Interview With Aaron Alexovich Of Invader ZIM
During San Diego Comic Con, I got the opportunity to interview Aaron Alexovich who is currently drawing the new Invader ZIM comic for Oni Press. The interview took place in a backroom that neither of us really knew existed in the Oni Press booth on the show floor. I was personally very excited about this interview as an Invader ZIM fan from a long time ago, and I’ve been excited about the comic for months now. I was also very professional and proceeded to forget all of my notes because it was 3pm on Sunday and I was a little brain dead. Alexovich was very understanding about it though.
WatchPlayread: You’re mostly known for your work on Invader ZIM.
Aaron Alexovich: Yes.
WPR: Which was a real seminal show for a generation of kids, can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved with that show initially?
Alexovich: Oh, I actually got involved with Invader ZIM because of some short films that I made in animation school.
Alexovich: Yeah, I went to the California Institute of the Arts which is this school that Disney set up to train animators. I did not go to Disney. I ended up going to Nickelodeon after Jhonen [Vasquez] saw this dark, spooky short film that I made. They have this big end of the year show and I did this film with a character called Serenity Rose. He just happened to come to our show and liked what he saw and hired me as a character designer straight out of school, twenty two years old.
Alexovich: it was like my first, big professional job.
WPR: Yeah, I saw that on your website.
Alexovich: it was insane. It’s how animation school is supposed to work and it never does. So I’m a rarity.
WPR: So how did you guys decide to bring it back now as a comic?
Alexovich: Oni decided actually.
WPR: They approached you guys?
Alexovich: They grabbed the rights about two years ago, I think. I remember about two years ago here at San Diego Comic Con Jhonen came up to me and said “I think Oni is making a ZIM comic.” And I said “Oh I should be involved with that. I should at least do some sort or something”. He just nodded and was like “okay” then a lot of time passed and we’ve all moved onto other things but eventually it came back around and here I am making a ZIM comic, back in the ZIM world, being warped again by ZIM.
WPR: How has your Con experience been? How has the reception to the comic been?
Alexovich: it’s been intense. This is the first time where I’ve ever done a signing and it had to be a ticketed event. I didn’t know that was a thing, that they ticked these things. Usually, my con experience is, I sit at a table and wait for people to approach and I have to talk them into buying my book. That kind of thing. Here is more of an assembly line form really. People have already bought it, they’ve already signed up for it, there is no convincing that needs to be done just here’s the book; move along, move along, move along. I don’t think I prefer that? I kind of like my little table, I like to have a conversation with someone.
WPR: Yeah, Artist Alley is one of my favorite parts of any convention.
Alexovich: I love Artist Alley. I exhibit in Artist Alley in like three different conventions, three or four, every year there’s more conventions that I’m doing. I still have that experience over at the Slave Labor Graphics table.
WPR: Yeah, I went over and said “hi” to them on Wednesday.
Alexovich: Yeah, I have a book over there too with Serenity Rose the character that got me my job on Invader ZIM. She has a comic book now and that’s pretty fun.
WPR: Want to elaborate a bit more on your stuff over at Slave Labor?
Alexovich: Yeah, well, Serenity Rose is—okay I’ll give you the elevator pitch.
Alexovich: The pitch that I’ve practiced over the years. Serenity Rose the story of this horribly social phobic little witch who, unfortunately, lives in a town that makes all of its money on supernatural tourism. So she’s this shy little thing stuck in this terrifying Disneyland basically. So it’s like a horror comedy with a mix of magic and horrible things that will tear your throat out. It’s fun; I’ve been doing it for ten years off and on. It was a webcomic and then published by Slave Labor in issue form in like 2003. We’ve done a compilations since then.
WPR: I think I remember seeing it back when I was reading Jhonen’s stuff.
Alexovich: I get that a lot.
WPR: Yeah, the Johnny the Homicidal Maniac stuff which was literally the first comic I ever read.
Alexovich: Oh really?
Alexovich: Oh my god that is an incredible introduction you had there.
WPR: It really was. I had people sending messages with the “F—you Mr. Bear you speak lies” and I was like “what are you talking about?”
Alexovich: [laughing] Oh my god. I remember the first time I saw it, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, I went to—this is when I was at CalArts—a friend of mine, Peter Browngardt, who actually went on to create Uncle Grandpa for Cartoon Network. He took me to this comic shop and he was like “there is this comic you have to see because you’re definitely going to like it.” I picked up Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and I was like “did I draw this myself in like a fugue state?” I couldn’t believe how in sync I was with him. It was almost like it was meant to be that I was going to work on that TV show eventually.
WPR: I haven’t had a chance to read the issue yet because of Comic Con and it came out Wednesday.
Alexovich: It’s very fresh.
WPR: Hot off the presses!
Alexovich: It really is. Still steaming.
WPR: How tonally different is it from the show?
Alexovich: Tonally it is not different at all.
WPR: I imagine there are less restrictions here than Nickelodeon.
Alexovich: There are less restrictions but we’re not really trying to push it too far. There’s probably some stuff in there that Nickelodeon would have had trouble with. Tonally it’s the same, the same world, and people aren’t going to be freaking out about massive shifts. There are minor shifts that I’ve seen people freaking out about.
WPR: Really? Comic fans are weird that way.
Alexovich: They are. There’s super weird. Some of them, most of them, are amazing but some of them. Okay, so, one of the minor changes in this comic is that Dib now has, and this is so small, he has hair on the sides of his head. He used to have his head shaved, on the sides, and somebody went on tear, just so angry his hair was not shaved. Like, this is we’re against now? This is what we have to deal with?
WPR: Comic book fans are notorious for hating change.
Alexovich: Yeah but this is such a minor one. Like, who cares?
WPR: Well think about any time a major superhero has gone through a costume change and how it’s received.
Alexovich: Yeah, think of this; super hero Dib doesn’t have the red underpants on anymore. Come on man that’s so 1930’s just like that hair was so 1990’s. Except that it’s not. It’s coming back, isn’t it? To shave the side of your head?
WPR: Oh yeah.
Alexovich: Dib likes to stay one step behind the trends.
WPR: Is it going to be an ongoing series?
Alexovich: Yes. They want it to keep going as long as it can. I’m going to be drawing the first five. Jhonen is writing the first two and then he’s coming back for number five. One of the writers from the show, Eric Trueheart, is doing three so this is totally legit. It’s the old crew, we all know the tone, and with issue six we don’t know what happens. Jhonen is still going to be overseeing stuff.
WPR: I imagine he would.
Alexovich: We’ll see what direction it goes. Hopefully some wild, new direction that we wouldn’t have even thought of.
WPR: I’m trying to think of what else because this is what happens when I forget my notes.
Alexovich: oh no!
WPR: Yes, damn it.
Alexovich: Were you a fan of Invader ZIM?
WPR: I loved Invader ZIM. Yes, I was a huge fan of that show. It was more my brothers generation as the real influential one, for me it was Ren and Stimpy.
Alexovich: Oh yeah me too. I was all about Ren and Stimpy back in the day. I think Ren and Stimpy was freakier than Invader ZIM.
WPR: Yes, absolutely.
Alexovich: There is an episode of Ren and Stimpy where half the episode is just Ren contemplating killing Stimpy and he’s just standing over his staring at his hands with freaky background effects behind him. That was a kids show.
WPR: I think people are drawn to that dark, cartoon humor.
Alexovich: I think so.
WPR: And that’s something Invader ZIM really embodies.
Alexovich: Kids want to see what their level is. They want to see how scared they can be before it’s just too much. It’s like a test of bravery like how far can you walk into the haunted house. That’s what ZIM is, for some kids, that they had to endure it. It was a rite of passage.
WPR: Have you had a lot of kids come up?
Alexovich: A few, usually with parents, you know it’s Comic Con kids just wander around. But there have been a few and they seem excited about it which is cool that their parents are keeping them on the ZIM train.
WPR: Parents are like “Ohh, I watched this show as a kid and now it’s a comic. Let’s read it together.”
Alexovich: Exactly. The next generation is coming. So hopefully this series can keep going forever. We can keep warping kids for decades to come.
WPR: Like I said I’m really, really anxious to read it.
Alexovich: I’m sure you could get one here.
WPR: I already did! I think I have all of the variants that are here.
Alexovich: You have all of them?
WPR: I think so.
Alexovich: You probably have all the one’s here. There’s seriously like thirty of them?
WPR: I think I did. I found all the one’s I could find here.
Alexovich: This is my first experience in the variant cover world and I don’t know a thing about it.
WPR: I like Skottie Young variants. [gestures to my collection of Skottie Young pins on my lanyard]
Alexovich: Oh my god I just noticed those. They are awesome.
WPR: Aren’t they disgustingly adorable?
Alexovich: He’s such a cool guy.
WPR: He is; I got to meet him.
Alexovich: He’s actually been a huge supporter of my work and he’s a big Serenity Rose fan. I’m actually writing a Secret Wars story for Marvel right now.
WPR: Oh you are?
Alexovich: Yeah and I think it’s because he sent one of the Marvel editors over to my table.
WPR: I didn’t even know that. Are you allowed to talk about that at all?
Alexovich: I don’t know how much I can say about the story but it’s coming out in September and it’s half of one the Secret Wars Journal comics. It’s Doctor Doom meets Millie the Model story. [laughs] Everyone knows Millie the Model! And it’s great to just write something and not knowing what you’re going to get back from the artist. So far—the artist is this guy named Diogo Saito
who I guess has some Spider-Man or some X-Men stories—
WPR: The name sounds familiar.
Alexovich: He’s an incredible artist. His style is very much in line with what I like and it’s that kind of mix of cute and terrifying so it’s really going to work for the goofy story I came up with. It’s been fun.
WPR: Do you find it kind of weird to switch from being an artist to being a writer?
Alexovich: No, I did one called ELDRITCH! which is kind of a Lovecraftian comedy.
Alexovich: I did it with Slave Labor and my friend this incredibly artist Drew Osh who actually did the Edward Scissorhands comics for IDW. So I had a little bit of experience writing for something where I didn’t have to draw which I still prefer. I still prefer doing everything myself but even in that case, with ELDRITCH!, we were kind of collaborating on page layouts and character design. This time I was just throwing it out there and I didn’t know what I was going to get back. I mentioned on twitter that it’s kind of like how Voyager on Star Trek and then Veeger comes back. You know, just this warped version of what you thought—just doing things I never would have never crossed my mind but that are awesome and beautiful. I couldn’t be happier with the pages I’ve seen so far. I’d like to do more of that kind of thing.
WPR: This is definitely going to open some doors, I would think.
Alexovich: Maybe. We’ll see.
WPR: I’m curious to see what the sales figures will be because I’m seen so many people who are so excited—
Alexovich: for ZIM?
Alexovich: Yeah, yeah, it seems to be doing really well for them and it’s only been a week.
WPR: It’s been less than a week. It just came out Wednesday.
Alexovich: That’s right it has been less than a week.
WPR: You guys had these printed and ready on preview night.
Alexovich: It was right up to the wire making this comic. [laughs]
WPR: I believe it.
Alexovich: Jhonen’s very exacting, everything has to be just right, which I respect. It’s his baby and he wants things to be perfect. So we were all fighting to get that out there.
WPR: Are you guys going to be monthly, every other month, do you have a schedule?
Alexovich: Monthly, it’s on the schedule as monthly. After I leave and they’re trying to set up another team I don’t know if the schedule is going to be that way, so who knows. We’ll see.
WPR: For the next five issues anyway.
Alexovich: We will definitely have the first five done on time. I think they have number six set up pretty well too.
WPR: Are there any major storylines you and everyone are looking forward to telling?
Alexovich: For number three Eric wrote something called The Star Donkey.
WPR: I like the sound of that already.
Alexovich: I don’t know if I can tell you anymore about The Star Donkey but just think Galatus. That’s a fun design.
WPR: Is it going to be a “monster of the week” type of thing or is there going to be an overarching story?
Alexovich: No, it’s going to be like the show, just madness everywhere.
WPR: Is there anything else you’re working on besides this and the Secret Wars story?
Alexovich: No, I wrapped up Serenity Rose for now so after ZIM I’ll be working on a children’s book probably. Another dark, spooky, kind of a children’s book.
WPR: People read Grimm’s Fairy Tales so that stuff works.
Alexovich: I grew up on Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark.
WPR: I remember those books.
Alexovich: To this day that is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. How is this for kids? But I love that and I want to keep inflicting that kind of thing on our nation’s youth.
WPR: Why not? People like to keep kids nice and safe, why not inflict a little horror on them?
Alexovich: Oh yeah. My favorite movie growing up was Gremlins and that was terrifying and gory.
WPR: It’s one of those, looking back, “How did I end up watching this?”
Alexovich: My parents didn’t really care.
WPR: Mine didn’t really either.
Alexovich: My Dad was really into monster movies. Your parents didn’t really care either?
WPR: No, they didn’t really care what I watched or read that much.
Alexovich: That’s how art is made.
WPR: I write, so I absolutely agree.
Alexovich: Oh you do?
WPR: Yeah, not for comics, but I’ve written a few novels I’d like to get published someday.
Alexovich: That’s so cool. I’d like to do that someday but I’m not sure I have it in me.
WPR: I’m sure you do. Just think of all the stuff you write for your comics.
Alexovich: That’s true.
WPR: You’re probably better at dialogue than most novelist to be honest. Comic writing, I imagine, is similar to script writing in that you have to be very dialogue orientated.
Alexovich: Yeah, they are similar beasts because you only have part of the process there. You’ve only got the audio, I guess, the visual isn’t up to you. There’s that detachment.
WPR: Anything you want to add or share or promote?
Alexovich: Nope, just keep buying those ZIM comics. I’m certain if you buy two million of them each the show will come back. [laughs]
WPR: [laughs] Hmm, should I put an asterisk in the interview “does not guarantee this”
Alexovich: No, two million copies each person, that is a guarantee.
WPR: Awesome. Well, thank you very much.
Alexovich: Yeah, thank you.
Then I decided to break all professionalism and asked Alexovich if he’d be willing to sign my copy of Invader ZIM #1 because I wasn’t able to make the signing that he was having before this interview. I took the time to transcribe the entire thing because this was a really fun interview and a great way to end my San Diego Comic Con experience as press for the first time. Invader ZIM #1 is on sale at your local store and ZIM fans; all we need to do is buy two million copies each and the show comes back. Let’s get on that.