Posted on March 31, 2013 AT 10:30pm
Welcome, once again, to an end-of-month artist highlight edition of WTF Wednesday [Yeah, yeah, I know it's a few days late... But that makes you go WTF, so I win anyhow. Right?]! It’s more of a happy accident that this is happening two months in a row, but I’m gonna just roll with it. This week, we’re visiting the works of comic book artist, cartoonist, music video director, and spiky-headed rogue, Jhonen Vasquez… aka Jhnen Vee, aka Chancre Scolex, aka Mr. Scolex.
You’ve probably seen his name somewhere before, regardless of what type of media you happen to consume. Jhonen got his start with the comic book series Johnny the Homicidal Maniac [henceforth 'JtHM'], a story about a supernaturally manipulated serial killer and comic book artist, Johnny C. There’s lots murder, of course, but oh so much more. On one end of things, you have what sound like crazed rants, and on the other is a bizarre sense of humor that makes light of the darkness that casts a shadow over the entire series. Psychotic delusions, creative killings, trips to the afterlife [both above and below], comics-within-the-comic, bad dates, and a frightened [but oddly adorable] little next door neighbor boy keep every page interesting in many ways.
The same can be said for his later works, which were both spin-offs of JtHM: Squee! and I Feel Sick. Both JtHM and Squee! are exclusively high contrast black and white comics, while I Feel Sick was colored by one Rikki Simons [who more people know as the voice of GIR from Invader ZIM than as a comic book artist, but more on that later].
I could go on about just his comic work for the rest of this article, but it’s time to visit another form of media: Television!
This is actually where I entered the picture when it comes to learning of Jhonen’s work, putting me in the section of his fans that frightens him most. Invader ZIM was a cartoon on Nickelodeon, and to this day, I will never understand why they approached him to make a show for them. I keep imagining how the conversation went:
Nickelodeon Rep: I read your comic which was about murder and how being a mindless sheep is bad. We think that you’d be perfect to make a children’s show! Are you interested?
Jhonen: Will I be allowed to put in tacos, pigs, and a small floating moose head?
Jhonen: Where do I sign?
The titular Invader Zim is an alien from the planet Irk, who has been assigned to the planet Earth to scout and eventually assist the Irken army in taking over. The truth of the matter is that Tallest Purple and Tallest Red, the Irkens in charge, cannot stand Zim, and have actually sent him to Earth because it’s the furthest from their armada and they find Zim to be intolerable. He is sent with an idiotic robot named GIR, and together, they have no chance of taking over the Earth. Between their own ineptitude and Zim’s Earthling rival, Dib, they’re foiled at every turn.
I know this makes Zim sound like the villain, but just like Tom & Jerry, the actual ‘bad guy’ is pretty subjective. True to Jhonen’s style, the series has a mix of dark and surreal humor. I honestly felt it would’ve survived better on a more ‘mature’ station, but they definitely pushed the envelope with this show whenever possible. For example, the first episode I ever saw, ‘Dark Harvest’, was about Zim stealing organs from his classmates at school–pardon me, ‘skool’–so he’d appear more human when he got a checkup by the school nurse. I’ve seen a lot of odd things on Nick before, but I never thought that intestines being slurped up like noodles would be one of them.
If you’d like to see the series, it’s available on Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon Prime Video. It’s a great series! [A personal favorite, actually]
After the end of Zim [which had a good deal of drama behind it, but that's another story for another day], JV has certainly kept himself busy. In fact, he’s even done an art piece for the good folks at Irrational Games for Bioshock 2. Rather than trying to explain it, I’ll just show it!
If you thought the Big Sisters were creepy before… I bet it just got stepped up a notch.
He has also directed a couple of music videos: Shut Me Up for the band Mindless Self Indulgence, and White for their side project band, The Left Rights. Both of them are certainly something to behold. So…
Shut Me Up – Mindless Self Indulgence
White – The Left Rights
The last major project that Jhonen’s name was attached to is, believe it or not, a Disney show. This time, he was merely asked to design some characters, rather than a whole series. After the events of Zim [even though a decade has passed], I’m certain that he was more than happy to have minimal involvement with the project. The show is Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja. I haven’t really read much about it, but I’ll probably check it out just to see what they did with it. Since it’s Disney, and he only did character design, I don’t forsee that the oddity that is his trademark is in there.
If you want to check it out, you can either tune into Disney XD, or take a peek on the official website.
I know I could have said a lot more here, because Jhonen Vasquez is nothing if not complex. Perhaps we’ll dig deeper some other time. But for now, check out his comic book works, Invader ZIM, and his website, Question Sleep. Make sure to check out Creepachu while you’re there. You’ll never see the little electric mouse the same way EVER AGAIN.
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