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Invader Zim’s creator on the alien’s return: ‘What I’m making isn’t going to be the best episode’

Creator Jhonen Vasquez talks to Polygon about the difficulties of reviving a beloved show

Art of Invader Zim Nickelodeon

Invader Zim creator Jhonen Vasquez can’t promise that the long-awaited Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus! — the first new episode of Nickelodeon’s cult-classic dark comedy in more than 15 years — will be better than, or even as good as, the cartoon you remember.

The way he sees it, it almost definitely won’t be.

”What I’m making isn’t going to be the best episode of Invader Zim,” Vasquez told Polygon just ahead of the creator’s appearance at San Diego Comic-Con, where he and the rest of the team are sharing first details about the series’ one-off reboot.

”I would be battling people’s childhoods and trying to carve out space for a new favorite thing, and that’s the worst attitude to have when making this stuff.”

It’s a fair point when it comes to these nostalgia-fueled revivals, of which Nickelodeon has been building a whole roster over the last year. First came a 2017 TV movie that sought to conclude a major plotline on Hey Arnold!, which ended in 2004; then the kids’ cable network announced that Rocko’s Modern Life will be back for a one-hour special in 2018 after 22 years off the air. Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus! is third in the expanding lineup, and with an entire series of Rugrats reboots now planned, Nickelodeon is forcing grown-up fans to reckon with their childhoods on a regular basis.

Kids who watched Invader Zim during its brief run between 2001 and 2002 have had nearly two decades to build up the cartoon. The goofy sci-fi cartoon developed a certain kind of dedicated fanbase because of its surreal, even nihilistic sense of humor. Invader Zim looked and felt out of place when it premiered in 2001 alongside The Fairly OddParents; it told discomforting stories about an alien wanting to kill all humans, but without sacrificing silliness.

Still, Zim was a Nickelodeon show that didn’t feel right for Nickelodeon, even if that wasn’t the intention.

”The mission was not necessarily to make a kids’ show, and it wasn’t to make a show trying to shock people, either,” he said. “It’s just a particular kind of stupid.”

Kids with a high tolerance for weirdness found the combination hilarious and unique. So did adults, many of whom caught onto the show through its copious Hot Topic merch that has wildly outlasted the show. Thanks in part to that retail relationship, fans have had a long time to put Invader Zim on a pedestal and see it as a trailblazer, not just a Nick cartoon. And that may be where our disappointment could come from, if we don’t temper our expectations like Vasquez warns.

A poster for Enter the Florpus! released by Nickelodeon during San Diego Comic-Con.
A poster for Enter the Florpus! released by Nickelodeon during San Diego Comic-Con, alongside the debut teaser.

Maybe we feel this way from a rose-colored lens, but Enter the Florpus! doesn’t look like it will stray all that far from the original series. Its first teaser is filled with the same, familiar gross-out humor, sci-fi battles and Zim’s adorable companion Gir falling on his face. Between the montage of clips and Nickelodeon’s premise for the film — Zim falls into a depression after he’s abandoned by his idols, the Almighty Tallest, leaving an opening for his enemy Dib to finally expose him as an alien — Enter the Florpus! seems like a return to disturbing, comic form.

It’s important to remember that we’ve all changed, though, and both our and Vasquez’s tastes have too. Maybe Invader Zim won’t come back as the show it once was; and maybe that version of the show is the one that Vasquez no longer wants to do. When Enter the Florpus! airs, we could even realize that we’re better off finding the new Zim less than perfect, by our nostalgic standards.

”No matter that I’ve changed and want to show the world, ‘Look at what I can do now,’ you can’t bring that to Zim, because Zim is about not growing or learning any lessons no matter how many horrible things you do.”

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