Note: The original version of this post credited letterer Shawn Lee for working on the music scenes. I’ve since been corrected that artists Sophie Campbell and Emma Vieceli are responsible, but that Lee is still awesome with his work on the dialogue scenes (which I very much agree). The post has been edited to reflect those facts.
I’m constantly surrounded by 80s nostalgia. I’m not sure if this comes with growing up with young parents who were teenagers during the decade, having friends about ten years older than me on average, or just being into nerd culture in general. It just follows me wherever I go and influences the kind of music I like.
However, because of when I came of age, I do have some gaps of knowledge of this said nostalgia. The first time I saw anything of the original Transformers, I wondered why they weren’t animals. He-Man and She-Ra were an absolute trip for me when I sat down and watched a couple of episodes when I was still a part of The Ratchet Retrocast.
And I’ve never seen an episode of Jem and the Holograms.
I have nothing against it. It was just something that was never replayed or sought out in my house. Every description of it sounds like I would have loved it as a kid. Hell, I’m kind of disappointed that the movie looks like a dull version of the Josie and the Pussycats movie that was so formative on in my tween years.
So when Emma Houxbois asked me if I was caught up on the Jem and the Holograms comic before recording this week’s Fantheon that I was a guest on, I admitted that I hadn’t actually read the comic yet. Part of it was rooted in that knowledge gap, I will admit.
Trying to be a good guest and because I generally trust Emma when she tells me a comic is something that would appeal to me, I decided to binge read the comic an hour before we went on air.
Worth it.The Jem and the Holograms comic is written by Kelly Thompson with art by Sophie Campbell and colors by M. Victoria Robado. Across the board, this comic is an absolute candy colored sparkly delight full of music, fashion and lady friendships. And you don’t have to know a thing about Jem and the Holograms to enjoy it!
The creative team behind the comic said that they wanted to take the concept Christy Marx started of Jem representing a modern woman in the 80s and figure out how it applies and updates to 2015. How do you have a secret identity in an age where everything is out in the open online? How do you maintain relationships with your friends and your partners while balancing your life in this day and age, especially when you’re still figuring yourself out? But most importantly, how do you succeed as an artist?
While they’re still digging into all of that seven issues in, the team of Thompson, Campbell, Robado and Emma Vieceli on this latest arc seem to be having a fun time while doing so. It’s a comic about a band where the lead singer is aided by a holographic synthesizer created by her father and their biggest rivals are essentially an all women synth-punk band. If they weren’t having some fun, I’d be surprised.
Even with that concept at its core, the relationships and character moments feel so very real. The way the sisterhood between The Holograms feels so loving and organic vs. how antagonist The Misfits are to each other. The sweet and budding romantic relationships between Jerrica and Rio and Kimber and Stormer and how those relationships are tested. The way Jerrica absolutely gushes about her sisters, even when they do things that annoy her. Clash and Blaze’s attempts to be liked and noticed by The Misfits. Pizzazz’s hair trigger temper. All of their moments of self doubt, but especially with Jerrica, Kimber, and Stormer. Even with an over-the-top concept that at one point involves a carnival food fight and motorcycles shaped like guitars, the writing and story in this book are rooted in reality that it makes me fall in love with it more.
Speaking of reality, Campbell’s character designs and the way she draws expressions makes me so happy. It could have been super easy to fall back on the original Holograms designs and make them all super thin. Instead, all of the characters look so distinct from each other and at no point are any of them shamed for having different body types.
The best example of this are Kimber and Stormer. Not only is it exciting to have a queer relationship in a comic based on a cartoon property from the 80s, but to have them both be their own type of feminine and just be so attracted to each other that it practically makes the reader see stars as well. when they walk into the room. Stormer especially with her short, plus-sized-but-not-hourglass figure making the heart of tall and slender Kimber do flips when she walks in the room.
What I love the most about Campbell’s art though is the hair and the fashion. With Robado’s bright candy colors aiding and abetting, the Holograms and the Misfits seem to be locked in an unofficial war of who can look the most awesome. Shana’s hair especially seems to defy all logic, even more so than Jem’s. My favorite piece of clothing though? Pizzazz’s adorable skull printed onesie. If someone figures out how to make it, I will gladly throw all the money at you.
My real favorite character design in the entire comic actually belongs to Synergy. Turned from this super 80s jazzercize instructor looking projection to a tall, brightly colored and kind of ethereal hologram, it updates the character and the concept closer to how our view of artificial intelligence has evolved over the years.
In issue #2, IDW senior editor John Barber talks about the difficulty of translating music to comics, especially with a property like Jem. Luckily, they pull this off too. Between Campbell, Viceceli and Robado, the music of the Holograms and the Misfits turn into these colorful streams of words that seem to dance between panels. Even though I don’t know the tunes, the artists make it come to life so much that I feel like I’m actually hearing music. It’s so effective that I have even managed to head canon what Jem and Pizzazz sound like to me just based on this technique. (If you care, Jem is Carly Rae Jepsen while Pizzazz is Kat Bjelland.)
With wonderful writing and gorgeous art, Thompson and Campbell’s Jem and the Holograms is a truly outrageous comic that is deserving of your time. Whether you’re a fan of the original series or just a lover of comics about lady friendships and rock and roll, give Jem and the Holograms a read to see if you find yourself shouting “Showtime, Synergy!”