On July 26th, 2020 at 2:00 PM Pacific Time, the pre-recorded Invader ZIM Conquers Publishing panel took place.
The panel included Chris McDonnell (The Art of Invader ZIM, out today from ABRAMS books), Eric Trueheart (Invader ZIM show and comics; The Medium-Sized Book of ZIM Scripts: Vol. 1: Pigs ‘n’ Waffles), Drew Rausch (Invader ZIM #41), and Aaron Alexovich (Invader ZIM show and comics). The panel was moderated by Jeff Spry of SYFY Wire.
Naturally, the conversation centered on Invader ZIM, the horrible cartoon created by Jhonen Vasquez (back when you could actually go to Comic-Con in person, the Beat interviewed Vasquez, Alexovich, Trueheart, and Dave Crosland at the Oni Booth).
The panel opened with the panelists musing about the enduring appeal of the series.
“Just the cruelty of the universe,” said Alexovich. “Just the darkness in all of our souls.”
“In a just universe this would have disappeared decades ago, but the universe is not a just place,” said Trueheart.
Trueheart also had some insight into the philosophy behind the original Nickelodeon series.
“I also think there might be something to the fact that when we were making that show, we weren’t making a kid’s show, necessarily, we were making a show for all the demented sensibilities for us on the staff,” he said. “I think because of that, it’s a show you can discover when you’re a kid, then you come back to it as an adult and hopefully it’s just as entertaining and just as twisted.”
While the show remains popular, Alexovich wondered whether or not their work had a lasting effect on all ages animation.
“I actually think ZIM was pretty unique, I don’t know that a whole lot of things are like it now,” said Alexovich. “I think maybe there are some things in adult animation that we influenced, but kid’s animation seems to have veered off in a different direction than ZIM. I like to think that we’re trailblazers, but I don’t see a lot of ZIM out there…”
Alexovich concluded, “Everyone’s terrified to follow in our footsteps. Probably because it was a huge failure.”
From there, the panel covered the various Invader ZIM publishing projects: first up was The Art of Invader ZIM, the new art book about the making of both the original series as well as Enter the Florpus, which premiered on Netflix. McDonnell conducted interviews with crewmembers of both the original Nickelodeon series and the movie. Alexovich called the book a “stuffed tome.”
“It was almost like going through a yearbook for me, because I’ve been with Invader ZIM since the very beginning,” said Alexovich. “I guess when most people look through a yearbook they’re like, ‘oh look, this is my best friend,’ ‘there’s all these experiences I’ve had.’ Me, I’m like, ‘look at that hideous child I drew, these horrible monsters, it’s beautiful memories for me.’”
McDonnell, who has also written art books for Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Bojack Horseman, says that he has developed something a personal technique for approaching these projects.
“I’ve sort of come to think of them sort of as a ‘zine,” said McDonnell. “Putting it together without much of a central guiding concept besides ‘I’m just going to dig into what I find and then try to process through it and then put it on the page.’ So dense is definitely one of the objectives, getting as much in there as possible.”
The panel also reflected on the conclusion of the Invader ZIM ongoing comic series from Oni Press, which began in 2015 and recently concluded with issue #50.
“As someone who wrote on the original show, it was actually a lot of fun to go back and revisit the characters, and to be able to go back and drop-in and do little oddball things that we never would have been able to do on the show,” said Trueheart. “You know, we had a story called ‘Star Donkey,’ which probably would not have been approved, and it was an opportunity to just title something ‘Star Donkey’ and have the characters say ‘Star Donkey’ a lot during it. And because we didn’t have the elaborate executive approval process – we had one person from Nickelodeon saying yes or no, and we had Jhonen giving his blessing or not on things – it was a more streamlined process than the original show.”
Rausch was a fan of the series when it originally aired, and he got a chance to take part in creating part of the universe when he wrote and illustrated Invader ZIM #41.
“I actually had to ask Aaron, ‘is the bone actually in his hair?’” said Rausch.
Moving forward, Invader ZIM will be released as a quarterly, meaning the comic will be published less often but will include more pages. The first issue, “GIR’s Big Day,” written by Trueheart and with art by Alexovich, is based on an unproduced script from the original show.
Trueheart revealed the story’s journey to the page: “It was one of these premises that I kicked around for ages and kept running up the ladder, and they kept saying, ‘but what happens in it?’ And I’d be like, ‘oh, you know, a lot of random goofy stuff! He gets kidnapped by an animal testing lab!’ ‘Yeah, but what happens in it? What’s his arc?’ And the thing about GIR is, he’s a character who’s really resistant to arcs!”
The comic gave him a venue to tell the story in a format that would be able to support the random, goofball nature of the story.
“GIR is broken, he never can stay on task, he basically has attention deficit of one kind or another,” said Trueheart. “And I wanted to show what happened – this is probably even going back to one of the early stories, where ZIM calls for GIR – maybe it’s in ‘Saucer Morons’ – and you cut to GIR whose dancing in a disco with a bunch of girls, and there’s sort of the question of how did GIR get there? So in my mind, GIR lives a very large life outside of what he does for ZIM. So to follow GIR outside of the house and go through this incredibly elaborate series of adventures that ZIM has no idea about kind of spoke to me as part of the legend of GIR. And I thought it would be fun to just embrace the stupid, as Jhonen likes to say.”
“Yeah, it’s probably the most chaotic ZIM thing that we’ve made yet,” agreed Alexovich. “It should be!”
The panelists postulated that part of the lasting appeal of the show’s humor has to do with its dark tone.
“I think there’s always a place for dark humor, I think even for kids,” said Alexovich. “I think even kids have that appetite for laughing at things that scare them, or things that they find uncomfortable, and I think we don’t lean into that often enough as creators. So when something like ZIM shows up, it’s bound to build a cult audience because people are hungry for that sort of thing.”
“And I think also, like you said earlier, the fact that we had a crew of very sort of funny people, like the artists and the writers, who were basically working to make themselves laugh,” said Trueheart. “Like, Jhonen wouldn’t let something through unless he thought it was genuinely funny.”
Trueheart recalled watching Looney Toons as a child, describing it as a sort of window into the adult world.
“Clearly, they were doing that to make themselves laugh,” said Trueheart.
“You mean those Humphrey Bogart jokes weren’t for kids?” asked Alexovich.
“Well, and most people forget that a lot of those Warner Bros. cartoons were put in the middle of a Humphrey Bogart double feature that you went to the movies to see,” said Spry. “So the only place you could see them were in movie theaters, which was mostly during an adult double feature or an adult matinee screening of a more mature movie. So a lot of the jokes were sophisticated. There’s Eddie Cantor jokes!”
The panelists also discussed some of the rumors that swirl around the series.
“I just love all the cancellation rumors that you hear over the years,” said Alexovich. “My favorite that keeps coming up is that ‘Bloody GIR’ is what got us cancelled. Just a subliminal one-frame of GIR covered in blood that got us pulled off the air.”
“I try to avoid them because they’re almost all wrong,” said Trueheart. “So I don’t like to get in the middle: I don’t want to crush someone’s dreams, and I also don’t want to get annoyed by how ridiculous something is.”
Will there be a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the series next year? It turns out not everything is sunshine and babies in the ZIM-iverse.
“I don’t know if anybody’s planning anything,” said Trueheart. “This is probably something that I shouldn’t tell out of school, but I happen to know that after Florpus aired, nobody from Nickelodeon or Netflix called up Jhonen to say, ‘hey, nice job.’ I might not be allowed to tell people that, but I just did! My feeling might be there might not be people at Nickelodeon or Netflix who are really focusing on the fact that this is coming up, so it might be incumbent on fans to remind them, and that’s basically the very vague thing I can say.”
“I just know that everybody that was on the Florpus crew would love to make more,” said Alexovich. “Yeah, it’s going to be up to the fans to resurrect it again at this point.”
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