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Jem and the Holograms has to be one of the most visually stunning comics out there right now, the fun and colourful sweetness of the art balances the often serious issues of the characters who are not just physically diverse but also mentally and socially. Jem and the Holograms fearlessly embraces LGBT characters and those suffering with mental health disorders. There is something for everyone to relate to within this amazing series. We got to chat with Jem and the Holograms writer Kelly Thompson.

Kelly, tell us a little bit about yourself.  How did you get started as a comic writer? How long have you been doing it?

Well, I graduated from The Savannah College of Art & Design with a degree in Sequential art, but like many grads, did not do much in my field for a long time. Before going to SCAD, after discovering comics at the age of 16 (or thereabout) I immediately began writing my own comics, drawing (very badly) my own characters and stories. My French is absolutely atrocious because I spent the entirety of French 3 in high school writing comics in a college-lined notebook. I toyed with the idea of doing comics when I finally really started to get to work on creative pursuits in my free time, but I knew I couldn’t draw my own comics so I leaned toward prose instead, something I felt I could at least “finish” without help. That consumed me for years and served me well. But I came back to comics with a vengeance in about 2007 and also started blogging about them, which led to a lot of connections with awesome people that over the years helped develop into some opportunities to pitch some of the work I’d been doing on the side. It was quite the meandering road!

What was your first comic book? 

Well, technically it was probably some issue of Archie or Betty & Veronica, because I read them when I was very young, before I really knew what comic books were as a medium or what a comic book shop was, I just used to beg for them when were in line at the grocery store. But what I really consider my “first comic book” – because it signaled an understanding of what comics were as both a medium and industry – was Uncanny X-Men #290, which had Storm on the cover. It was actually my brother’s comic, which he bought because he recognized Storm from the X-Men cartoon we had just discovered. And from there it was a short trip to a lifelong love affair with comics. And I totally stole that comic book from my brother. Sorry, Scott!

How would you describe your style to someone who hasn’t seen your work?

Gosh, I don’t really know, I mean so far my comics have all been really different because they’ve all been different genres. My graphic novel Heart In A Box is sort of dark and adult and hopefully will really make you think about your life, Jem and The Holograms is very light and fun and sort of romantic and young, Captain Marvel and The Carol Corps (which I’m co-writing with Kelly Sue DeConnick) is very heroic and maybe a little more serious — consumed with the search for truth, and the horror story I did for an issue of Creepy is super gross and well…creepy! My prose tends to be very action-heavy and violent. Violence and humor and a sprinkle of romance, I guess. I do think similar themes certainly creep into my work regardless of genre – themes of love and loss, stories about complex women, stories of sacrifice and obligation, duality, perception, the search for oneself.

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What have been your highest highs and lowest lows whilst working as a writer?

Hoo-boy! That’s a good one. I mean, getting Jem and The Holograms was a super high and so was getting the opportunity to co-write with Kelly Sue DeConnick, an idol of mine, on Captain Marvel & The Carol Corps. Some of the early responses to Heart In A Box have had me just giddy. Some of the awesome things that happened with my first novel The Girl Who Would Be King, including it getting optioned, were…just wow, just so huge and so exciting. At the same time there’s a reason I self-published The Girl Who Would Be King and it was after a good deal of rejection and near misses with publishing that were just heartbreaking. Additionally, as any comic writer can tell you, you do a lot of pitching, and most of it never makes it through the publishing gauntlet. I think writing great pitches demands a certain amount of falling in love with the idea (and characters), so falling in love with something and then being told no is always hard.

Are there any particular social issues you like to address, explore, or challenge in your work? Why?

I obviously have things that are important to me, like having a diverse cast, and in prominently featuring complex female characters, but I don’t think I approach stories with intent specifically to explore social issues – at least not so far. I’m sure there are a million examples of that being done well, but when I think about “issues,” that doesn’t feel like an organic approach for me. I guess I am mostly consumed by characters and so I like all my stories and their themes to stem from characters. I mean, I start with an idea like anyone else, but it’s through developing and falling in love with the characters that I figure out what that idea is really about, what the questions it’s asking are, what the answers might be.

How do you think art/music/writing affects our mental health? Can it heal?

Yes, absolutely. Art/music/writing are basically my whole life. I look at my life without those things and it looks quite empty and sad. Music has a tangible effect on my work, especially, helping to inspire, motivate. I will also say that I was really frustrated last year with some things that were happening – or rather not happening – with my writing career and it felt like I had just taken as many hits as I could take and I felt like I was just done. I tried very hard at that point to leave writing. And even though it was a decision born of bad things happening/things going wrong the approach I took was that it was a positive thing…like “I’m going to go out into the world and just be a person who does more social things and has hobbies and is more ‘normal’”…but it didn’t work at all. I mean I really tried, but I just felt empty without it. So, for good or ill, I went back. I’m not sure writing is always healing to me because it brings me a lot of frustration and pain too, but I’ve realized I can’t live without it, so that’s its own kind of healing…right?

Do you think women in the comic book / art industry are treated any differently to guys? How are they viewed? Has this changed / is this changing?

Well, since I’ve never been a guy I guess I don’t know for sure. I think I’m a bit lucky in that my efforts to break into comics have for the most part coincided with increased interest in female creators, thanks I think in part to a growing access to comics and a devoted online community that seems more interested in diversity in stories, creators, and characters. Of course I would rather be considered just “a writer” than “a female writer,” I doubt anybody really WANTS to be pigeonholed or grouped based on anything like gender, race, or orientation, but if being a female writer at this time has helped get my foot in the door of an industry that has traditionally skewed very male and has a sometimes icky boys’ club reputation, then I’m not going to fight it. I know the quality of my work will stand on its own regardless of any category.

It was a brave decision to include openly LGBT characters in the comic that weren’t ‘technically’ open in the original cartoon, why did you choose to do that? 

I think there was never really much of a choice. Sophie and I knew from go that since Jem and The Holograms was so diverse nearly 30 years ago that there was no way to honor the original material without upping the diversity to reflect 2015. That meant some LGBTQ+ characters and stories, and since we had the incredible benefit of Sophie’s talent – some spectacular body diversity as well. Not a lot of artists can handle the kind of body diversity that comes very naturally to Sophie and so right away that means our book looks unique on the stands in really fantastic ways. We’re very lucky in how supportive both IDW and Hasbro have been as we brought these women in 2015.

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Has the comic book audience reacted differently to how you expected or not?

Yes and no. It’s always surprising to me the little things that people want to complain about, at the same time, it’s often a treat to see them pick up on tiny details—the things that you thought only you were interested in—and get truly excited about in the same way that you do. We knew most of what we consider our “Jem audience” would be really excited about the Kimber and Stormer romance and the audience has more than exceeded that expectation! I think it’s hard to know what the audience size is on a book like this, for a property that’s been out of the public eye for nearly 30 years, but our audience has been really big and supportive. I think the first issue went to a third printing even though the issue was sort of “aggressively overprinted” due to the expected collector’s market. So that’s really cool…that we far surpassed even exaggerated expectations.

Who are your comic book/writing hero’s / influences? 

Gosh, there are so many. I always pick up anything Warren Ellis and Brian K. Vaughan write, sight unseen. Greg Rucka’s work from his Whiteout and Queen & Country to his Stumptown and Lazarus (and let’s never forget his phenomenal Batwoman Elegy and his work on Gotham Central) all left indelible impressions on me. He is probably my most beloved and consistent comic writer and he’s also someone who has a public presence and persona that I really admire and would like to emulate in many ways. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel made me absolutely fall in love with Carol Danvers and Bitch Planet is a comic I’ve been waiting for my whole life. DeConnick has managed, with Bitch Planet, to do both a fantastic comic and also create a MOVEMENT, and that’s so important it kind of blows my mind – it really moves the needle forward on a lot of issues I care about deeply (namely: women in comics). So yeah, DeConnick is definitely a hero for me, which makes co-writing with her on Captain Marvel & The Carol Corps kind of surreal and a dream come true.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Comic world domination! No, just kidding, I suppose I hope to be still publishing one novel a year and writing very many comics – a mix of both licensed stuff and some creator owned work. There are a lot of really exciting things on the horizon, if even a few of them come to pass it’s going to be an exciting few years. I also hope I’ll be living in either Portland or Los Angeles, a move back to the west coast that is MANY years in the making.

 

 

By Rai Jayne Hearse

A hermit from Up North, Rai spends her time scribbling words, buried under a pile of magazines and cassette tapes. Whenever she does finally emerge from her tiny office she tries to achieve world domination as the bassist of kick-ass punk band Pink Hearse.