Invader ZIM: Enter the Florpus arrives on Netflix today with the aim of conquering the Earth at long last! It’s been 13 years, almost to the day, since Jhonen Vasquez‘s Nicktoon was last on the air. However, the title alien menace had a tough time getting any regular airings on Nickelodeon and its affiliate networks. And fellow Nicktoon Hey Arnold! and its movie treatment didn’t quite get the numbers that the parent network was looking for. Enter Netflix. The streaming giant recently released the Nickelodeon-backed special Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, and just one week later, they’re also distributing the Invader ZIM movie to the masses.
I had a chance to chat with Vasquez about his iconic creation and the show’s twisting, turning path to production over the last 20 or so years. We talked about how this particular special came together, the decisions behind its unexpected animation styles, and the idea to drop viewers right into Zim’s story as if no time had passed. Vasquez also gets rather candid about his experiences producing Invader Zim shows over the years, and about how he sees his characters and the world they inhabit. Highlights from the interview follow below; the full audio is available as part of the new episode of Saturday Mourning Cartoons, our animation podcast. Be sure to watch the special itself on Netflix here, and please note that there are spoilers ahead.
Take a listen to our review and interview below:
Invader Zim has had an interesting run at Nickelodeon over the years. So how did this special come together? When did you first conceive of the idea for it?
Jhonen Vasquez: The special came together from years and years of Nickelodeon sort of bringing it up. One time I went in to pitch a completely different show and the first half hour of the meeting was just them saying, “So, Zim, huh?” I’m like, “Yeah.” I think it was kind of hard for them to ignore the fan response over the years.
And a lot of the people at Nickelodeon over the years were a lot more supportive, because they were the people who are working under the people who were in charge of the programming back in the day. And so these people ended up becoming the higher ups and they just had a soft spot for Zim. Which is funny because anytime I talk to people or hear from people who hear that I’m doing more Zim stuff, They’re just like, “What? How are you working with Nickelodeon again? Didn’t they screw you over before?”
It’s interesting hearing about how people perceive these networks all as giant monster corporations; they’re not people. I mean, I guess legally they’re people. They just happen to be whoever is working there at the time. And back in the day there were people and now they’re just a completely different set of people. But when this movie got going, it was just a far more supportive environment than we’ve ever had. The timing just happened to work out.
2015, 2016? I think the comics had been coming out. They’re doing well and I just was a lot more receptive to the idea of doing more Zim as opposed to the last several thousand years. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t something that was really pushing me. I didn’t really want to do more. It’s not that I wanted to avoid it. It’s just I had other stuff on my mind.
What was it about this story that made it the right one to move forward with?
Vasquez: You know, honestly this idea made sense just because it was the first one that… It’s hard to describe. It was the first one that didn’t feel important, if that makes any sense. It was just the one that felt most natural for Zim. It was just: Here’s more Zim! It was the one that felt like it wasn’t trying to impress upon you how much time has passed or anything. And it felt natural to me. I didn’t want it to feel like some big event of, “Here comes your childhood again.” And I go cashing in on nostalgia and just the last thing I want to do. And for the longest time after I finally agreed to consider doing more stuff, I basically said, I’ll think about it, but it has to be something that comes from me. That doesn’t come from other people’s desire to see more of Zim.
It should just feel like, oh, that’s funny. And that could be fun to do. I really wanted to stay away from making any thing feel like unnaturally focusing on the return of anything. Like Zim just shows up in the movie. There’s not like shots of his feet walking down a hallway. It’s just bullshit. It should feel like people just tuned in and Zim is still on the air. That was a big motivator for me for the story telling and the approach. I mean, Zim’s always overblown. Everything about Zim seems to be a huge deal. But it’s not a huge deal that it’s been gone for so long.
I love two things about the opening of this special: One, you find out that Zim’s just been hiding in the toilet for 15 years and cackling maniacally because he’s been thinking about his plans.
Vasquez: Yeah. He loves it. He can’t believe how amazing this plan is.