You might think, based on a lot of what I’ve detailed here in these posts over the past ten years, that working on my INVADER ZIM show was pretty fraught with peril and sinister dealings. I can see how you could come to that conclusion after reading about the fury of Frank Conniff, disintegrating cheese-babies, and rapacious ghosts. I can’t stress enough that these things were just a matter-of-fact way of life while working on the production and were, good or bad, what colored our lives and times back then.
When I strap myself into my writing engine each night, naked and greased up, preparing these posts for uploading the following morning, I don’t go into it thinking this one will be a happy one, this one will be a sad one, this one will be an angry one. The process is nothing of the sort. It’s just a matter of what comes to mind at that moment, spurred on by the current surging through me from the bolts pressed against my temples, held tight by the helmet and strap.
Whether the fact I’m sharing during that session has positive or negative connotations is the furthest thing from my mind when the neighbors are pounding on the door telling me to stop screaming and to stop it with the crackling and thundering.
I cannot help it if the writing engine hurts, or that it is noisy. I am just the battery that powers its greatness. What my body feels is irrelevant.
Sometimes the truth just hurts.
Fortunately, the truth of certain memories is also a pleasant place to revisit, not just a horror-show of spectral molestations, and being attacked by what some brave readers of this journal have aptly described as “berserker celebrities”. That’s why today’s entry will focus on one of the most positive aspects of working on a show: discovering working relationships that greatly enhanced the overall end-product rather than make it a dreary battle against mediocrity!
INVADER ZIM was more like a Devastator of awesome than a single Constructicon working in isolation to make the show.
I’ve mentioned before how different working in series animation is from my lonely experiences working on my comics, alone and crying in a lightless room and wishing somebody would just let me know everything was going to be okay.
Putting together a crew to make the show with me was a daunting exercise in trusting people that I had just met to fill positions with people they trusted and maybe worked with, along with taking chances on people came in on interviews and such.
One excellent thing about the show was that it inspired enthusiasm in the core group of creatives, people who were clearly happy to be putting a bit more effort into something that they thought was worth it, and that kept me going through some of the nastier patches, knowing that I had people excited to perform and not simply work because it was their job. Obviously there would be some people who did it because it was work and work’s work, and you can’t fault them for that as everyone has their tastes and ZIM wasn’t every animation worker’s cup of bile, and they did their jobs without letting personal opinions get in the way of the quality of their work. Still, others were just disdainful of the show while working on it, but those people were Swedish, and you know how those types are.
The strange thing about the show, an odd effect it had, was that people working on the show were suddenly a little more awesome to fans just for the association with it. Some of the more sordid types went mad under the influence of the attention while bathing in it in the worst fucking way, while others took no notice and just made the freaking show.
That’s who we’ll talk about today. Those rays of sunshine that prove that not everyone was a monster on the show.
This is Louie Del Carmen, and Louie was one of those guys that makes me proud to look at the show and not see only the parts that I wish had been done better. Creators are infamously critical of their own works, and I’m no different, but ZIM wasn’t just mine, it shows the fingerprints of every single person who set foot in the Thunderdome of the production. Louie couldn’t actually fire lasers from his eyes like that photo shows, but it was the only way I could depict the power that man had in improving everything that passed through his office.
Louie was the storyboard supervisor on the show, meaning that he, yes, supervised the boards and did what he could to do a final polish on them before sending them overseas for the Korean studios to do their Korean thing.
The guy put up with a shit ton of my smashing through his office door and shrieking about how a particular board was a bloody mess and that he had to do his Louie magic to make it look good.
One thing that never quite gelled on the show was a unification of styles from episode to episode. Our board guys were doing a damn fine job with their boarding duties, and keeping the characters on-model wasn’t their job so much as defining the action. Only problem was, there wasn’t a strong checkpoint further down the line to correct for personal drawing habits of individual board artists and making the characters look like they just should.
What ended up happening was that Louie would work like a loony to do what he could to do just that before sending it off to Korea, where they would do layout and final animation based pretty much on how the boards looked, meaning characters that looked great in some bits, and just bizarre and way off-model in others.
If you watch the show from the first episode to the last, you’ll see the changes if you pay close attention, or not so close attention depending on the ep, but you’ll also notice that the look strengthens towards the end of the series, and a lot of that is thanks to Louie, and also Bryan K, storyboard artist turned art director on the show.
“Louie! LOUIE!!!” I’d say, hanging upside down from the hole I had just smashed through Del Carmen’s office door. ”You gotta fix this, man! Whatsisface made everything look all rubbery and Loony Toonsy again!” throwing a pile of board pages on his desk. ”Gimme some of that ol’ Louie magic!”
“I’m not actually magic.” Louie would say.
“Jhonen, I thought it was funny at first, but I think you’re not kidding now, and I sorta need you to stop.”
“What are you saying, Louie?”
“I’m not magic. I don’t have magic.”
“Louie…don’t do this to me right now. Not now, understand? This shit has to be out of here in three days and it’s a mess, and you…YOU’RE the only guy that can make this better. Don’t deny who you are.”
“Who am I?”
“You’re magic Louie.”
“No. No I’m not. I’m not magic, but I’ll work on this as much as I can before it has to go out. But in order for me to do that you have to stop coming in here and doing this.”
“I believe in you, Louie.”
“I believe in your magic.”
That’s when I’d leap through the hole in Louie’s door and hang onto his shirt, crying into his face so loud that I could see his eyes sinking back into his skull. ”LOUIE! PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP ON THE MAGIC! PLEASE, LOUIE! WE’VE NEVER NEEDED YOU MORE THAN WE NEED YOU NOW!”
It’d go on like that for a few hours until I passed out there on Louie’s office floor, and he’d finally be able to get some work done.
That’s what I loved about the guy, he was just so humble, and was about as talented and dedicated a guy as you’d want on your side. I did what I could to make sure the guy stayed happy and satisfied, because someone as key as Louie was not the sort you wanted being at all irked while on the job.
That’s why I made sure to keep his office freshly supplied with a carpet of puppies every week. I’m not sure where they shipped them in from. I’m not sure where any of the stuff I asked for came from, be it office supplies or puppies. He’d act like all he needed was a bit of quiet and time to work, but it was my job as boss to just know when my guys needed that little bit extra to stay on top of the dreariness of office life.
“Do I smell puppies?!” I’d say, poking my head into his office every Monday, kicking at the puppies that tried to leak out through the open door.
Louie’d always have this tired look on his face, the face of a man who was so excited to come in to work and get shit done that he could barely sleep.
“Jhonen, this can’t…I can’t keep going on with this. This is not okay.”
“Shit, did they not weed out the dead ones before re-stocking the puppies? Sometimes they die on the bus and they get mixed in with the live ones. It’s not supposed to happen, but it does sometimes. I’m so sorry, man.”
“No, that’s not it. I mean, yeah, there are some dead ones under here somewhere, and that’s pretty awful, but that’s not it. It’s the whole thing, get it? Do you get it?”
“You want…more dead ones?”
“NO. What? Jesus christ, man. This isn’t normal. I’m happy to work on the show, okay? I’m happy to, but I can’t when this sort of thing is going on.”
It took me a while to realize what he was saying. It took me two hours of just standing there, staring into his increasingly watery eyes to get it. He just wanted to work in peace, and Louie’s idea of peace was apparently different than the average person’s: it was a peace not derived from standing knee-deep in puppies.
“I get it, man. I get it.” I said, finally, my voice quiet, thoughtful. I had to admit that not everything was so simple, that sometimes making things better meant doing the opposite of what I thought. I opened the door, and let loose those puppies.
One thing that stood out so much about that day was the sound of Shawn Murray, storyboarder, howling in horror. He was passing by Louie’s office the moment the puppies were unleashed and was carried off in the wave of chub and fur and piss, his screams choked off as his throat was filled with puppies. Shawn was pretty cool.
That didn’t mean that I gave up trying to improve the quality of Del Carmen’s time on the show, though most were met with that same strange resistance on his part.
Ultimately Louie seemed to give in to that call to more glorious places, finding the atmosphere of life on ZIM maybe not as exotic as he needed, despite my best efforts.
“You sure I can’t talk you into staying?” I asked one last time, watching Louie put his knick-knacks in boxes. I had seen people leave the show before, but this was hitting me harder than anything I had been through before. The show was already on its way out, but I wanted Louie there to the very end, preferably wearing the trench coat of bacon I had made for him. Louie loved bacon and I figured what better way to make him happy but to make him wear a jacket made entirely of the stuff. It wasn’t enough, and Louie decided to leave shortly after I told him that I wanted to see him in that jacket at all times.
“I’m sure.” Louie sighed, looking around the office for those last bits and bobs. ”I keep finding puppy corpses.”
“You’d think things like that would be easy to spot in an office this size, but I keep finding them. I keep finding them, Jhonen.”
“I know you do, man. I know you do.” my hand on his shoulder to let him know I understood, though I had no clue what he was talking about. “You sure you don’t want me to walk you out? I don’t mind.”
He didn’t want me to go with him. Said it would just make things harder. ”Just close the door and let me sit in here for a bit longer before I go, if you don’t mind.”
“I get ya, man. Alright. Louie….it’s been an honor. Thanks for everything you did.” I said, shaking his hand and pinching his cheeks the way I did one last time. This time he didn’t swipe at my hands and try to punch me. He just sighed and let me do it. I looked back at him one last time, and closed the door.
His office window had the blinds down, but I noticed the light pouring from between the slats and stared at it for a moment before running back to the office.
Louie was floating, bathed in that brilliant, shimmering blue light.
“LOUIE!” I cried. ”Louie, you are magic!”
With a wink and a smile, and a flash of light, Louie Del Carmen vanished into thin air, riddling my body with every kind of cancer known to man. Something about that light.
I cried, tears of joy, and waved at the void where once the greatest storyboard supervisor floated.
I left that office, and returned to the hunt for Shawn Murray’s body, feeling just a little better about everything.
Louie still makes contact with our plane of existence over on his Twitter page.