In Jem & the Holograms, writer Kelly Thompson and artist Sophie Campbell aim to transform the beloved 30-minute cartoon into 20-page comic book. How did they do?
Well, it’s been a while since I sat down and watched the cartoon, but I never really connected to it – even when I was in the target-age range. Not remembering the show through rose-colored glasses, I started reading issue number one with some hesitance. I read The Girl Who Would Be King, Thompson’s superhero-centric novel, and I read House of Mystery – Campbell’s art is featured in the first issue. In theory, I thought the team-up would be good, and that maybe they could successfully transition Jem & the Holograms.
Thompson and Campbell face an incredible uphill battle with this series. There will be the die-hard fans who insist on those rose-colored glasses: picky and difficult to please. There will be the new fans: willing to give it a chance, but reading on a budget. There’s the problem of shifting story lines from a 30-minute animated show, to a 6-issue story arc. And, finally, there’s the problem that we live in a different world than when Jem & the Holograms first aired – it’s 2015 and everything from fashion to politics is different.
I think it’s hard to tell how well Jem & the Holograms conquers these problems just from the first issue, but I will say that the comic does have a lot of things going for it. It’s very pretty. It’s just pretty to look at, with bright pastels and nice shapes. The characters are distinct and individual – certainly not a cookie cutter mold. And the story is heading in a nice direction: Jem goes through personal growth and achieves success with the help of her band and Synergy, her father’s holographic computer babe.
That being said, the lack of creative paneling is obvious and unpleasant. Stories flow with the help of creative paneling, and with the movement of the characters themselves. Part of the problem with the first issue is there’s a lot of “sit time” for the characters – they’re sitting on a stage, sitting in a car, sitting in an alleyway. The story gets a little stagnant because the characters have no movement, and the paneling isn’t strong enough to draw your eye through the story.
One point that could go for or against Jem & the Holograms is that it is clearly inspired by Japanese shoujo manga. I will admit to having a really guilty, somewhat shameful pleasure: I love to cry at shoujo manga. I really love it, how silly and sweet and soppy it is. And Jem & the Holograms draws a lot from shoujo manga, both in art and in story. There’s enough shoujo elements – like “magical girl,” “slice of life,” and “fashion” – in this first issue to appeal to my guilty pleasure.
In the end, I think this will appeal more to the die-hard fans than new ones. If you buy first issues just to give them a chance, I doubt you will pick up the second issue. But if you’re familiar with the cartoon, I really think you will enjoy this series – there’s solid foundation of new and old, just from the first issue, and it will be interesting to see how this story develops.