Fans of the cult classic Nickelodeon cartoon Invader Zim tend to zero in on creator Jhonen Vasquez like the whole series fell out of his head fully formed, which is somewhat understandable, as the show’s art and writing feel much like the singular vision of one lone weirdo. But, get this! Invader Zim was actually a whole production with a budget and a crew and everything! And, Eric Trueheart, one of the writers responsible for some of the most iconic Zim episodes, is here to prove it with The Medium-Sized Book of Zim Scripts: Vol. 1: Pigs ‘n’ Waffles.
I imagine many fans would have been happy with a book packed solely with scripts cover-to-cover. However, there’s a nice structure to what Trueheart has done in this book instead, introducing each script by relating the history of how the idea for the episode was formed and developed, then including the script, and then concluding with stray observations. He also uses some space after each script to tell the Zim fan wiki everything they got wrong about the episode, in a section titled “THINGS THE ZIM WIKI GETS WRONG” which is pretty funny.
When it comes to animation, behind the scenes stuff typically focuses on the art, so it’s a treat to get some insight from a writer’s perspective. The scripts themselves are interesting in that they give you some idea how much of a group effort Zim was. Though the dialogue is largely as it is in the show (it’s impressive that generally even the silliest lines were actually put to paper first and not adlibbed), artists were clearly afforded quite a lot of creative freedom to interpret descriptions, which are much simpler on the page compared to the strikingly weird and bonkers imagery of the finished productions.
Trueheart explains that the scripts in this book are not the absolute final (or “conformed”) drafts. However, they’re certainly not the first drafts either and—as a pretty big Zim fan, but certainly not one who has memorized every line of dialogue—these all read rather familiarly. To get a better idea of how many changes a script goes through from first to final draft, I feel I would’ve preferred to see the earliest draft possible. However, Trueheart has dug up other supplemental materials that let us in on the many steps of the creative process.
For the first episode he wrote on his own, the extremely good “Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy,” Trueheart provides his original outline, which is awfully brave of him as most writers I know don’t usually like anyone seeing their work from such an early stage. He also includes a series of paragraphs about potential ideas, some of which made it into the show, some of which never got past the idea stage. Additionally, there’s an interview with Rikki Simons, color artist and voice of Gir, as well as one with Bryan Konietzko, co-creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender and former Zim board artist. We also get a peek into the series’ ongoing friction with Nickelodeon higher-ups with the inclusion of an executive’s extensive notes on “Battle Dib.”
In general, however, The Medium-Sized Book of Zim Scripts is not deeply interested in providing juicy details about Nickelodeon drama. Zim’s cancellation is covered, but told much like how it happened: abruptly and unceremoniously. If you’re looking for stories about that crazy guy Jhonen Vasquez, you also don’t really get that here. In fact—aside from a hilarious introduction about how the first time Trueheart saw Vasquez, he was having filters put over the lamps in the Zim offices that were supposed to be red but instead made everything pink—all the Jhonen stories in the book are inane digressions in which he’s presented doing something like feeding an intern to some manner of Lovecraftian beast while listening to a show pitch. There’s quite a lot of these sorts of digressions in the book (some very funny, some less so) and lots of references to pigs and waffles, but, really, what did you expect from a dude who wrote for Invader Zim?
Eric Trueheart’s The Medium-Sized Book of Zim Scripts: Vol. 1: Pigs ‘n’ Waffles is for the niche audience of Invader Zim fans who are interested in the show’s writing process. The fact it’s not an official Nickelodeon product means Trueheart can peel back the curtain a little bit on the network drama (and also use some naughty swears!), but that’s not really what the book is about. However, if you were ever interested in how the words got put together to eventually become that crazy alien cartoon that Nickelodeon had no idea how to market, this book has your name written all over it. I mean, not literally. Eric Trueheart’s name is on it, but you get it.