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NYCC: Thompson & Campbell Re-Team For “Dark Jem”

by  in Comic News Comment
NYCC: Thompson & Campbell Re-Team For “Dark Jem”

“Jem and the Holograms” #11 not only kicks off a new storyline, it also features a stellar reunion. No, a long lost member of the Holograms won’t be coming out of the woodwork. Rather, artist Sophie Campbell returns to the book she helped launch at IDW Publishing, rejoining writer Kelly Thompson for a story they call “Dark Jem.”

Spinning out of an idea Campbell first thought of years ago, before the “Jem” comic was even a reality, “Dark Jem” includes an artificial intelligence called Silica, which Thompson describes as “the first real look at a price for having Synergy in [the Holograms’] lives,” goth-inspired versions of Jem, Kimber, Shana and Aja, and how all of this affects the series’ other band, the Misfits.

CBR News: The new storyline is called “Dark Jem.” What can you tell us about that?

Kelly Thompson: I’m not sure how much we’re allowed to say, but at the end of issue #9 in November, it’s teased that there is something wrong with Synergy, and that is what launches us into this new “Dark Jem” arc. When there’s something wrong with a powerful AI that is hugely integrated into your life, you can imagine that the ramifications of that are huge — nobody will escape her influence!

Sophie Campbell: Several years ago, I was goofing around with ideas for a pretend hypothetical Jem comic just for fun, and one of them was “Dark Jem.” I can hardly remember the original idea, it was basically: “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was an evil goth version of Jem?!” Kelly was into it, and she stepped in and came up with an awesome actual story for it. We added more ideas to it, but that’s where the original seed came from. It’s really awesome seeing it come together as a reality after all this time. I’m really into goth music and the goth aesthetic and spooky stuff, so “Dark Jem” also gives me an excuse to go hog wild with the character designs.

Thompson: Yeah, “Dark Jem” were these magical words Sophie said that became our first idea, but I’m so glad we got to wait and build to it. It was in our original Jem pitch as “arc 3,” and I think that’s right where it should be — it’s going to land so much better now, as a contrast to the first 10-plus issues, I think. It was hard to wait because we were so excited about the idea, but I do think it’s going to be a much more rewarding story for everyone involved since we waited.

Silica sounds pretty sneaky and mysterious. What can you say about the threat it represents for our heroines?

Thompson: I think Silica is a kind of story element that you almost have to address if your concept includes a powerful AI as “Jem and The Holograms” does. There have to be ramifications to something as powerful as Synergy, especially using it in a, let’s be honest, mostly selfish capacity. Jem and The Holograms’ intentions are not bad ones, or ones that are intended to ever hurt anyone, but you don’t get anything for nothing in this life — everything comes with a price.

Silica is the first real look at a price for having Synergy in their lives and it’s going to force them to confront some painful truths and really lean on their strong bonds of sisterhood in order to make it through. From a story and character perspective, Silica is fantastic because she pushed on all our characters in amazing ways — especially Jerrica, and the crutch that Jem/Synergy is becoming for her — how reliant she is on it as a device to live her life. But Silica effects everyone and really pushes them toward self-examination. None of our main characters will escape Silica unscathed.

Campbell: The main threat Silica poses is that she is more stylish than the Holograms. The “dark” makeovers she gives them are cooler than their regular looks, and I’m not sure if they can bounce back from that!

How do the Misfits react to the news of Jem and the Holograms’ big tour?

Thompson: Pizzazz of course freaks out. But something happens at the end of issue #9 that kind of changes her perspective on a lot of things and means that she — and the rest of her band — have much bigger problems to deal with than sharing a tour with Jem and The Holograms. The “Dark Jem” arc is a huge source of change for Pizzazz — Sophie and I are really excited about digging into her layers and putting her through the wringer!

Have you heard any direct reactions from people who worked on the original animated series or toy lines about the comic?

Thompson: Sophie and I both talk to creator Christy Marx from time to time, and she’s been very supportive and encouraging. Sophie and I have also talked a lot to Samantha Newark, who was the original speaking voice of Jem and Jerrica and who is still pretty involved in the Jem Fandom. She has been an absolute doll and is wonderfully supportive of and excited about the book.

Along similar lines, how has the reaction been from the longtime Jem fans as well as the new ones you’ve got to be seeing at conventions?

Thompson: That’s mixed, I’d say. Most of what I hear is really positive and wonderful., fans that feel like we have done a great job of updating and re-imagining the series into comic book form and for a modern audience. But there are always dissenting voices — and dissenting voices are, for some reason, always the loudest — maybe just because they’re the exception and not the rule? I’m not sure. But overall it’s been a really supportive terrific experience with fans new and old.

Campbell: As far as my artwork goes, the reaction from fans started off pretty negative. I remember seeing comment threads that felt like unending parades of hate for what I was doing, often viciously negative, some of them even contacting me personally. Honestly, it was hard for me at first. Negative reactions like that come with the job; I’ve been doing this for many years, and that’s just how these things go. But sometimes it wears on me, and the initial “Jem” reactions were one of those times.

But after the first couple issues, the reactions have seriously swung the other way. It’s been overwhelmingly positive since then. I’m not sure if that means the fans who didn’t like it have changed their minds, or if those fans aren’t saying anything anymore and have moved on, or what. But whatever it is, I’m happy about it. It’s been awesome.

Do the two of you look at particular bands, stylists or fashion designers for influence when it comes to designing the looks of the band members or the troubles they might find themselves in while on tour?

Thompson: I’m always hesitant to name specific bands that I use for inspiration on the music front, because one of the few advantages we have by not having an audio component is that readers can decide for themselves what these bands sound like. But yeah, I definitely (privately) have bands that I use for inspiration and reference.

Campbell: I don’t look at anything or anyone specifically. I peruse Google and Pinterest pretty haphazardly, and if I see something that catches my eye, I save it to my idea folder. Many of the clothes or hairstyles I gather never get used, or I’ll use just a part of something and make up the rest myself, or mash different ones together, but I never copy the outfits exactly. It’s more of a springboard, since I don’t usually have time to fuss over the designs. I also make up a lot of the outfits and hairstyles from scratch rather than looking at anything in particular.

What’s it been like for the two of you, getting back together on the book you launched?

Thompson: Oh, it’s great to be back together. Although, the way comics schedules work, there were actually only a few weeks where Sophie wasn’t hard at work on “Jem,” especially because there was a ton of new design work to do for the “Dark Jem” arc. So for her, it had to be like the worst fake break ever.

Campbell: I don’t feel like we were ever not working together, even when I wasn’t actively working on “Jem.” It was still in the back of my mind, we’d discuss things, I’d still be CCed on emails. For the most part, it was definitely a fake break. [Laughs] Although I got to take more naps.

Has your collaborative dynamic evolved since the first arc?

Thompson: I do think that we get better and better the more we work together. We talked a little bit about this, actually — how we already knew each other pretty well since we’re friends, but the more we work together, the better we get at anticipating what the other needs and wants. I try my best to write scripts Sophie’s going to enjoy drawing, and she is great at understanding what I’m going for and knowing when I’m wrong. We definitely have fewer fights these days — I think!

Campbell: I like to think I’ve gotten a teeny bit better at deciding which of my dumb silly idea suggestions I should keep to myself. I have to be honest, though — the more I work with Kelly, the more I’ve identified what she doesn’t like, like long hair on male characters, for example, or suddenly changing a hairstyle that she liked, and I feel more compelled to do them just to push her buttons. In a good-natured, friendly way, though, I swear!

Thompson: [Laughs] As if I didn’t state repeatedly from day one that I hate long hair on dude characters. I’ve never been cagey about that!

Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell kick off “Dark Jem” in January’s “Jem and the Holograms” #11.

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