INVADER ZIM Fact #29

Future-Baby, huh? More like Future-LIE-by, am I right?!

This shall be the twenty-nineiest post of all, no doubt about it.

I’ve been thinking about Future-Baby a lot since yesterday, probably same as you.  So here’s this person writing from the distant future, born just days prior to where we are in the present, and yet he’s still going by “Future-Baby”?  Does that add up to you?  Are they still a baby, and if so, do you refer to someone as a baby decades after they were born?  Is adulthood determined entirely by the condition of one’s body, is baby-status based on the same criteria as that?  I’d posit that one could look baby-like long after they were born, trapped in a body that, physically, appeared to be a baby’s body, but that that person’s experiences would change them into something that wasn’t infantile at all.

Future-Baby wrote me a very non-baby-like letter.  Babies don’t write letters, right?  So what’s this person’s deal?  To identify yourself as being from the future from the point of view of the person you are addressing in the past is one thing, because that’s kind of cool and fucks with your head in a pretty neat way, but then to say you’re also a baby?  That’s just playing your hand in such a way as to let the reader in on how messed up you are inside.  Future-Baby, indeed.

Anyhow, I wrote Future-Baby back and if you’ve ever seen Back to the Future 2, you know that writing a letter to the future takes no time at all when the recipient is already in the future from where you are writing that letter.  I imagine ol’ Future-Baby is looking that thing over and thinking up his answers to some of the stuff I mentioned here.  I’ll let you know what they say.  This is actually the second time in my life I’ve had a baby from the future as a penpal.  S’funny how things work out.

So, the twenty-ninth entry!  Can you believe it?  Seems like just yesterday these entries were twenty one and acting like they were so grown up and full of piss and vinegar.  Now we look back at the entries back then and just laugh at how fucking stupid they were.  Stupid, hope-filled memories.  We showed em’, yeah?  Yeah!

I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna be pretty happy when the month is over with.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the work I’ve done here, and if ever i start to doubt that it has done anything good for the world I just look at you and see how much less stupid you look in the face.

Don’t get angry!  Whoa!  I’m just saying, it’s better now, and you’re a testament to the efficacy of my work!  It’s a cause for celebration, what we’ve done here together, me with my teachings and you with your reduced drooling and not eating as much of your own body waste as you used to.  Let us toast to the progress made!  No, really, go make me some toast.

I’m just saying that once the month is done, I can focus on other things and you can carry on my work for me.  You must be the ambulatory penis of my work, flopping out into the world to impregnate others with the seed of knowledge that I have planted within you over these past weeks.  No, of course I’m not speaking metaphorically.  I want you to go out and get as many people as you can pregnant.  We need babies, dammit!  As many babies as we can make to fight off whatever that infernal Future-Baby has in store for me.  I figure the best way to fight a baby is with more babies, and by god I’ll have my army yet.

Future-Baby, you started a time-baby war with the wrong person.

So, while we’re waiting for future, let’s just pass the time with today’s fact about your favorite show INVADER ZIM AND HIS ZIM-TIME FRIENDS.

Today I want to talk a little bit about the decision-making process on the show, and how things, when things were at odds with one another, got settled so that everyone knew the right choice was made.

As you know by now, being the boss on an animated series doesn’t exactly mean you’re the guy with all the best ideas.  With a crew of hundreds working with you, the last thing you want to do is not be open to what those people have to say about what might be done with the direction of the show, unless the person offering advice was post-production supervisor, Jason Stiff.  Jason’s ideas were all some of the most horrific, demented shit I had ever heard come out of a human mind, and it didn’t take long before I had to report him to the FBI for how similar a lot of his ideas were to some of the details coming out of the news about some local playground murders.

“Hey!  Hey, Jhonen!  Hey!” was how it’d usually start.  I’d be walking to some meeting or other and suddenly there’d be Stiff, coming at me with a greasy manilla envelope of crude drawings of his to help illustrate whatever his latest idea was.

“Oh, hi, Jason.  How goes post-production supervision?”  I still have no clue what that entailed, but I figured it was polite to ask things like that every now and then.

“Fine.  Fine.  Listen, I know you’re having trouble with how to end this latest episode and–”

“This idea doesn’t have anything to do with murdering children at a school playground does it?”

“I think–”

“Because I still don’t think that has any place in the show, man.  I mean, I’m all for some crazy shit, but so long as it’s funny, and I’m not really getting the joke in a lot of the ideas you’re putting out there.”

“But this one–”

“Or the ONE idea, really, because they always seem to end up with children being murdered in a playground.”

Here, Jason would usually open up his envelope and show me the images he had drawn up in pencil on crumpled binder paper, only this time there were photographs held to the inside of the folder with those hot pink paper clips he loved so much.

“So, these drawings of kids playing on playground equipment, did you draw these from the photo reference there?” I’d ask, thumbing through page after page of drawings of kids on playground equipment.

“Yeah, I figured I should brush up on my life-drawing skills so things would make more sense when I drew them.”

“That’s good. Doesn’t hurt to keep improving your–hey, were these taken by your house?  This looks like the school you moved across the street from.”

“Yeah, convenient for life-drawing!  So you know how you have ZIM trying to get out of–”

“What’s with these clippings from the newspapers?  These are about the playground killings, yeah?”

“That’s right.  I collect stuff like that.  I just find it interesting.  Anyhow, ZIM’s gotta get back to his house, right, and right now it just sort of ends, but I was thinking that maybe he could take a shortcut on the way home and he finds himself–”

“At a playground full of children?”

“YES!  See?!”  Here Jason excitedly makes a gesture drawing an imaginary line from his forehead to mine, a connection being made. “You get it!  And so since he’s out of his disguise, the only way for him to make sure nobody tells on him is if–”

“If he murders all the children.”

“Well?”

“I dunno, man.”

“What’s not to get?  It solves the problem of nothing really happening at the end, and it brings back the sorta thing like in Bestest Friend.  People loved how shocking that eyeball thing was.”

“I know, but replacing a kid’s eyeballs isn’t exactly the same as murdering a bunch of kids on the playground to keep them from telling on you.  I mean, how would he do it?”

“He’d use the straight razor his grandfather left him, the one that he used during the war to cut the throats of all those slant-eyed bastards from hell.”

“Whoa, whoa.  What?!  Jason, I don’t think this is gonna work.  Thanks for pitching in, though.”

“But it does work.  It makes the quiet come, it makes everything still again.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about now, but–”  I say, stopping when something in the news clippings catches my eye.  In one article there is a badly-faded photo of one of the crime scenes, a photo of a playground with little blankets covering little lumps.  Around those lumps are fuzzy blobs of something familiar but too indistinct to really be sure of.

“What’re those little hot pink things all around the bodies?”  I ask Jason.

“I dunno, probably candy or something.  How should I know?  They’re not paper clips.  Anyhow, I guess I’d better get back to supervising production of post-things, but just think about it okay?  Promise me you’ll think about it.”

“Sure.  Sure, I’ll think about it.”

I thought about it, alright.  I thought about it as I made that call to the FBI.  I’m not saying I did the right thing or not, because there was no way I could be sure if it was just a bunch of conveniently damning evidence or of Jason really did have a problem, but all I know was that the killings stopped shortly after that call, but not shortly enough for the three hundred-some kids that died in the following few days.

FACT:

Some of your favorite ideas came from people you might not have even known about!

It’s true, though I’m happy enough to hear that someone’s favorite line or moment in a show started with something I dreamed up in my head, I’m also happy to tell people when something they thank me for is actually the result of someone else’s work!

I already mentioned Louie Del Carmen, and even Richard Horvitz, who brought so much to the character of ZIM, despite having to be taught each of his lines phonetically.  It’s huge victories over adversity like that that makes so much of the show’s creation such an inspirational thing to talk about.

One of the most popular things for fans to do is quote their favorite lines from the show, so when I tell people that some of that stuff was ad-libbed by the actors riffing off of one another, straying from the script, their eyes bulge and they lose their shit.  I have to cover my ears when they start shrieking from ass and mouth, half out of their minds with shock and awe and at finding out that “I dancin’ like a monkey!” didn’t come from any writer’s imagination and instead was something we overheard a homeless man yelling outside of the studio as he danced and cavorted on the corpse of a dog that just got hit by a bus.  That homeless man’s name?  Rikki Simons.  Hired him on the spot and replaced GIR’s original voice actor, Robert Redford.

How often have people come up and ask me where I come up with things like “Why was there bacon in the soap?!” Ten times.  And on a few of those occasions I remember to mention that it wasn’t all me.  I remember the day we recorded that session and when it came time for Richard to read that line, he ad-libbed “Why was there bacon in the soapuuuUUuuUAAGHAGAHAHAHHhhhhhh?!”  and began to masturbate in front of all of us, tearing and pulling at the spongy mass that grew in place of his genitals.  It’s little additions like that that gave the show its unique character.  Of course, I edited the take so that now only the classic line is remembered and not the freakish grunts and howls of Horvitz’s foul pleasures.

That may not be the best example of something that people celebrate, as the bit Horvitz added ended up on the cutting room floor, but it shows just how often new things were tried and tested.  Some of it stuck, some of it didn’t.  That day, only the smell and the stains lingered.  I still hear from people that work at the studio that nobody likes standing in the booth that Richard was using when he decided to go at it that day.  Blurred vision and nausea, I hear.

How about this: When I wrote the script for Gaz: Taster of Pork, I had it originally end with Dib defeating the Porklord in hand-to-hand combat, saving Gaz and ending it up with the two of them eating pizza.  Pretty boring, huh?

Eric Trueheart had a couple of ideas on the matter, throwing in his two cents on how to make the ending a bit more punchy.  ”Make it punchier!” he’d always say, punching his own fist into his hand to punctuate what he meant.  I’d just stare at him punching his hand over and over again, wordless, and confused, my head following the motion of his hand the way a cat tracks a laser pointer on the wall.

I went home that night, not too certain of just what Trueheart meant, and it wasn’t clear to me at all until about an hour into the following day, when he resumed the punching, that I grasped it:  Make it PUNCHIER!

“You want me to add Punchy, the little Hawaiian Punch guy?  Not sure we could get away with that.  Legal’d probably have issues with it and-”

“NO!”  Eric yelled, and punched his fist for about another hour.  Again I watched, struggling with the symbolism.

After we sorted all that out, however, I listened to Eric’s ideas, listening as he went through a far more elaborate and admittedly better ending.  Part of being a creator is being open enough to new ideas from other people who you can use to make your work better so that you can take the credit for how awesome you are, and so I listened.

Eric fell ill about halfway through his explanation and had to stop for a breather.  He had apparently eaten some bad clams at lunch.  That guy was always eating clams, loved those things.  Clammy Eric I’d call him, but only because he had the clammiest handshake of anyone I’d ever known.  I watched as he just retched his guts out into a wastebasket ( a wire mesh one that did little to contain the fluids ), and that’s when it hit me to end the episode with Dib puking his guts out in a pig-hell outhouse.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

See how this works now?  It really makes you wonder what else you’ve been digging about the show that isn’t entirely because of my work on it, right?

Remember the scene where GIR learns about sharing and fire ants?  I don’t.

So I hope you had fun hearing a bit more about how a great idea comes together from a bunch of tiny ideas from all sorts of different places, and remember, don’t assume you can do it all.  There just might be someone nearby who can take your idea and make it that much better.

Wasn’t it John Turturro who said “Open your miiiiind.  Open your miiiiind.”

Look into your heart, won’t ya?

Miller's Crossing still courtesy of John Turturro Town.

–ZIM FACTS. Here’s why—