Over a decade ago, a diminutive alien bent on conquering Earth and his more even tempered robot disguised as a dog invaded Nickelodeon. The brainchild of Jhonen Vasquez, the cartoonist behind “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac,” “Squee,” and “I Feel Sick,” “Invader Zim” quickly gained a loyal fan following. Vasquez’s comics work was all about outsiders, violent weirdoes, and comic violence, and while more kid-appropriate, his cartoon was no exception, and “Zim” remained a cult favorite, even after Nickelodeon took it off the air.
Now, like Vasquez’s other creations, Zim is a creature of the comics page. This July, Oni Press brings back the pint-sized extra-terrestrial back in an all-new series, overseen by his creator. We spoke with penciler and writer Aaron Alexovich, writer Eric Trueheart, colorist Rikki Simons — who happens to be the voice of GIR in the cartoon — and inker Megan Lawton about Zim’s new lease on life as a comics title. We discuss where Zim’s plans will lead in the months to come, what they’ll be able to pull of in comics that they couldn’t in animation, and why now is the time for Zim to once again attempt to conquer the planet.
CBR News: Obviously, longtime fans are excited about it, but why release a Zim comic now? It’s been nearly a decade since the show left air — what led to it becoming a comic?
Aaron Alexovich: Well, the short answer is that we finally harvested enough blood. We’ve had a few hundred “bleedin’ orphans” chained up in the Nickelodeon basement since 2002. You wouldn’t believe how much orphan blood you need to make Zim stuff happen. It’s outrageous.
The show’s been off the air for a long time, but sometimes if feels like it never went anywhere. I guess that’s how cult hits work, right? The Zim fans are intensely passionate. They’re the ones who’ve been keeping this thing breathing over the years, what with their fan art and films and hats and bees and such. They’ve even put on three Invader Zim conventions. We have to feed these Zimmies something cool before they tear us apart with their fearsome mandibles!
Rikki Simons: I’m not sure what happened. I was minding my own business, signing 10,000 stacks of GIR autographs, when Aaron burst through my door, bleeding and crying and begging me to help him make a Zim comic. I was like, “A ZLUB what? Are you here to babysit my cat?” Then I asked him to go back outside and knock like a decent human being before letting himself in. I mean, really.
Eric Trueheart: There’s very little I can add to what Aaron and Rikki have already said, except to point out that there is no “now,” and time is a seven-dimensional temporal helix shaped like the head of Andy “Dib” Berman. Also, Nickelodeon tried to revive “Zim” in the form of a paper flip book and audio CD, but Oni’s “comic” format seemed a lot easier.
But to answer your question head-on: What led to “Zim” becoming a comic? A road of broken dreams.
Megan Lawton: Stars aligning? Proper blood sacrifice? Someone asked real nice? In any case, I’m not sure how I got here.
“Zim” was much more of an episodic cartoon rather than a serialized story. Is that format going to transfer to the comic? Is there going to be an ongoing plot, or are you going to stick to more stand-alone episodes?
Alexovich: It’s going to be mostly single-issue stories to start. Maybe some multi-issue stuff later on. But personally, I like the short format. It’s ultimately up to Jhonen, though. He’s generating a lot of the ideas and setting the tone for the whole thing.
Simons: From what I understand it’s going to be individual moments of Jhonen telling us our ideas are stupid, then us begging him to let us do the stories anyway, finally followed by him stubbing out a cigarette on each of our foreheads. Which is always weird because he doesn’t even smoke.
Trueheart: The current plan is to start with single-issue stories, then two slowly move to two stories per issue, then four, then eight, until we finally tell a entire new “Invader Zim” story in every individual panel. This is Jhonen’s idea. It may not work.
Lawton: I’m gonna ink the heck out of these pages, that’s for sure.
The animation style and color scheme of the cartoon was very specific and identifiable. Are you guys sticking with that, or will the comic explore a variety of looks and styles?
Alexovich: It’ll be recognizably Zimmy, but we definitely want to push it into some new directions. Zim was an amazing show that still holds up today, but we don’t want it to be locked in the past. Invader Zim is a living, breathing, horrible beast of a creature slithering its way into the future. Plus, comics are different than animation. There’s no reason to lock the style into something that was specifically designed for animation, you know?
Simons: I’m going to color it up real purdy-like, don’t you worry none, partner. I’m a cowboy now.
Trueheart: We just hired “Archie” creator Bob Montana. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised.
Oh. I’ve just been informed Bob Montana has been dead for years. I think people are going to be even more surprised.
Lawton: I’m gonna ink the heck out of these pages, that’s for sure.
Almost a decade on, do you see the source material any differently than when you were introduced to it?
Alexovich: Not a whole lot. Everyone changes over a decade, though. I actually I thought I’d have trouble reconnecting with the person I was when we were making the show way back when. But it’s kind of terrifying how little I’ve changed. Mortos and his squeaky rubber pants still make me laugh.
Simons: “I don’t think I would saturate the colors as much. Some of that stuff looks dated. I hate you, Rikki.” Oh wait, I’m sorry, I’m just reading Jhonen’s notes to me out loud. No.
Trueheart: No. I still see every line I wish I’d punched-up before the script was recorded.
But all honesty, there’s something weirdly timeless about the “Zim” cartoons. They don’t look or feel like anything else from the period. They could have fallen through an Andy Berman’s head-shaped wormhole from any point in cartoon history. Why I keep bringing up Andy Berman’s head, I have no idea.
Still, this is a comic book. We’ll be using the cartoon as our jumping-off point, but we’re not going to be simply doing cartoon stories in comic format. Unless we decide to do that. Then we will.
Lawton: Well, I was 11 when the show originally aired. So working on “Zim” instead of eagerly waiting for new episodes is pretty dang different.
Is there anything that you can do with the medium of comics that just wasn’t feasible in animation?
Alexovich: Oh, absolutely. I go back and forth between those worlds, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses.
I’ve always preferred making comics, though. One of the great things about making comics is being able to get exactly what you want out of every moment. You draw what you want, and there it is, done. It doesn’t have to be filtered through a massive army of peopleÂ like in animation. Of course, the advantage of the big animation army is that some of those people might have a cooler idea than you. Then again, maybe the key people are sleepy or having a bad day or just don’t care, and the scene just sorta limps to the finish. It’s hard to predict what will happen to your idea after you send it through the animation machine.
The Zim comic is a very small machine, fairly easily tuned, and we’re all focused on making something that’s up to Jhonen’s standards and won’t make the Zim fans destroy us all with hate-rays.Â
Simons: You can make little comics in the gutters. Happier ones.
Trueheart: Richard Horvitz [the voice of Zim] can scream much, much louder without damaging any equipment.
Also, we plan on seeing what we can do to bend out of the show format a little. We might have side stories running in the margins. Or we might tell a story entirely of ads for X-Ray Specs. Probably not, but we could.Â
Lawton: You get to do your own screams!
Which of the Zim characters do you most identify with? Why?
Alexovich: There’s a little bit of Bloaty in all our hearts. But yeah, I’m more or less Gaz. I just want everyone to stop screaming and let me make all my stupid little things in peace.
Simons: Well, I was the voice of GIR on the show and GIR was the only happy character in the entire world, mostly because he was stupid. I’m sorry — what was the question?
Trueheart: The guy who had his soda can crushed by the planet Mars. I think the reason is obvious.
Lawton: Invader Skoodge, I think. Finishing art school last year felt a lot like conquering a planet filled with slaughtering rat people. I’m also pretty short.
Alexovich: I just want to thank Jhonen and Oni for putting their confidence in us. It really means a lot. Hope they enjoy filthy stick figures! It’s really cool to be working with Jhonen and Eric and Rikki again after all this time, and I know Megan’s going to bring some new badassery to the Zimiverse, too. Should be fun/horrible!
Simons: I, too, feel horrible pleasure being reunited with the likes of Aaron, Eric and Jhonen, even though I already see them pretty much all the time anyway. You know what, maybe we should just take some time off. Probably seen too much of each other since the show. Maybe this is a bad idea.Â
Trueheart: I’m shocked at how much fun it is to be working with Jhonen, Rikki and Aaron again. Shocked! Though I keep expecting us to be cancelled at any moment. Destiny won’t rest until we are.
Lawton: Getting to work on this comic is pretty surreal. The show was such a huge influence through my teenage years, and I’ve been puking from excitement since I joined the team. I’m thrilled to be here with all these beautiful people — I could not be more thankful that this is happening.
Simons: And we will be here to puke with you, Megan, in puking solidarity! Altogether now: HYuuGGHHHHHH!!!
Lawton: Rikki, that’s all I could ever ask for.
Trueheart: Wait! Don’t run this until I’ve puked with Megan, too!
Everybody together: HYUUUUUUGHHHH!
“Invader Zim” #1 lands in comic stores July 1, 2015