Invader Zim Takes Over Comic Books
By Andrea Purcell

Invader Zim Vol. 1Invader Zim is back and he's taking over comic books! For fans of the fun and frenetic series that aired on Nickelodeon in the 2000s, Oni Press' new ongoing comic series doesn't miss a beat.

Would-be alien conqueror Zim, his robot sidekick GIR, human nemesis Dib, and the whole cast is back to wreak mayhem and, in Zim's case, TAKE OVER THE WORLD! The story picks right up from the end of the television series and dumps the cast into a whole new mess. Expect craziness, insanity, and the return of the Space Donkey.

Invader Zim creator Jhonen Vasquez and comic series writer Eric Trueheart spoke to Diamond Bookshelf about where they're taking Zim from here. (Click on the cover image for a preview of the graphic novel.)

Invader Zim Volume 1 ($19.99, 978-1-62010-293-0) is scheduled for January release and is suggested for Young Adult (12+) readers who love off the wall zaniness or are fans of the original series.

Diamond BookShelf: Has anything changed in adapting the characters and stories for comics?

Jhonen Vasquez: Aside from being much quieter, the comics are pretty much a continuation of the series for the core team working on the first five issues. It's not like we're re-visiting anything or wallowing in nostalgia since it's not nostalgic for us. We're just doing what we do and I think it's why the show was what it was and it's why the comics just feel like far less animated versions of the show.

I actually see the comics as being much closer to what we want to do since it's such an intimate setup, a handful of artists and writers working to make a thing with minimal interference, so just a month or so after writing a joke or drawing a panel, that issue is on shelves and fans are reacting. Animation takes YEARS to get up and running and then, even in the smoothest process, many many months between having an idea and then seeing it actually turned into an episode. Right now, the comics are a great outlet and as close to spontaneity as I can get next to acting these stories out on the sidewalk for pedestrians.

The Invader Zim comics give you a chance to expand the universe for the characters, can you tell us what to expect?

I think you can definitely expect for there to be things in the comic that would cost way too much to ever attempt in any satisfying way in animation. Back on the series, Eric Trueheart always wanted to work a parade into an episode, but time and budget always made us cut it out. I don't even recall why there was a parade but there would have been hundreds of characters and I think even elephants were involved. Now, in the comic, we don't have to worry about any overseas animation budgets and such, so we can throw in that parade and only have to worry about a having to find a new illustrator when we lose another one to exhaustion or heart failure.

Do you have a favorite joke or panel that you've written?

That's a tough question. I think everything I've written so far is the best thing ever but I'm way too humble to ever admit that. There's a bit in issue 4 where ZIM barges into a fast food kitchen and sinks into a vat of boiling tuna sauce and the bored employees watch until he is gone and then lazily go back to work. Dunno if that's my favorite thing but I loved how that page turned out.

Invader Zim has a huge fan following. Are you getting good responses about these new stories?

The response has been mostly very positive as far as I know! There were a few people initially who complained that the comics didn't make any sound and that there wasn't voice acting, but they have maybe never operated a comic with their imaginations before, so there's not a whole lot you can do about that. Most people have been incredibly nice and they seem happy to have these characters back and handled by people that clearly care about doing it right.

Which character is your favorite to write or that you have the most in common with?

Aside from GIR, I think I have a lot in common with most of the main characters, but the one I've been enjoying writing for the most lately has been Gaz [Dib's sister]. I feel I have a lot to make up for and that she was fairly undercooked in the animated series, veering dangerously close to the stereotypical killjoy female character in a show ruled by the main event boys. I just think she's got more personality and a bit more of an actual presence besides just being angry. She's still real angry though.

How much farther can you take Zim's story? Is there a definitive end in sight?

We're talking about a world where it's not unusual for a story to end with all the characters dying and the universe ending and then, in the next story everything's just fine again. Characters even reference when some terrible thing went down when, really, they should all be dead, so I dunno when there would be an actual ending.

Would you ever consider having spin-offs or one-shots focused on fan favorite characters like GIR or Dib?

I think INVADER ZIM, despite the name, can focus on several of the characters on their own, and I think that's a better way of handling it than to break a character out in a way that might make things feel weird or forced. I think the lazy thing would be to focus on GIR, but he makes no sense without the context of being butted up against more fleshed out characters.

Diamond BookShelf: As a former writer for the TV series of Invader Zim, has anything changed in adapting the characters and stories for comics?

Eric Trueheart: The biggest change is that the characters are now silent and don't move. They're just drawings on a page that stare spookily back at you. They know what you're thinking. They know how to get inside your head. Actually… In some ways, it's remarkably similar. All of the characters have definitely been alive inside Jhonen's mind, so it was almost second-nature when we jumped back into telling stories about them.

That being said, now there's the new challenge of being funny on paper as opposed to being funny on a screen. I try to concoct the scenes in ways that I know that Aaron Alexovich (the series' artist) will make hilarious even though they're not moving. Aaron has the amazing ability to give the impression of an animated cartoon with only still images. He probably made a deal with a monkey's paw to get it. Right now we're mostly telling stories in the same vein as the original show, but tweaked for comics. Though I know Jhonen wants to push the boundaries of what he can do with ZIM in a comic book format, so it all may evolve as time goes on.

The creator of Invader Zim, Jhonen Vasquez, collaborated with you on the stories in this collection. Did he give you any valuable advice for writing this series?

Nope! Jhonen doesn't really give advice. I just throw bad ideas at him until he gets angrier and angrier, then white-hot fire explodes from his skull. After that, we sit in his living room and kick around actually-good ideas until we come up with stuff we like. Ideas make noise when you kick them. It's fun.

Writing the Invader Zim comics gives you a chance to expand the universe for the characters; can you tell us what to expect?

Well, we're not going to do a 12-issue "Tak vs. The Reisty" epic any time soon, if that's what people are hoping for, but already Jhonen is slipping in a little more Irken lore. And if you pay close attention, you may notice that Gaz has evolved a little, too. She's not quite as much of the "minigoth" that she was in the original show. Jhonen has said that he wants to expand on the Dib 'n' Gaz relationship, so you can probably expect more of that. But mostly I think readers will just see the "World o' ZIM" expressed beyond the confines of an 11-minute cartoon. And it will be funny. Jhonen is always deeply committed to horrible ridiculousness. It's his super power… AND HIS CURSE!!!!!

Do you have a favorite joke or panel that you've written? Or a favorite piece of art from Aaron Alexovich?

I don't have any one favorite joke, but I was over-frikkin-joyed that I got to write a story where the words "Star Donkey" featured so prominently. Some writers go their whole careers and never pull that off. (I'm looking at you, Ernest Stinkin' Hemingway.) And there are definitely a few panels in that issue I would love to blow up to wall-sized and hang in my living room. I particularly like the one of GIR looking at the ancient alien hieroglyphics and intoning the words… "STAR DONKEY!" Maybe I should blow that one up larger than wall-sized. That would encourage me to get a larger wall.

Aaron always has unexpected bits of hilarity scattered over every issue. There's a super hilarious panel — and it's tiny — of ZIM simply fleeing an angry mob in issue four. That’s all it is, but it makes me laugh just looking at it. Jhonen also throws in jokes that make me laugh out loud. My favorite line in issue two was "I get real talky when I'm on fire…"

Invader Zim has a huge fan following. Are you getting good responses about these new stories?

So far they've all been shockingly positive about how the comic has turned out. It's weird. Usually the more enthusiastic a fan base is, the more the hate new material. So I'm really looking forward to the day when the fans decide we've ruined everything, and the only good stuff was what we made back when they were ten years old. You know, like the fans do with "Doctor Who?" When all our fans hate us, I'll know we've finally arrived.

Which character is your favorite to write or that you have the most in common with?

That's a tough one. I like something about all of them really. I can't say I have a favorite. I love ZIM's megalomania. I love GIR, but I always have to be careful not to make him too useful or too sane. Dib is heroic but hopeless on some level, which is always fun to write. Maybe I like Prof. Membrane the best, because his reasons for looking down on everyone else are scientifically sound.

Do you think Zim will ever bring glory to the Irken Empire?

If he does, the series is over. Think about that for a moment.

Or maybe don't, because then you might stop reading.