Jem and The Holograms is about an all-female rock quartet, based on the 80’s cartoon of the same name. The hook is that lead singer Jerrica uses some earrings to take on the holographic appearance of Jem. This premiere issue establishes Jerrica’s stage fright, and how The Holograms hope to help her so that they can make a music video for a contest, culminating in the discovery of those tacky earrings and an A.I. called Synergy.
You know how sometimes you can crack open a book, or hear an album, or see a movie, and you know that, on a technical level, this is a well-made piece of art, and there are people out there who will very much enjoy it... you’re just not one of those people?
Somewhere out there is a person who feels a strong nostalgia for the cartoon and who would love to see that world updated in a comic (this comic isn’t a straight adaptation of the cartoon’s aesthetic--think how the 1990’s X-Men cartoon got updated periodically with slicker costumes and hipper versions of Cyclops). Somewhere, there is a person who feels very strongly about girl groups from the 80s, like the Bangles and the Go-Gos, who wants to read a comic about the internal foibles of that band. I thought I was in that category; it turns out I very much am not.
On a technical level, author Kelly Thompson and artist Sophie Campbell have put together a slick world, with characters who have their own goals, their own foibles. They play with a little bit of a cheat code, by giving away each character’s “Deepest Secret” at the end of the issue in trading card-style, but the issue itself gives a strong sense of who the women in the book are, and what they want. They look fly as hell. The coloring still maintains that proto-Lisa-Frank color palette of pale pinks and purples, which manages to keep the book uniform without sinking into a monochromatic bore.
At the end of the day, the most interesting part of this book, to me, was that Campbell apparently transitioned at some point in the production process when it was too late for them to change her name on the variant covers. I don’t know if it’s disrespectful or if it’s intentional or what, but it’s the thing that made me think the most about this comic.
This book may be for you. It is certainly not for me.
Like Nick, I also have zero nostalgia for this property. Of the eighties cartoons that have made it my brain over the years, Jem and The Holograms never made the cut. I’m not sure why that was, but if it’s anything like this comic I don’t think I missed out on very much. The easy out would be for me to say that I’m not this book’s primary audience, but I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment, based only on the sexist idea that a book prominently featuring women isn’t targeted towards all genders. Additionally this comic looks at themes I’m interested in such as the creative process, music, identity, and navigating friendships. Despite all that though, I felt like this comic lacked much to appeal to anyone other than those scrounging for any appearance by the characters (I know one such person).
Kelly Thompson states in the afterword that she wants this iteration of the band to resonate with an audience in 2015, updating the aesthetic and personalities of the band members to reflect contemporary models of empowered women. In the latter category, I think Thompson succeeds by providing the band members diverse personalities and appearances. It was particularly great to see Sophie Campbell depict the band members with different body types, and I’m hopeful that such a body positive attitude remains at the book’s core as it attracts a wider audience who may still associate comics with the exaggerated and unrealistic anatomies popular over at the Big Two. However, the costume designs seem really off if this is meant to reflect current pop looks. Jem especially looks like a remnant of the 80’s, her excessively long hair too cartoonish for even the Arianna Grandes of the world (I get that it’s a hologram and thus weighs nothing, but still).
Campbell’s work in this opening issue varies on the nature of the scene, the energy level at a limp whenever anyone’s just sitting around and talking. And, for the most part, this issue is a lot of talking heads. In the opening conversation between Jerrica and Kimbra where we get a lot of the comic’s exposition, there’s very little done with moment selection or panel layout to elevate the comic’s dialogue. However, I think that if the book’s brief opening song is any indication, Campbell definitely adds some oomph during the book’s musical scenes, creating kaleidoscopic images to represent the book’s aural qualities. Robbie Robbins’ lettering later on during a quiet moment where Jerrica writes a song also aids in this regard, visually distinguishing Jerrica’s singing through smoky purple text. And speaking of purple, M. Victoria Robado colors really give this book a distinct look, making it clear that this all about POP. Personally though, I think the overuse of purple made the color lose its usual pizzazz as we see it in the background, on the band’s outfits, and even the studio jukebox.
Jem And The Holograms didn’t win me over as a new fan with this issue, but that’s ok. Once Jem hits the stage, I think the book will hit its hyperdrive with those who stick around for the followup.
Jem and The Holograms #1 Writer: Kelly Thompson Artist: Sophie Campbell Colorist: M. Victoria Robado Publication: IDW Publishing Release Date: 3/25/15 Format: Ongoing; Digital/Print