The existence of Invader Zim is unlikely in the first place. For some reason, Nickelodeon approached Jhonen Vasquez—a comic book author whose most famous work up until that point was a series called Johnny the Homicidal Maniac—and asked him if he wanted to make a kids’ cartoon. They regretted it almost immediately, but, even more unlikely, Zim went on to build a rabid cult following that endures over a decade later and which made possible the revival movie, Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus!.
We spoke to Jhonen and the Zim cast about the film last year in mostly vague terms but, now we’ve gotten a chance to see the movie, Jhonen was kind enough to email us answers to some deeper Florpus!-based questions. We got into some of the movie’s themes, how the Zim universe has evolved, how the Invader Zim comic book helped informed the content of the film, and how some Zim fans are scary.
There isn’t anything here that really qualifies as a spoiler, but, if you want to go in completely free of any spoiler impurities, wait until Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus! releases on Netflix on Aug. 16 and then come back and read this after. However, if you’re one of the less scary Zim fans, read on and enjoy!
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Den of Geek: Do you feel you went for an evolution of Invader Zim or in your mind was it more just like, “hey, here’s some more Zim?”
Jhonen Vasquez: Any evolution came from the need to find more structure for a significantly longer story as compared to, at most, 22 minutes of the original series as well as changes in myself over the years, but mostly this thing needed to still be Zim, and thus be “JUST MORE INVADER ZIM.” No matter how much sense or not sense Invader Zim makes transplanted from back then to now, it had to be the thing it always was, and what it was and IS is a world of screaming jerks.
I know it was your intent to, like in the Zim comics, make Gaz, Dib, and Professor Membrane more of a family. Do you feel that along with that, there was an intent to add some hopefulness to the previously nihilistic Zim universe? If so, why did you go in this direction? Is it because you’ve changed as an artist or did it just feel right for Invader Zim to change at this point? Or did I watch the movie wrong and there’s no hope in it whatsoever?
Hopefulness? HOW DARE YOU, SIR?! Honestly, it was that runtime again. This thing was originally supposed to be 48 minutes, which was daunting enough but then Nickelodeon wanted it to be 60 minutes, and I thought holy crap that’s gonna be a LOT of screaming and hysterical anger! We made the Membrane family slightly more recognizable as a family in the comics and it carried over into the movie and it’s even more helpful in the movie where it gave me a bit more to play with, something to help define character dynamics a bit more than just “THEY’RE ALL ANGRY AND THEY’RE ALL YELLING!” They still yell a lot though. Sorry.
I have some other readings of the film. Please tell me which of these, if any, are correct:
– Enter the Florpus! is a biting satire of consumer culture.
There’s some of that, but it’s way less so than in the original idea.
– Enter the Florpus! is an allegory about how we all need to come together to save the world.
There’s maybe a passing mention of that, so I’ll give you that one.
– Enter the Florpus! is an allegory about how we all need to come together to destroy the world.
I’ve seen you say that, in your mind, Invader Zim has just kept going over all these years (plus, there’s the comic). So, when it came time to do the movie was it easy to fall back into the Zim style? Or did you have to watch the old show to get back in the mindset? Or were you not even worried about that and just thought whatever you came up with would be cool?
I didn’t watch much of the show to get going on the movie. I was fresh off a small run writing some of the comics, though, and the comics pull from the same place in my head as the show did, only a bit updated, so the only challenge was in finding the right story to justify the longer runtime. When Nickelodeon was asking about me doing more Zim, I kept repeating that I’d think about it, but that it couldn’t be born of just wanting to fill a demand for more Zim or to cash in on nostalgia – I basically said I’ll let you know if something cool pops up! That was the most important thing to me – feeling okay with WHY I was doing this, and there would be no doing it if I didn’t feel as excited as I am with anything else I do, regardless of who initially wanted to see this thing happen. Eventually a bunch of weird stuff popped into my head on a drive and I thought “I want to see THAT nonsense.”
How do you feel about the fan culture surrounding Zim these days? I think it’s fair to say you used to be somewhat wary of your fan base, perhaps not without some justification. How do you feel about it now? Which is scarier: Zim fans or Johnny the Homicidal Maniac fans?
I think about growing up, being a kid and a teenager and an annoying guy in my 20s who loved talking about composers and filmmakers and video games, and it’s weird to think of myself as being the subject of other people like that. I think fans run the gamut from some of the coolest people I have ever met to sociopathic monsters raised by internet wolves. Time has not done anything to lessen the darker side of fandom.
Oh, and Zim fans. JTHM was about a homicidal maniac, sure, but it’s also a book people had to find in comic stores and actually read. Television is a whole other universe, and is much easier to fire like a shotgun into the faces and minds of people, so you’re pulling in a much larger audience, and a larger audience means a greater chance of awful.
It seems clear in Enter the Florpus! that a significant amount of time has passed within the Zim universe, and yet, at the same time, none of the characters appear to have aged. How do you explain that, Mr. Vasquez? Just how old is Dib exactly?
Dib’s always been 11 or 12 in my head. In the movie he says he’s 12 years old. As for how I explain it I’d say it has something to do with wormholes or something appropriately spacey. Also, you know how dogs are so excited to see you when you get home? I figure time is a vast, screaming nightmare for dogs and their humans leaving for an hour or so is an eternity of unending torment for the dog, so, after an eternity has passed and the human comes home, the dog is INSANELY happy to see them. Time maybe works like that for Dib waiting for Zim to show up again, only without so much happiness.
As someone who’s dipped back into an older property to revive it, what are your feelings about the role nostalgia plays in the entertainment world currently?
Like I said before, nostalgia being the driving factor is a turn-off for me. I don’t go see things because I loved a thing in a previous incarnation. I know that people WILL talk about Zim in nostalgic terms, but that’s far off from why I made the thing. I just hope people can get over themselves or their hatred of fans they think were too annoying for they themselves to enjoy a thing (one of the most pathetic reasons I know for not liking a thing!). It’d be great to just hear that someone loved the movie, liked it or didn’t like it, based on what it is, not on what memories they had of themselves as terribly dressed teens, and what it IS is just MORE ZIM.
When Netflix inevitably approaches you for an Invader Zim revival series how will you respond?
I’ve been looking for an opportunity to try out this clone of me I made specifically for working in children’s animation while I myself work on things where people’s heads explode for a bit.
Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus! will be available to stream on Netflix August 16th.
Joe Matar watches a lot of cartoons and a lot of sitcoms. He’s obsessed with story structure so that’s what all his reviews are about. Joe also writes about video games on occasion. He has an MA in English if you can believe it. Read more of his work here. Follow Joe on Twitter for more fun @joespirational!
Read and download the Den of Geek SDCC 2019 Special Edition Magazine right here!