It's been nine years since the "Invader Zim" cartoon zoomed out of Nickelodeon's orbit, leaving 27 episodes and a cult of fans in his wake. Now the titular tiny extraterrestrial is back, starring in a new comic book series from Oni Press set to debut this July. Zim's ongoing adventures will now be transmitted to fans via the printed page, a development that "Zim" creator Jhonen Vasquez hopes will please the show's longtime fans.
"I'm always confused when people say how much they miss 'Invader Zim' because the show never stopped running in my head, and then I remember everyone else isn't in my head," said Vasquez in Oni's initial press release for the series. "I try to imagine the world for all those people who don't know what Zim's been up to since the show went off the air and it makes me shudder. How can people live that way? Hopefully this comic helps make the world a better place."
With Zim's return to Earth imminent, CBR has spoken with several of the creators playing a part in the Oni series. Now, "Invader Zim" creator Jhonen Vasquez, who will serve as a writer and overall consultant for Zim's new adventures, talks to us about where Zim came from and what the future holds for the diminutive green alien.
CBR News: It's been almost a decade since "Invader Zim" was on the air. How do you see the character now versus when we first met him?
Jhonen Vasquez: It's funny -- I'm two issues into writing the comic and some things have been tweaked here and there, but Zim himself, he's pretty much unchanged, and he's the one thing that I don't think should be tweaked at all. He is Zim! You can't mess with that. He's arrogant, oblivious, and dangerous -- usually to everything but his target. I can't speak for everyone, but Zim in the comic just feels like Zim from the cartoon, so I don't worry about people feeling I've ruined their childhood or anything, but I can't say the same for how they'll feel about me making GIR a lawyer gorilla.
Why bring Zim back now?
I'd say it was because Oni wanted to and they were nice and respectful enough to ask me how I'd feel if they approached Nick about doing "Zim" comics. "Invader Zim," "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac," hell even stuff I dreamed up in elementary school, all this stuff's always alive in my head in various degrees, depending on when you ask me, but I was pretty busy with another project when they asked me and "Zim" has never been a thing I've actively pursued as far as resurrecting it in any form. Occasionally someone would ask about doing that in animation, but it'd always kinda fade away again and I'd go back to what I was doing before this or that person jumped outta the shadows to pick my brain on the subject.
Oni asked how I'd feel and I said I'd love to see the "Zim" world live on in some new form, so that's how it started. I knew I wouldn't have the time to work on it, but I offered to be present as a consultant. My original pitch was to have a bunch of newer artists come in and run the thing, bring in a look and feel that would surprise even me, keep me excited about what would come out next while having someone oversee it and make sure that it was still, in the end, "Invader Zim." The first couple of issues are a bunch of us guys from the actual animation days, though, and it's been a lot of fun, but I'd still love to see other people jump in and mix things up.
What was the origin of Invader Zim? Where did this character and the supporting cast come from?
The origin of "Invader Zim" as a show was pretty much Nickelodeon asking me for an idea and me thinking I was being clever by coming up with something that I felt I could just poop out and not be overly attached to. I was working on the "Squee!" series at the time, and I knew there was interest in that, but "Squee!" was mine, you know -- not a thing I wanted to give up and see tampered with. The overall idea [for "Invader Zim"] only took a few days to really put together, and it's mostly a collection of things that I was obsessed with as a kid: aliens, paranormal investigators, science fiction, monsters and the absurdist core of Monty Python, "Red Dwarf," Douglas Adams and the general horror show of my cinema addiction. It didn't take long for the idea to graduate from "thing I pooped out" to being just another thing I was inseparable from. I've learned since then that I'm really bad at doing doing anything creatively that I don't love to the point of it being scary.
You've done comic books in the past such as "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac," "Squee," and "I Feel Sick." Are any stylistic elements of your past work making it into the new "Zim" title?
Visually, sure, but with Aaron Alexovich on drawing duty right now, it's kinda like a hybrid of what people know of my stuff and what Aaron's style is -- which works out great for me because he's way more talented at drawing than I am, but people will think it's me doing all the work. Isn't that hilarious? People will compliment me on how much more professional my technique has gotten and I'll say "hey thanks" while Aaron is locked away in his drawing dungeon, crying or doing whatever he does for fun.
What's the biggest difference between Zim on the screen and Zim on the page?
Zim on the page is way easier on the ears. What's funny, though, is that I can totally hear him while writing his dialogue. Anyone who knows the show'll be able to hear the voice actors in their heads as they read the comics.
Again, Zim's the one who gets the least amount of re-thinking, because he's kinda perfect, ya know? Every awful thing about him just feels right. If anything, Zim on the page just gets a bit more of those moments from the screen-Zim that I liked the most -- the moments where he's not shrieking and seems kinda pulled down to just chatting about something mundane and idiotic. Some of my favorite Zim from the show is in an episode where he's making small talk while eating waffles. He'll still yell his head off, but I love bringing him down to those dumb, little moments -- actual conversations instead of just being turned up to 11 the whole time.
Are you planning on adding any new elements to Zim's world, such as new characters, that were not in the show?
Yeah, that's the plan. I'm not really interested in the comic just being a "Hey, remember this guy or that guy" thing, ya know? I don't want any of us to be writing fanfic of our own creation where we pull out all the familiar stuff and wink at an audience that only wants to see only what they already know. The first two issues, the ones I am writing, they're familiar in that all our main cast are there, but it's no fun if they're just trapped and defined by what they were doing a decade ago. Sure, there'll be plenty of people angry at us for making Dib a flying lizard that can transform into a fixie bike only when he's frightened, but art evolves, people.
"Invader Zim" #1 arrives in stores on July 1