The Art That Was Invader Zim


Hannah Barham

Ah, cartoons. Nowadays, we have cartoons like PAW Patrol, The Amazing World of Gumball, etc. But what about the cartoons that literally no one remembers? For example, My Life as a Teenage Robot, El Tigre, and of course.. Invader Zim. Invader Zim dropped in 2001 on Nick, directed by Jhonen Vasquez. The show depicted an alien named Zim, who was sent on a fake mission to invade Earth and prepare the planet for complete invasion by the Irken Empire. Zim happily accepts this task, and the show shows his trials and errors in disguising as a human and reigning havoc on the planet, all while getting into multiple disputes with his classmate, Dib, who easily sees through his disguise. Zim is accompanied by his malfunctioning robot GIR, a happy go lucky robot who dresses as a green dog and constantly provides hilarious commentary on Zim’s plans. The show really challenged Nickelodeon’s criteria for “child friendly shows”. Invader Zim pushed the limit on what a cartoon could contain. For example, Zim almost killed Dib in one episode, there’s a snapshot of a bloody GIR in another episode, and in the darkest episode of it all: Zim harvested and ate human children’s organs. Jhonen Vasquez brought up many dark ideas to producers, and they’d veto his ideas. However, the show ran for a little over a year before it was canceled due to low ratings. 

As a kid, I grew up watching this show. Sometimes at three in the morning, they’d air old episodes of Invader Zim, and on the rare occasion I woke up at that time, I’d stay up purposefully to watch that show. I don’t know why my brain processed the show as “family friendly and perfect for young children”. After some time, I didn’t watch that show again as I had moved on to other shows. About a couple years ago, I was rummaging through some childhood toys and coloring books; and I had got a little flashback of watching a show about an alien boy struggling to take over Earth. As much as I tried to think of it, I could not think of the name. After a lot of Google searches and smacking my head against a wall, I finally found the title of the show and I looked it up on YouTube. I found the pilot episode, and I rewatched it. Immediately I was flooded with childhood memories, and I was taken back to that time where I was four years old dancing on a coffee table to the theme song in the living room of my old house. Now I, almost eighteen years old, still watch Invader Zim religiously. 

What exactly is the charm behind Invader Zim? What made it so likable despite being so dark and controversial? Why is it still continuing to go strong today? Well, the whole reason why the show was so lovable is exactly it: the darkness and controversy of it. No one expected such a dark show to air on Nickelodeon, let alone be aimed at children 2 to 11. The show sported body horror and some cartoon gore, and it really explored how gross humanity actually is. Invader Zim really walked along the fine line between appropriate television for children and appropriate television for adults. If Invader Zim had cuss words, it’d immediately go on Adult Swim. That’s how bad it got. But Invader Zim was such a great concept for a show, but because it aired on a children’s television network, the ideas that Jhonen originally had were scrapped because of guidelines for children’s TVs, which led to a dollar store version of what Jhonen really wanted. If the show had aired on Cartoon Network or even Adult Swim, it would have done much better on the air. The show was dropped due to low ratings. 

Invader Zim was pitched because of a successful comic that Jhonen had previously published entitled Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, which follows a man named Johnny who commits extremely grotesque murders of the people around him. The comic was way more brutal and gory than Invader Zim, so it’s a wonder how Nickelodeon thought that Jhonen Vasquez would make a child friendly show. 

Thus enter Enter the Florpus. The movie was teased in 2017, and an official trailer was dropped. The trailer showed Zim in a new light, with fresher modern day animation and artwork. It was definitely exciting to see that Zim was returning and got a makeover, and Invader Zim fans got hyped everywhere. The original voice actors would be returning with Richard Horvitz playing Zim, Andy Berman as Dib, and Rosearik Rikki Simons as GIR. The movie was set to release on Netflix in August of 2019. As scheduled the film released on Netflix, and it faced amazing success. The film still kept the charm that the 2001 series had, with the humor and original voice actors, and the plot was still the same. Zim tries to take over Earth, Dib interferes, the usual. 

All in all, Invader Zim was extremely beloved by people who grew up watching the cult classic. Despite it being canceled due to low ratings, the show continues to stream on other platforms and people continue to watch it to this day. I personally miss the show, and we can only hope that someday a revival will take place.