: Kelly Thompson on IDW’s Jem and The Holograms

Jem and The Holograms #1 Cover A by Ross Campbell

Jem and The Holograms #1 Cover A by Ross Campbell


Kelly Thompson is the writer of the novels Storykiller and The Girl Who Would Be King and her blog, She Has No Head, appears regularly at Comic Book Resources. She’s also the writer of IDW’s upcoming Jem and The Holograms. Westfield’s Roger Ash contacted Thompson to learn more about the book.

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Westfield: What attracted you to the project?

Kelly Thompson: Well, I think, it’d be disingenuous to pretend that this project isn’t a huge opportunity for me. I’m pretty unknown in comics thus far as a creator, so I’m hyper aware of how lucky I am to be on the project and what a big deal it is. That said, I loved Jem as a kid and the idea of getting to bring those women into the 21st century – to bring them to a whole new generation that might love them and also to recontextualize them for longtime fans like me is pretty exciting. It’s really flattering (and more than a little terrifying) that I’m being trusted with re-imagining these amazing women for a new audience. That’s a lot of pressure but also super exciting. So far my excitement is outweighing my terror!

Jem and The Holograms #1 Cover B by Amy Mebberson

Jem and The Holograms #1 Cover B by Amy Mebberson


Westfield: For those unfamiliar with Jem and The Holograms, who are some of the main characters they’ll meet in the series?

Thompson: Oh man, so many great characters! That’s the biggest draw, really. So Jem is essentially about two rival bands. Our “protagonists” is a band called Jem and The Holograms, which are made up of Jerrica Benton and her sisters Kimber Benton, Aja Leith, and Shana Elmsford (Aja and Shana are adopted foster sisters to Jerrica and Kimber, hence the different last names). Jerrica however performs with the band as JEM, an alter ego she creates using something called Synergy, a high-tech invention of their father’s that was designed to be the “ultimate audio/visual entertainment synthesizer.”

Jem and The Holograms are an immediate success which rankles a rival band called The Misfits, lead by singer Pizzazz. Pizzazz and her band mates Stormer, Roxy, and Jetta set out to bring down Jem and The Holograms. These are incredibly interesting women all around and the contrasts between the two groups are super fun. Jem and The Holograms are of course a family and great friends, they’re very close and supportive of one another whereas The Misfits are together solely out of ambition to be a great band (which is not necessarily a bad thing) and so there’s this natural frustration and rivalry, driven mostly by The Misfits as Jem and The Holograms are constantly “winning the day.”

Jem and The Holograms #1 Cover C by Amy Mebberson

Jem and The Holograms #1 Cover C by Amy Mebberson


Westfield: You’re working with artist Ross Campbell on the book. What can you say about his contribution?

Thompson: What can you say about Ross? Well, his contribution is basically everything. We pitched our concept for Jem together as a team and he’s, beyond the insanely awesome visuals he’s creating, been a big part of the core story and character development. We sometimes disagree of course, but we’re for the most part on the same page about who the characters are, how they should grow, and what kind of stories we want to tell. We’re in near constant communication and it’s incredibly collaborative. Ross is such a careful and concerned creator and artist. He really loves these characters and getting them right, doing them justice, is so important to him. He has such incredible integrity in this regard and I’m so lucky to have such a partner. Ross is not only a great designer and fashion forward artist but an incredible storyteller, so we’re all exceedingly lucky to have him.

Jem and The Holograms #1 Cover D by Amy Mebberson

Jem and The Holograms #1 Cover D by Amy Mebberson


Westfield: Since Jem and The Holograms are a band and comics are silent, how do you deal with music?

Thompson: It is a bit tricky. Ross and I and our editor John have talked a lot about this and some of ideas for how to do this in the best way possible. Obviously we will have new songs, but lyrics on a page are not particularly compelling on their own so we’re trying to push on the visuals as much as we can. We’re not re-inventing the wheel of course, as there are many comics that utilize music in excellent ways, including one of the most popular comics of all time – Scott Pilgrim. But we’re trying our best to be creative in how we interpret music for print media. You can see some of what we’re doing in how Ross has already conveyed the music in both of the cover images released so far – cutting shapes into and out of the music and using color choice and iconic imagery to convey tone. We also hope to cut loose in zany, surreal, very “Jem” ways with the music videos which were always super fun on the show.

Westfield: What can readers can look forward to in the story?

Thompson: I think in the pitch we said something like “Classic Jem stories brought into the 21st century” and I think that’s accurate. Like you can get a classic “battle of the bands” storyline but updated to reflect more modern times – all the ways in which social media and celebrity, music, technology, and fame have changed in the last 30 years.

Jem and The Holograms #1 Cover E by Amy Mebberson

Jem and The Holograms #1 Cover E by Amy Mebberson


Westfield: When Jem and The Holograms first appeared, they were set firmly in the 80s. How challenging was it to update them to today’s sensibilities?

Thompson: Well, it’s funny. To me, Jem is less about the 80s and more about being “modern and now” it just so happens when we last saw them what was “modern and now” was the 1980s. The very concept of Jem to me are women on the cutting edge – forward thinking, fashion risk takers, ambitious and talented career women who are constantly changing and evolving – there are even episodes in the original series about “changing and updating their look.” So, bringing these ladies into 2015 feels really natural to me. They were “modern and now” in the 1980s and that meant they were magnificently 80s and to make them “modern and now” in 2015 it means they should be magnificently 2015! Ross is of course super key to that updating – his visuals are so important to re-imagining them as 21st century women – on that score he made my job really easy.

Jem and The Holograms #1 Subscription Cover by Sara Richards

Jem and The Holograms #1 Subscription Cover by Sara Richards


Westfield: Is there any tie between this series and the upcoming movie?

Thompson: No, we are completely unaffiliated with the movie. Since the movie is not out until October 2015 and our first issue comes out in March 2015 there would really be no way for us to tie to the movie anyway. Obviously I hope that the raised interest in Jem as a property will help both our comic and the movie to be even successful, but they are certainly separate things. From what I know of the movie – and I only really know what everyone knows – they are quite different approaches to Jem, but I actually think that’s a great thing, it will give new and old fans a lot of different ways to see these characters.

Jem and The Holograms #2 cover by Ross Campbell

Jem and The Holograms #2 cover by Ross Campbell


Westfield: Any closing comments?

Thompson: Our first issue is 100% new reader friendly, but I hope we’ve also created a book that the old fans can embrace and love. It won’t be exactly the classic Jem that we all have such nostalgia for, but I hope there’s something new here for them to love. I think we can have both, right?

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