Jhonen Vasquez, creator of “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac,” “Squee” and the Nickelodeon show “Invader Zim,” indicated a possible future animated film based on characters from “JTHM” during his Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo panel. Joined by panel moderator Lee Rodriguez and co-panelist J.R. “Jenny” Goldberg, he also spoke about an animated series he and Goldberg are pitching about an ordinary girl forced to deal with “incredibly important” decisions regarding the welfare of the planet.
The theme of the panel was collaboration — beyond their current cartoon pitch, Vasquez and Goldberg have worked together on “Jellyfist,” among other projects. Vasquez, however, wasn’t having any of that. “There’s not going to be a theme,” said the popular cartoonist, “We’re just going to talk shit.” Collaboration, he said, never starts with him and someone else saying, “Let’s think of something.”
“It’s more like twenty minutes of fart noises” followed by something that strikes them as funny, said Goldberg. She described the spotlighted pair’s current collaborative project as being about an ordinary girl, more tomboy than a girlie girl. Vasquez sees the project as a “kid’s cartoon,” saying he and Goldberg were both disgusted by female characters in cartoons. “I just hate women in general,” joked Vasquez. “They’re not very funny.”
“Except for her,” said Rodriguez, indicating Goldberg.
“No, I’m not funny,” she quipped back.
The protagonist of the proposed series, whose name was not revealed during the panel, was initially going to save Earth from alien invasion by “showing the aliens a good time” and thereby proving the value of the planet, said Vasquez. However, it was decided that entertaining aliens week in and week out would be too limiting, and so the character will now face different challenges each week. On the drive home from a Ramen restaurant, he and Goldberg devised an entire season’s worth of challenges for her to face.
Goldberg will take the lead if the series gets picked up. “I can’t see myself staying on and working on [the series],” Vasquez said. He would prefer to watch from afar, however, then write a note saying, “This is starting to suck. Fix it.”
“[While] sitting at home eating your cereal,” Goldberg responded, adding that Vasquez never wants to leave his home. “Jhonen just shits out ideas,” she said, “It’s annoying because he never does anything” with most of them.
Shifting the topic back to JTHM briefly, the two said the cartoon will start with a “ten minute animated short” which will be shown to producers in order to “go get real money.” A full-fledged animated movie is very expensive to produce, Vasquez explained, saying they may fund the 10-minute short via Kickstarter.
“By the time Johnny ended, I had a whole second series in my head,” Vasquez said. “I kept it there.” The film project “will be related to the Johnny story, but its not that character. Hopefully in the near future there will be more to talk about.”
Vasquez also discussed “Invader Zim,” which had a short run on Nickelodeon in 2001 and 2002 but, as explained by Rodriquez, has lasting impact to this day. Rodriquez asked how Vasquez made the leap from “Johnny” to “Invader Zim,” describing the shift as going from “JTHM’s” “‘someone put shit in my pants'” humor to, “This guy can make kids’ cartoons!”
“They came to me,” Vasquez said. “They called me and asked me if I had any ideas” for a series. At that time, Nickelodeon was the network of Ren and Stimpy, he said. “Now, all they have is Korra.”
Goldberg and Vasquez both talked about the difficulty of working with television censors. Goldberg said that she was required to “shave down” characters’ nipples, and while she could show “dookey,” it all had to be rounded off. “Dookey” became a recurrent theme of the panel, including a several minute scatological aside that included phrases such as “blast it and spread” and “not enough coverage.”
Vasquez talked about the rules the network required him to follow. He could have all the explosions he wanted, he said, but no one could die in them. He was not allowed to refer to Satan, and could not have characters say, “Shut up.” Rules actually became stricter after the 9/11 attacks, he said, citing the fact that just a few years earlier, an “Animaniacs” episode from the ’90s featured an episode in which the characters “ate too many Swedish meatballs” and went to Hell, where a figure greeted them with, “I am Satan.” By the time he was working on “Zim,” Vasquez could not use the word “Hell,” having instead to refer to it as “the place beneath the overworld.”
On topic Vasquez was uncharacteristically quiet on was his allegedly acrimonious parting with Nickelodeon, though his humor still crept into what little he did share on the subject “Almost everything you have ever heard or read [about the split] is probably wrong or made up — which I probably helped with.”
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