From the Almighty Tallest comes an interview with the team behind ‘Invader Zim’
Recently I was able to interview the creative team behind the Oni Press title ‘Invader Zim.’ It was like some kind of weird childhood wish fulfillment as I vividly recall growing up to the outlandish adventures of Zim and Gir. Since its cancellation, it’s no understatement that Invader Zim has really held its fanbase over the years. I recall that when I first heard this title was being launched, I immediately put it on my pull list. There was no way that I was going to pass up another chance to embrace one of my favorite childhood television shows. Thankfully, the team behind this comic and the folks at Oni Press have done a superb job at channeling that 90’s weirdness into this comic. They’ve perfectly captured the essence that is Zim in this comic along with the remainder of the cast as well. And this coming week features yet another installment, of hopefully many, with the release of issue #13 this Wednesday!
Eric Trueheart, Fred Stresing, Warren Wucinich:
GWW: What character did you enjoy the most bringing to life in the comics?
Eric: I really can’t say I have a favorite. In my mind this group of weird cartoon individuals only exist in relation to each other, so I don’t think I can really pick out just one. They’re all about the interactions with each other. I think I’ve mostly enjoyed fleshing out Dib’s ridiculous personal universe of paranormal investigators and the dopey infighting that goes on. Or maybe the Tallest, and their uniquely horrible way of running things. See? You can’t pick just one.
Actually, it’s the Star Donkey. It’s all about the Star Donkey.
Fred: Typical answer, but it’s Zim and Dib for me. Zim is incredibly fun to color, he’s an alien with anger issues. He’s also an idiot. You get a lot of opportunities to color him doing something dumb and expressive. Also he has backpack lasers, which are always fun to render firing.
Dib may be more fun though, because he tends to end up in the worst situations in the issues I’ve worked on, such as being imprisoned next to the skeletal corpse of himself from the future. In the next issue, he gets [REDACTED] before being [REDACTED] into [REDACTED].
Warren: Dib. Mostly because I like to torture him. But I get excited every time the script calls for me to draw a character I haven’t drawn before. It’s especially exciting when it’s a character that hasn’t shown up in the comics yet.
GWW: Did you run into any roadblocks regarding copyright that may have influenced your ability to make creative choices?
Eric: Well, no, since Nickelodeon granted Oni full license to the entire INVADER ZIM property, we can pull anything from any ZIM show ever without any trouble. It’s not like they were trying to sneak out a ZIM comic without anyone noticing. They asked all the right people, and the right people patted them on the head and said, “Yes. You do that.” Sadly, they didn’t talk to DC Comics. I keep trying to write Aqualad into every story, and Oni keeps pulling him out.
Fred: For some reason Nickelodeon has been forthcoming with the rights to all the characters in the show but Invader Skoodge. Rumor is they’re planning a Spongebob crossover with him sometime in 2022 and don’t want to get the rights all tied up. But this is just a wild, unsubstantiated rumor that I heard someone make up once.
GWW: Similarly, I would imagine that you consulted, or worked closely, with Jhonen Vasquez. Depending on how much you worked with him, did it guide the creation of the comic and how did you feel it influenced its creation?
Eric: Jhonen has been “control brain” on all of the comics. I run all of my story pitches by him before I start writing, and he looks over every script when it’s done to see if it’s ZIMmish enough for his eyes. When people say the comic feels just like the show, it’s because Jhonen has sunk his mind-teeth into it. He wants the comic to be as good as the show was. Except with fewer pigs, and more Mini-Moose.
Fred: I mostly work with the editors, who work with Jhonen, so his comments are sort of passed down like a game of telephone. This probably explains why most of my edits end with the words “Purple Monkey Dishwasher.”
Warren: If by “worked closely” you mean “Jhonen would occasionally feed us gruel while we were chained to the drafting and writing tables in the basement” then yes. He’s a very benevolent overlord, actually.
GWW: Having read the series, and grown up with the show, you did an amazing job capturing the voice of the characters. While you did write the original series, did it prove at all challenging to bring back so many figures from the past?
Eric: Thanks! It was actually shockingly easy to get back in the rhythm of these characters. As I think about it, that’s kind of a scary thought. Maybe the ZIM characters live as viruses inside all of our brains, just waiting to be activated. But by what? And to what nefarious end??
ZIM’s dialogue took a little getting back into the groove. It’s easy to do ZIM badly. He’s subtler than people might think, and we promised ourselves we’d use the word “doom” as little as possible.
GWW: Since the original television series was cancelled, have you ever felt compelled to deliver something to the large fan base of the series that may not have received a proper ending from the show?
Eric: It sounds like you’re asking if we’re going to end the show in the comics. Are you asking that?? The answer is no! There will not be a final confrontation between Dib and ZIM resulting in the destruction of the entire galaxy. If we did that, we’d have to print blank issues for the rest of the run. Sure, that would be easier on all of us, but I don’t think they’d sell very well.
GWW: Similar to the prior question, has the fan base ever impacted how you’ve gone about your work?
Eric: Ummm… Not really?
I mean, sure, we’re respectful of the fan base, but we’re not planning to tie in every last piece of the universe together into an epic saga that only the fans will understand. So far we really just want to tell more weird and funny ZIM stories, with some experimental issues thrown in. We may start doing more mythology building as it goes along, or push the comics format a bit, but right now there aren’t plans for, say, a sequel to HOBO 13. (Or Tak stories No plans for Tak. Yet.)
But do fans want more “world building?” I don’t know. I’m asking you. But you can’t respond, because I’m typing this on my laptop and you’re hundreds of miles away. Oh well. At least I tried.
I think Jhonen would rather push the boundaries of what we can do in a comic than just cater to expectations, which is why Oni has published some of the artist-driven issues. They don’t look like the show, but that’s supposed to be part of the fun. The other part is complaining on internet fan boards about how they don’t look like the show. It’s a gift that keeps giving!
GWW: As the spiritual successor to the show, how has the enduring reputation of Invader Zim influenced your work on the title?
Eric: I’m… not sure what that means. I’ve tried to write stories as faithful to the original show, while also seeing what I can get away with in the comic medium. We have included Mini-Moose as a recurring character, so I guess that is officially picking up the mantle of the show and running with it, far down a long hallway, only the sound of muffled screams behind closed doors to remind us of our fate. I’m sorry, what was I talking about?
GWW: Having been a part of the original television show, what do you feel it is that has contributed to the lasting fandom surrounding Invader Zim across approximately thirteen years of no new content?
Eric: Well, for a start, it was a genuinely good show, if I do say so myself. We were lucky to have a convergence of artists and writers who really wanted to run amok in ways they couldn’t on other cartoons. On a lot of animated shows, the writers and artists are separated. They’re in different buildings, even. (That’s because people are worried they’ll interbreed and create a race of mutant animation babies that will destroy America… and then the world!)
On ZIM, we were all crunched into the same space, and we talked all the time. I would write things knowing full well they’d inspire a storyboard artist to go crazy with it. “Oh, Chris Graham is boarding this one? He’s gonna love this pig chase.” We also had actors who we knew we would take even a simple line and turn it into something hilarious. Jhonen had Richard Horvitz shout “My Tallest!” for a full minute and a half in the recording booth for BACKSEAT DRIVERS FROM BEYOND THE STARS, knowing it would be ridiculous. So yeah, it was a good show to begin with, which never hurts for getting fans.
But I think part of it is that we were cancelled before people got tired of us, or we got tired of ourselves. If ZIM had been limping into its seventh season, people would have just shrugged and said, “Oh yeah, is that still on?” The fact that we got cancelled early means people felt like they never got closure. We were a case of television interruptus. c.f. Firefly syndrome.
GWW: Finally, does having this comic provide you with an outlet for stories you may have wanted to tell but didn’t have the chance to on the show?
Eric: Yes! “Pants” (issue 8) was a “lost episode” that had been kicking around in the back of my head since we were cancelled, and I have no idea why. I pitched it a couple of times on the show, and ultimately it got shot down because there was a Jimmy Neutron special that also featured pants. “Sorry, we can’t have two pants stories on one network. Television will explode. Society will set itself on fire. People will run screaming in the streets, their eyes bleeding and their souls ripped open from the inside.”
Why did this stupid and ridiculous idea of an alien pants invasion stick with me for so long? I DON’T KNOW!! It makes no sense, but there you go.
Maybe it’s just more television interrupts.
Warren Wucinich and Fred Stresing:
GWW: Having read the series you two have done a great job capturing the style of the original television show. Considering you have about two seasons of material to draw upon, how did having something created prior help your creation of the comic?
Fred: Thanks for the kind words! The color palettes are all pretty well established in the show, so finding the right tones to fit story and mood is fairly easy. The only thing that sometimes trips me up is new characters, and finding the right colors that fit in this world can be a little challenging.
But for environments and mood lighting, etc, the show is a wealth of inspiration and reference. Sometimes I watch it while I color, and look at the previous issues for palette. It helps me get into the right mindset for the look and feel of the issue I’m doing.
Warren: Thanks! Having the show to look back on is wonderful. Even though the comic is, in many ways different, the show is still the backbone. Everything still starts there and having a strong knowledge of the show is essential.
GWW: Similarly, did having prior content maybe hinder your work on the title or limit any creative visions you may have had?
Fred: As a colorist, not really much is hindered. But I do get worried about whether a color I choose is spot-on enough, or if I am going too far with mood-lighting effecting a character’s color. Which is why I’m thankful for edits and notes!
GWW: How have you found the particular style of Invader Zim to mesh with your own artistic tastes? Has it taken you outside of your wheelhouse or do you feel that your own artistic abilities aligned well with what was already established?
Fred: The Invader Zim style lines up pretty well with my sensibilities. I’m always fond of weird sci-fi comedy, and this fits right in with that. I don’t have many projects where I get to color crazy spaceships zipping around the stars, which is always fun.
Warren: I think my style and tastes are already fairly similar to Zim, and I’d be lying if I said Jhonen’s early work on JTHM and SQUEE didn’t influence me way back when. But that being said, finding the right balance of style is pretty challenging. You don’t wan’t to copy what’s come before you, but you also don’t want to take your own style too far. It’s a bit of a balancing act but its great fun. It certainly pushes me, as an artist, to look at it all a little differently.
GWW: What have you enjoyed most about creating this title, and what has your experience been with the, quote-unquote, craziness of the Invader Zim universe?
Fred: The part I’ve enjoyed most about working on Invader Zim comics has been being able to help bring folks new stories for Invader Zim. It’s a real privilege to be able to work on a project like this, a cartoon revived in comics form that so many people who worked on the show are a part of.
As the newest member of the Invader Zim team, everyone has been super cool and welcoming. My experience has been a great one so far, and I can’t wait for everyone to read the next issues we have coming out soon!
Warren: Oh jeez, I dunno. At this point I’ve worked on the Zim comic as letterer, colorist, and now artist. And it’s all been fantastic (even the gruel!). But I think the warm, squishy, cheesy feelings I get working on something that is so beloved by so many is my favorite part.
GWW: In your experience, how has the fan based received your work? I, personally, think you both have done an amazing job capturing the essence of the original show, but what have fans thought more broadly?
Fred: Outside of one person dressed as Jareth from Labyrinth at a convention, people have been really enjoying the comics! Feedback has been super positive and I’m glad that so many folks are enjoying the books.
Warren: Wow! Thanks! I don’t usually like to read reviews while I’m working on a thing, but I certainly hope the fans like what we’re doing. If we can make the audience giggle then that’s good enough for me. But, you know, if they want to buy us nice things in appreciation, then well, who am I to say no?
Don’t forget to check out ‘Invader Zim’ #13 when it hits the shelves September 21st!