Kelly Thompson’s been planning Dark Jem a long time, hopes for a new ‘Jem’ cartoon

Let”s be honest. Any way you slice it, the Jem and the Holograms movie was an abysmal failure. But for everything the film got wrong, IDW Publishing has been getting right with their JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS comic.

Written by Kelly Thompson, JEM has managed to update a classic icon for the 21st century without losing any of the core characteristics that make the Holograms special. All the bright colors and family dynamics are still in play, with the added bonus of LGBTQA representation and modern technology. I mean, if Synergy isn”t perfect for 21st-century living, what is?

But even the happiest of families have their dark moments. Beginning last month, Dark Jem took over Jerrica before spreading to the rest of the Holograms. HitFix Harpy spoke with Kelly Thompson by phone about this latest twist in the JEM mythology and what it was like working with artist Sophie Campbell (who helped launch the rebooted JEM) again.

Image Credit: IDW Publishing

HITFIX HARPY: Where did the idea of Dark Jem come from?
KELLY THOMPSON: Dark Jem was always planned. All the way back when Sophie (Campbell) and I were first pitching the book. This was before we knew IDW Publishing were going to REALLY relaunch it. I know “rebooting” and “relaunching” have kind of a bad name in the comic scene. People get tired of seeing it over and over again. But I think for Jem it was important because for the existing fans it had been almost thirty years.

God don't say that.
THOMPSON: I know, right? It ages us just a little bit. [laughs]. So for the old fans, it seemed like a thing that needed to happen anyway to update the property. It also helped new fans understand what they were getting. But when we first started talking to IDW and even before, we didn't know if they'd let us do that or not. So Dark Jem was the first storyline we were talking about. Then once Sophie and I knew they were going to let us rebuild it the way it needed? We thought, “Okay, maybe Dark Jem can be the third arc, which we all agreed worked better anyway. That way we can introduce the characters and show all this happy, light status quo stuff. Then we bring in this other, darker side of things and explore what that does to characters. We were all excited about it. But you know when you launch a comic, it's a question of “Are we going to make it to Issue #11 to even have a Dark Jem story?”

I know Sophie had to step away from JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS. Did you ask her back for this?
THOMPSON: She was always planning to be back on board. We've had some great people pitching in while she was gone. Sophie's never going to be able to stay with it forever because so many projects demand her time, but I feel very lucky to have her in any capacity. We always wanted to do Dark Jem together and I'm excited to work with her.

You'll notice on the first issue (of Dark Jem) Sophie has a story credit. She had a lot to do with the broad ideas, how the characters are brought in. Blaze as a replacement as Pizzazz came from Sophie saying she wanted a fifth Misfit. At first, I told her, “This is a terrible idea!” but then I thought about it and was like “Actually that's a great idea. Where do we work that in?”

What was it like working on this story you two had been thinking about for so long?
THOMPSON: It sort of proved slightly less FUN than we wanted it to be? We had a lot of fun figuring out the story and Sophie had a lot of fun designing the costumes. But it ended up being sort of sad and upsetting to write and draw the Holograms – who are such a happy loving group – as disaffected and cold to everyone around them.

One of the things was Issue #11 was a really fun one. Which we did on purpose so you feel the hurt when it starts to go wrong for everyone. By Issue #12, Sophie was like “This is too sad! I'm not drawing it!” and I was all “It's too late! We're already in.” Then the way the story arc bends, by Issue #14 we start to get the Holograms back. There's still really high stakes and problems that have to be solved but we start to get our girls back.

Image Credit: IDW Publishing

How has the fan reaction been to your take on JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS?
THOMPSON: We've had nearly universal acceptance and love from old and new fans alike. I feel lucky all the time! Writing this series is incredibly rewarding. It's very scary to take something like this on. I went to school for comics, but for this to be my first big thing? This huge reboot of something that people were fanatical about loving from thirty years ago? I was super nervous. Was there any way I could do this without falling on my face? I knew I'd have Sophie propping us up – which was great – but when I hear all these fans saying “This is how to reboot a property,” it feels good.

Some of the art designs are just amazing. You guys need to get on IDW to set up a deal with Her Universe or something to get Jem's clothes in my closet.
THOMPSON: That would be amazing. If I had to pick one thing to see? I'd love to see a new cartoon using Sophie's designs. I just think that's a lot more possible these days. Cartoons like Steven Universe show various body types and a real commitment to fashion and design that you didn't have in the 80s.

Plus we try our best to bring in the music in a way that works for a non-audio medium, but you just really miss that element. It was such a fun, cool part of Jem that made it different from everything else. A cartoon is one of the only ways to get that back.

But yeah, clothes and make-up and shoes that Sophie's designed? I'd be down for all of it!

I would 100% watch that show. Hint, hint Cartoon Network.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #12 is on sale February 24, 2016.