Interview: Jem’s Sophie Campbell Talks Diversity and Revamping Jem for the 21st Century

Cover: Jem and the Holograms #2, Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell. IDW Publishing, 2015.

As the excitement builds for the upcoming comic reboot of Jem and the Holograms, I recently interviewed Sophie Campbell, the artist on the title. Readers may also be familiar with Campbell’s work on titles such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Glory, and more indie fare such as Shadoweyes and Wetmoon.

We talked the new look for The Holograms, the Misfits, making Jem and the Holograms diverse, and more…

Cover: Jem and the Holograms #2, Kelly Thompson and Ross Campbell. IDW Publishing, 2015.
Cover: Jem and the Holograms #2, Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell. IDW Publishing, 2015.

How would you describe Jem and the Holograms in less than five sentences?

The adventures of Jem, holographic pop star alter-ego of Jerrica Benton, and her band the Holograms, as they deal with newfound stardom and rival group the Misfits who will stop at nothing to destroy them. I did it in one possibly run-on sentence!

The original Jem and the Holograms is quintessentially 80s in so many ways. Can you speak to how Jem is going to be updated for the 21st century and a contemporary audience?

I personally think Jem has a lot of timeless qualities, myself. Yeah, it’s very 80s, the fashion and the hair and the old 80s style animation and the overall sensibility, but I really think the show and its ideas still hold up today. Most of the updating we’re doing has been the character designs, the clothes, naturalizing the characters a bit so they’re less over the top, and some modern additions like Twitter and the whole celebrity machine that since the 80s has kicked into a different gear thanks to the internet. The Jem show also had a zany element to a lot of the storylines, something that I feel like older cartoons did a lot of but not so much today, and we’re toning down the zaniness in our comic to make it feel a bit more contemporary. I think the basic core elements of Jem are still there, though.

What were some of the biggest challenges in revamping the Jem and the Holograms characters?

The hair, definitely. Some of the hairstyles came easy, like Pizzazz’s, I don’t have to expend any effort on hers, but others like Kimber and Stormer I fussed with more. I get really fussy over hair and outfits; everything has to be perfect, so that’s the biggest ongoing challenge for me. I love all the original designswe’ll never replace thosebut I wanted to bring my own sensibilities to the comic which can be both effortless and difficult at the same time, figuring out how to merge the two versions.

The Misfits by Ross Campbell
The Misfits by Sophie Campbell

Can you tell us about how you got involved on this project? Was it through your previous work with IDW? Or the series of Jem fan art you did a few years ago?

Kelly heard about the Jem license through one of her contacts at IDW, and after she told me I went to my Ninja Turtles editor Bobby Curnow and he pointed me to John Barber. John had already seen my Jem fanart from a few years back and he knew my work, a year or two ago he’d actually approached me to work on a different project that I didn’t do, so reaching out to him about Jem was kind of touching base since we already knew each other. Then he agreed to let Kelly and I pitch, we did a conference call thing, and that was that!

You have experience writing as well as producing art for comics. Can you tell us about your creative relationship with writer Kelly Thompson? What does the collaboration between the two of you look like?

Kelly is the driving narrative force, but it’s pretty collaborative too; she listens to my ideas and I weigh in on things, and we generally come up with the basic outline together. When we did the pitch, we discussed the overall story and the beats we wanted to hit, as well as future storylines, and basic ideas of what we both want to see done with the characters. Kelly is responsible for most of it, and she comes up with all the great details and dialogue and all the humor since I am terrible at jokes. We’re usually pleasantly on the same page.

What do you want to bring to the Jem franchise?

Myself, I guess! My own sensibilities and ideas as applied to Jem. I feel like if a person doesn’t bring something of themselves to a new incarnation of a licensed property then it’s not really worth doing.

One of the things that I’ve always loved about your work is the diversity in the races, sexual orientations, and body types of your characters. Is this something you and Thompson had any liberty with in re-designing the Jems characters?

Yeah! It’s been great so far; we’ve had a ton of freedom. I’m not sure what artwork you’ve seen for the series, or maybe by the time this interview comes out we’ll have more art released, but I’ve tried to give all the characters different bodies and heights and faces; hopefully they’re all fairly distinct. And we’ve had the freedom to include queer characters, it’s been awesome.

Your comics range from the alternative slice of life stories with series like the ongoing Wet Moon, to science-fiction action stories like Shadoweyes, Glory, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It seems like Jem and the Holograms falls somewhere in the middle. Do you feel like you’ve gotten to bring the aesthetic sensibilities of both genres to Jem?

Yeah! So far it’s more on the slice of life side, other than Synergy and her sci-fi computer lair. The characters’ designs are a bit over the top like in the original cartoon, but they’re still regular people and they lean more toward the Wet Moon side of things rather than something like Glory. It’s definitely a combination though. Once the Misfits come into the story things ramp up and I feel like it’ll be different than anything else I’ve done, mostly because of Pizzazz, she is just out of control and I’ve never drawn a character quite like her. The energy level is different than I’m used to working with.

Pizzazz by Ross Campbell
Pizzazz by Sophie Campbell

I’ve heard you’re a big fan of the original Jem series. How does it feel to work on properties you’re a fan of yourself?

It’s awesome, of course! Sometimes I feel like maybe I’m too much of a fan to work on them, like I’m too emotionally invested to be professional about it, but overall it’s worked out really well. There are always bumps with these sorts of jobs but I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been with Ninja Turtles and Jem.

So. Who’s your favorite to drawthe Holograms, or the Misfits?

The Misfits!! Pizzazz is my absolute favorite to draw.


Jem and the Holograms will hit all your favorite spots to buy comics in March 2015.

LB Royal

LB Royal

LB Royal is a project manager that spends a lot of time thinking about gender representation and intersectionality in geek media. She holds an MBA and an MA, and tries to use her powers for good (mostly). You can find her on twitter @laurabeastly