Writer: Kelly Thompson
Artist, Lettering and Co-Writer: Sophie Campbell
Colourist: Maria Victoria Robado
Lettering: Shawn Lee
Review By Nisha
When I was very young- I’m talking first year of Infants- my sisters, tired of endless playing of The Little Mermaid, introduced me to a cartoon they loved about a girl who forms a band with her sisters and battles for control of her late father’s record company, with the help of a computer her father invented. I absolutely fell in love with the story (the five episode arc at the beginning, released as a movie), the characters and the songs. It stuck with me throughout my life and was even my inspiration to become a performer.
So when Kris dropped the news that Jem and the Holograms was going to be revived in graphic novel form, I was practically backflipping around the house.
I won’t go into much depth of the series in general, although there are some things that need to be mentioned going into the comics. Jetta is already a member of the Misfits from the beginning, Eric isn’t the big villain that he was in the cartoon, Rio is a reporter and both Kimber and Stormer are gay. Other than that, Kelly Thompson- a huge Jem fan herself- stays very faithful to the cartoon and the characters. The arc that I am here to review is Dark Jem: where a computer virus infects Synergy (the computer, who projects Jem’s image over Jerrica) and that, in turn, converts the Holograms and goes after their fans- warping their minds and changing their personalities.
As I have mentioned already, Kelly Thompson does an absolutely stellar job of capturing the essence of all the characters we know and love: Ashley’s annoyingly loveable petulance, the to-and-fro between the Holograms as bandmates and as sisters, Kimber’s secret wish to be the frontwoman, Techrat’s inability to be a people-person. On top of that, she also adds a whole new dimension to other characters, namely the Misfits. Whilst they are part of what made the cartoon popular back in the 80s, we don’t get to know much about them (compared to the Holograms), and Kelly’s writing does really well in opening them up and showing them to be practically a family as well. And she does a great job at throwing in the odd British idiom, courtesy of Jetta. Also, Pizzazz has a pet cat, and that will forever be awesome. She also throws the Misfits a huge curveball- the possibility of the band having to go on without Pizzazz and the casting of a new singer. The addition of a transgender character was bold and just pure beauty, as the Misfits accept her without missing a beat- lending credence to Stormer’s exclamation in the cartoon that “Misfits” is a name that means something; that they are the ones who don’t “fit in”, but will accept each other. The character stuff does seem to overshadow the plot, but the characters are so strong and loveable that I honestly don’t find it to be an issue.
The artwork… All I can say is that I am devastated that Sophie Campbell is no longer doing the artwork for Jem (although I wish her all the luck in her new projects). The style is completely different to the original cartoon, but in a way that’s really exciting and dynamic. She represents a whole range of body types in the characters and the detail is just fantastic. She creates really emotive faces that just lift the story to a whole new level- for example, when Jerrica is infected by the virus, she is still drawn the same but which a very subtle edge to her facial expressions. If the colourist hadn’t opted to goth-up her hair, the change in her personality would still have been very clear. And the panel where Pizzazz is sitting by her front door, completely isolated, is just heartbreaking. Sophie manages to evoke so much emotion in one picture. I’ve always felt that Pizzazz’s attitude was covering for someone very insecure who feels unworthy of love, and that picture captured that fragile interior so beautifully.
The colouring of the comics is ridiculously faithful to the essence of the cartoon series. Think 80s, think bold, think rock! The colours are vivid and practically leap off the page. One doesn’t often think too much about how much the colouring affects the mood and enjoyment of graphic series but it’s part of the heart and soul. Maria Victoria Robado does an incredible job of maintaining the looks and colouring of the characters and enhancing Sophie’s artwork. Together, Maria and Sophie create a wonderful and poignant contrast between the everyday life of the Holograms and the Misfits- both of whom have their own special colour schemes- and the world after they are infected by the virus. Whilst I think the “they’re evil, so they’re Goth now” thing is a little done to death, the creative team behind Jem still execute it with grace and make those scenes freakish and creepy.
Again, the lettering is also something that non-avid comic readers tend not to notice, yet it’s something that cleverly lends a lot to the tone and intonation of the characters. In the Jem comics, this is also true of the songs, which must be a constant challenge for the creative team. A device commonly used in the cartoon were songs from various characters, which is obviously much harder to convey in a graphic novel. This is where Shawn Lee steps in with some serious skill, giving the Holograms and the Misfits their own personal fonts for their songs (which is stepped up with Maria’s colouring). This arc also features some auditions, so the lettering also alters for their different styles, and abilities, of singing. While it isn’t the same as watching the songs on TV, it’s certainly pretty close… and I know I was wincing during the audition scenes because the lettering made the sounds come alive. My only critique is that sometimes the lettering in the songs is a tiny bit difficult to read, but rarely.
All in all, strong story, fantastic characters, great artwork, clever construction- a must for Jem fans! And, if you’ve never watched Jem, you’ll still love it… just read the preceding issues first for context. Also, the entire series is on Netflix so… get on that.