Interview: Jem Writer Kelly Thompson

Posted: April 28, 2015 in Cartoons, Comics, Entertainment, Interviews, Making Comics, Transformers, TV
Tags: , , , , ,

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One of the most hyped releases of 2015 is IDW’s revival of the popular 80’s animated series, Jem and the Holograms. Created by Writer Christy Marx, Hasbro, and Sunbow Productions, the producers of Transformers, GI Joe, and My Little Pony, Jem told the story of a young music executive named Jerrica who moonlighted as the pop star Jem and her struggle to keep control of Starlight Music out of the hands of her enemies. The show was a hit but went into dormancy for over twenty years.

But, nostalgia is powerful and you can’t keep a good series on the shelf. Jem is back, with a live action movie on the way and a brand new comic book. I talked to Jem comic book writer Kelly Thompson about Jem’s lasting appeal and why you should check out IDW’s new comic book. 

 

1) Why revive JEM now as opposed to say 2002 when TRANSFORMERS, GI JOE, and other 80’s properties were the top-selling comics?

I have no idea. I’d like to believe that the digital market that’s helping to bring more readers to comics, and especially more women to comics as well as the growing community and the popularity of cosplay made everyone realize that the time might be right for a Jem and The Holograms comic

2) How did IDW get in touch with you? What about your pitch made them decide YOU were going to be the one to bring JEM into the 21st Century?

I was already talking to IDW about some pitches and editor Sarah Gaydos put my name forward as someone that might be interesting for the project and I was fortunate enough that John Barber was willing to take a look at what Sophie and I put together. I’m sure Sophie’s artwork was a really huge draw for them in the pitch, as it really gave us a wonderful and obvious advantage. I think they liked our approach generally – one of taking the classic stories and re-contextualizing them to the 21st century. We also included some thoughts and examples of music in comics, because we knew that was going to be a hurdle, and they seemed impressed with how much thought we’d put into that aspect and the ways we were interested in addressing it. I suspect they could also really feel our enthusiasm and passion for the project, which never hurts.

3) What drew you to JEM?

Well, as kid I was drawn to the cartoon for a lot of reasons, but most notably the fact that it was full of female characters, something that was pretty rare to see in my cartoons. Christy Marx created a show that was really diverse for its time and just filled with interesting women, I’m sure as a kid I wasn’t aware that’s what I was responding to, but I’m sure it had an impact, even if a subconscious one.

4) Some people say JEM is a dated property in that it’s style and designs were very 80’s glam rock. How do you go about making JEM timeless and appealing to a modern audience as opposed to just the nostalgia crowd?

Obviously Sophie did most of the heavy lifting on the visual design front, reworking these characters so that they both paid tribute to the original and also felt modern and fresh and relatable to a 21st century audience. For me, Jem was less quintessentially 80’s than she was quintessentially MODERN. It’s just that being modern in 1986 meant being outrageously 80’s. Being modern today means being outrageously 2015…so when you look at it like that it’s not so hard to update something, you just make it relatable and fun and gorgeous (said by the person that didn’t have to draw anything!)

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5) What is your favorite episode of JEM and why? Did you binge watch the series for research?

I did binge re-watch the series for research. It was super fun, although I had trouble sleeping for a while because I could not get the theme song out of my head. Favorite episode is tough…I love the episode Hot Time In Hawaii, where there’s a Battle of the Network Stars theme and The Misfits basically try to kill Kimber with a volcano. The classic episode where Kimber and Stormer team up – The Bands Break Up – is a favorite too. Another is Change of Heart, where Minx from The Stingers tries to turn over a new leaf and “go good” after her life is saved. That episode also gets obvious bonus points for featuring Jem turning into a surfboard! But I think if I have to pick just one then it’s actually episode 2 – Disaster – which has all the classic elements that made Jem so fun, including The Misfits tearing up a fancy yacht party. It also features my favorite song of the series – Makin’ Mischief.

7) Favorite Hologram? Favorite Misfit?

I think from the original cartoon Aja and Stormer were my two favorites. They both had the best blue hair and Aja was the capable tomboy while Stormer was the nicest Misfit. In our series, I don’t know, it’s hard to pick just one, I love them all and have become so unreasonably attached to all of them. Kimber and Pizzazz, since they are so dramatic, are some of the most fun to write. Although Aja is also super sassy and sarcastic, she’s also the most hardcore of The Holograms, which I love.

8) One of the things that impressed me about your first issue was you gave Jerrica a relatable reason for turning into Jem via stage fright. Is that your interpretation or was it something you got from the TV series?

The stage fright is indeed a new invention and something we knew we needed for a more grounded series that might work for a wider and savvier audience. The actual reason for Jem’s existence in the original show is pretty tenuous, so it was a priority to strength that right out of the gate. We felt this was a really relatable and humanizing approach that also made a lot of logical sense.

9) Have any characters surprised you and are more fun to write then you initially thought?

Kimber was definitely a surprise. She was never really my favorite character on the show, but she’s turned out to be easily one of the most fun to write. She has such boundless enthusiasm, energy, and optimism and she just turned out really funny. She’s definitely what I’d call a truth teller character – they don’t hide their feelings, they’ve very honest – that’s always fun and can take you interesting places.

10) My memories of JEM are much fuzzier then TRANSFORMERS, so forgive me if these were touched upon in the series. Will you be introducing new elements/characters that weren’t touched upon in the TV series? Things like music critics or paparazzi out to discover Jem’s identity? Will we see any of that down the line?

Well, right out of the gate Rio is a music reporter for a hot online music magazine instead of a sort of glorified roadie for Jem, so we’ve got a lot of small tweaks like that. We will definitely be tackling elements like social media and paparazzi, and how celebrity has changed and affects young people thrown into the spotlight. The original show had episodes that included paparazzi or people trying to uncover Jem’s true identity, and we’ll be addressing some of those things even if they’re not our primary focus. We’ll also be exploring themes of duality and self, obviously.

11) Have you spoken at all with JEM creator/head writer Christy Marx since you landed the gig?

Yes, I reached out to Christy Marx via email a while after I got the gig. We emailed back and forth a little bit, we didn’t get into a lot of specifics but she was very kind to me.

12) There’s a lot of talk about the upcoming live action JEM movie, but I understand there were plans for an animated JEM film in the eighties that was shelved due to the failure of the TRANSFORMERS and MY LITTLE PONY movies. However, rumor has it that an outline exists. Is there a chance that “lost story” might become the basis for a mini-series sometime in the future?

I don’t know anything about the shelved animated Jem film plots, or even the not shelved Jem movie plots, so there’s no chance that you’ll be seeing them in our book, or at least not deliberately. I suppose maybe if our book proves very popular Hasbro and IDW might consider doing more Jem books but obviously I don’t know what those books or their plots might be.

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13) The creators of THE VENTURE BROTHERS came up with a funny idea that Jem is actually the villain of the series because she’s using magic against a “hardworking band like the Misfits.” Do you agree?

Ha! I’m loathe to ever contradict Doc Hammer as I’m a hardcore Venture Bros fan, but I think that he might be forgetting how aggressively violent The Misfits were, I mean at one point they tried to kill Kimber with a volcano. They also pushed them off of a cruise ship into the ocean, tried to run them off the side of a cliff, and even tried to run them over with a steamroller, so they were hardly an innocent “hardworking band.” And while The Holograms (then and now) had money to a degree, so did Pizzazz, and Pizzazz had much more of it, whereas Jerrica and her sisters did have some struggles in that regard.

That said the comment inadvertently hits on something that I hope we did actually try to correct a little bit in our version, which is that I didn’t want Synergy to be something that was basically allowing The Holograms to cheat. It was important to me that we better established The Holograms, including Jerrica, as a talented hardworking band in their own right. So, sure, having Synergy is a definite advantage, but so are Pizzazz’s unlimited rich girl funds.

14) And last, but certainly not least, the big question: Is Synergy an Autobot?

I’m going to have to say no, though she would definitely side with the Autobots if the Decepticons showed up to make trouble.

Jem and the Holograms # 2 is on sale April 29th at fine comic shops everywhere. 

 

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