Jhonen Vasquez is back. It sounds peculiar to make that cliche statement about a small press comics auteur who lucked into a subversive Nickelodeon cartoon almost 15 years ago. He hasn’t been heard from much since, and these days even Johnny Ryan can get a Nickelodeon cartoon. Suddenly, Invader Zim returns to Jhonen’s medium of choice and although he isn’t drawing it, how would you tell? Aaron Alexovich’s pencils ape his style as well as the most skilled of the DeviantArt generation who grew up imitating Zim. In a way, he’s drawing to look more like Vasquez’s infamously graphic, gut-bustingly hilarious and occasionally profound Slave Labor Graphics series from the late 90s, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squee! and I Feel Sick, the latter of which was a direct statement of his feelings immediately following two seasons on Zim. He – and Alexovich – are more expressive than the lumbering limitations of TV animation. Simon “Hutt” Troussellier’s colors are slightly more varied than the stylized pink, green and purple tri-tone scheme of the show while Megan Lawton’s inks are also more skilled than the show’s digital uniform. Warren Wucinick’s letters complete the attention to detail in replicating the Jhonen / Johnny feel.
The comedy is what you’d hope for from Vasquez, who is long out of practice making explicity bloody and angry humor comics but hasn’t lost any of the instincts for humorous insanity that landed him the kids’ show. The comic’s audience is presumably the 13 year old children of Invader Zim fans who were conceived during the show’s brief run: on the first page a hoodied little twerp named Recap Kid who breathlessly summarizes the premise of Zim like a geek convention fanboy who ends his rant with a characteristically Jhonen Vasquez kind of statement: “…Zim is really awful at being an INVADER. Ahahhahah! HE’S SO AWFUL AND THAT’S WHY I LAUGH!” More than a replicating the surface character and background designs, Alexovich’s art flows comfortably within Vasquez’s often lightning fast pacing of dialogue using lots of panels, and mock-cinematic beats. The sole misstep in the entire script is a half page 80s movie training montage joke, but every page is crackling with energy.
In 2001 fans marveled at his spidery art and insane sense of humor being well translated into a Nickelodeon series acceptable for broadcast standards. In 2015 the marvel is the creator’s return to cartooning in any medium, let alone comics. Vasquez acknowledges the comeback by making the debut issue about the series’ protagonist kid genius Dib (one remembers, momentarily, the proliferation of kid genius characters around this time) who has become an obese shut-in waiting for the return of Zim – the real one, not the cartoon, although one also remembers Vasquez mocking his cult in his comics even before he had a TV deal. When Zim returns, Dib returns by getting back into fighting shape. An author’s auto-critique? Unlike all his comics work, the cartoon never expressed a personal point of view, and that’s one thing which a new comic can aspire toward.
I don’t think Invader Zim necessitated a new comic book, but hey, whatever draws out its talented recluse of a creator.
The Returnening; writer, Jhonen Vasquez; penciller, Aaron Alexovich; inker, Megan Lawton; colorist, Simon “Hutt” Troussellier; letterer, Warren Wucinik; publisher, Oni Press.