Vasquez in 2007
September 1, 1974 |
San Jose, California, United States
|Other names||Chancre Scolex
|Occupation||Cartoonist, music video director, comic book writer|
|Notable work(s)||Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squee!, I Feel Sick, Invader Zim|
|Influenced by||David Cronenberg, Chester Brown, Kurt Vonnegut, Franz Kafka, H. R. Giger, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, H. P. Lovecraft|
Jhonen C. Vasquez (born September 1, 1974) is an American comic book writer, cartoonist, and music video director who is best known for creating the Nickelodeon's animated series Invader Zim, the comic book Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and its spin-offs, Squee! and I Feel Sick.
Jhonen Vasquez was raised in East San Jose and attended Mt. Pleasant High School, where he often spent much of his class time drawing in sketchbooks. Taking part in a contest to design a new look for his school's mascot, the Cardinal, he submitted an entry that the judges rejected. On the back of a preliminary drawing for the contest, he drew his first sketch of the character who would later become Johnny C. His high school's student newspaper published a number of his comic strips titled Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.
Vasquez created Happy Noodle Boy while attending Mt. Pleasant. According to Vasquez, "So many years ago, my little romantical friend in high school was the unwitting reason Happy Noodle Boy was created. She always asked me for comics, but I couldn't draw as fast as she requested. Thus, I tried to create the worst abomination of a comic that I could, so as to make her not want comics anymore. That abomination, my friends, was Happy Noodle Boy". Vasquez read his older brother's superhero comics as a child, but first became interested in the medium through the original independent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman.
It wasn't until he started collecting "Ninja Turtles" comics that something switched over in my head. To me, there was something just so different about those books that I did start to obsess over them – the way the books felt dirtier in my hands, the filthy artwork and hero characters that never seemed healed over from their last battles. There was a sense of person just behind the printed page that I had never felt before, a thinner separation from production to my hands and eyes that just fired hooks out into me... It felt unsafe, ya know? It's like, the book itself was less removed from the initial moment a creator is excited about having just come up with some great idea to when they finally finish a thing, nice and polished and just a little dulled from before the thing was just another book. To me, anyhow. It's just what I interpreted the experience like, and I'm sure to a lot of people it was just a book about big mutant turtles.
After graduating in 1992, Vasquez went on to become a film student at De Anza College in Cupertino. Though he had little formal artistic training, he soon dropped out of De Anza to pursue a career as a professional cartoonist. He met Roman Dirge, Rosearik Rikki Simons and his wife Tavisha Simons (née Wolfgarth) at Alternative Press Expo in 1995. Dirge later became a writer on Vasquez's series Invader Zim, while Rikki Simons became a member of the show's coloring team and the voice of the show's crazed robot GIR. Simons also worked with Vasquez on the coloring seen in his two-issue comic I Feel Sick. By September 1996, Vasquez announced in his introductory text to the sixth issue of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac that he had reached sufficient success in his artistic career to be able to quit his day job and devote himself to his art.
His comic works often feature an outside narrative in the form of notes and comments left in the corners of his strips. This can be found in the vast majority of Vasquez's comics, such as in issue No. 5 of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac: a large monster is shown bursting through a wall, arms and hands flailing, tentacles sweeping through the air. It is a scene that surely conveys a sense of violence and danger, yet in the corner of the panel, a small box contains the text "Kids – Don't be scared! He don't bite!" These small touches help with emotional connection to Vasquez's work, and are likely one of the factors in his cult following.
Carpe Noctem magazine published early one-page strips featuring Johnny in the early 1990s. In 1995, Slave Labor Graphics began publishing a series of Johnny comics after Vasquez submitted samples of his artwork to them. Vasquez's first comic, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, ran for eight issues and was collected as a hardcover and a trade paperback book, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac: Director's Cut. The cover features the logo "Z?", meaning "question sleep", which appears frequently throughout Vasquez's work and relates to his characters' insomnia and his own hypnophobia. The series follows Johnny as he searches for meaning in his life, a quest that frequently leads to the violent deaths of those around him as well as, briefly, his own. A photograph of one of Vasquez's friends, Leah England, serves as the middle of a portrait collection on the cover for the second issue of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. England also gave Vasquez the inspiration for a filler strip about a child who was dangerously afraid of losing sight of his mother, as well as the notorious "Meanwhile" filler piece in the second issue of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.
Vasquez's next project was The Bad Art Collection, a 16-page one-shot comic. He stated that he did the book's art while he was in high school to discourage classmates from asking him to draw for them. In 1997, Vasquez gave Squee, a supporting character from Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, his own four-issue series. It chronicles Squee's encounters with aliens, Satan's son, and eventually Satan himself. The trade version (which features a cover image of Squee with the words "Buy me or I'll die!") contains, in addition to the actual Squee comics, the Meanwhiles that were left out of the Director's Cut of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, as well as comics of Vasquez's "real life" and Wobbly-Headed Bob. Vasquez's next project was I Feel Sick, colored by Rikki Simons. I Feel Sick follows a tortured artist named Devi (another character introduced in Johnny the Homicidal Maniac) as she tries to maintain her sanity in an insane vision of society, despite conversing with Sickness, one of her own paintings.
Slave Labor has published three Fillerbunny mini-comics, the third having been released in March 2005. The mini-comic was a spin-off of a filler comic designed to replace a vacant page usually reserved for advertising space in the Squee! comics. Vasquez said at the 2007 New York Comic Con that the original Fillerbunny comics would be done in a single night and he would rush through and do whatever he could in a small amount of time. The third issue, however, broke this mold. According to the introduction, it took over nine months to complete, and he feels it is of much higher quality than the first two.
At Comic-Con 2005, Vasquez mentioned that his next comic was a love story. Since this, however, he attended an event in early 2007 and stated he was not working on his "own" comics – he was collaborating on two comics in the style of Everything Can Be Beaten, acting only as author. The first, titled Jellyfist, was intended for release on July 25, 2007, but the initial print run of Jellyfist was incredibly poor, and so it was re-released in October 2007.
In 2009, Vasquez collaborated with other alternative artists in Marvel Comics' Strange Tales, issue 2 of 3, with a story about MODOK. It sold extremely well and all three issues have been collected into a hardcover trade paperback. The next year he returned for Marvel's Strange Tales II, issue 1 of 3, with a story about Wolverine. In 2012, DC Comics announced that Vasquez would be joining the writing team for their digital comic Beyond the Fringe, based on the Fox TV series Fringe.
After the success of Squee!, the children's cable network Nickelodeon approached Vasquez about producing an animated television series, Invader Zim which airs on Nicktoons currently, focused on the daily life of Zim, a naïve but psychotic alien from the planet Irk who tries to conquer Earth, before his attempts are constantly thwarted in a humorous manner by Dib, a young paranormal investigator and the only one (along with his sister Gaz) who knows with certainty Zim is an alien (although no one believes him), or by his own naïveté. The first episode aired on March 30, 2001. The series lasted for two seasons, before it was abruptly cancelled by Nickelodeon, saying that its main causes were low ratings, over-budget production and lack of interest in continuation of the series. The last episode before the show's cancellation, "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever" (a Christmas special), aired on December 10, 2002. Episodes of the third season and a show's finale, then remained unproduced or unfinished. Vasquez provided the voices for Zim's computer, Old Kid, and Minimoose, and various characters, being credited as "Mr. Scolex".
Vasquez collaborated with Crab Scrambly to produce the storybook Everything Can Be Beaten, published by Slave Labor in 2002. Vasquez, credited as Chancre Scolex, wrote the story and Crab Scrambly illustrated it. Everything Can Be Beaten is about a strange person who lives in a room in which he can do nothing but beat kittens. However, an adventure into the outside world changes his perspective, and he discovers that "everything can be beaten". The storybook inspired Urban Squall in 2008 to create the puzzle browser game Bloody Fun Day. Vasquez did the entire artwork for the deluxe edition of the new Mindless Self Indulgence album If as well as the digital single, "Mastermind". He also directed the music videos for Mindless Self Indulgence's "Shut Me Up" and the Left Rights' "White". Jhonen made the cover art for the album Zero Day by MC Frontalot and also indicated that he shows his artwork in galleries from time to time. He also did an art rendition of BioShock 2 called "The Sisters". He was quoted saying the following about the rendition:
Who says kids are good for nothing other than emergency food in disaster conditions? I don't, because at this point my badass nieces helped out quite a bit for reference. I dragged them, much like Big Sister there, out for a quick photo session and we had a damn fine time in freezing winds posing like the little, demonic wee ones that they are. Being my niece, the youngest had no problem finding that place in her heart that allowed her to simulate the howling face of a child being dragged down a nightmare alley by an unspeakable horror. Throw in a tall, monstrous friend of mine to stand in for Big Sister and you have four people with chattering teeth and trying to steal my jacket. After that, the line-art came pretty easily enough, save for an adjustment period of finding the balance between a more realistic style and not losing the strange cartoonishness.
Many of the characters in Vasquez's cartoons are highly geometric and thin, nearly to the point of being stick figures. The protagonists in his comics are typically insane characters who live in dysfunctional societies, and whose manias are able to speak through other objects (as with Johnny and the Doughboys, or Devi and Sickness). His storylines tend to follow the basic black comedy formula. His art style is very edgy and eccentric and happy faces are often found in his artwork, trying to evoke an ironic sense of happiness in a world of chaos and darkness. Vasquez's writing often conveys misanthropic and pessimistic themes, often used for the purposes of parody and satire. Similar styles and mannerisms can be found in many of his characters as well as running gags and common themes, including repeated references to moose, meat, bees, chihuahuas, monkeys, tacos, pigs, cheese, morbid obesity and "dookie". Vasquez also frequently sneaks cameo appearances of characters such as Happy Noodle Boy and Johnny C., as well as himself, into unrelated works. His influences include David Cronenberg, Chester Brown, Kurt Vonnegut, Franz Kafka, H. R. Giger, Terry Gilliam, and David Lynch. Several of Vasquez's works have featured gothic characters or depictions of the goth subculture for the purpose of satire. In an interview on the show The Screen Savers, Vasquez responded to host Kevin Pereira's comment that fans considered him "a goth king", saying disdainfully: "King, yeah, but goth... I mean, that's just arrogant."
|1995–1997||Johnny the Homicidal Maniac|
|1996||The Bad Art Collection|
|1999–2000||I Feel Sick|
|2002||Everything Can Be Beaten||With Crab Scrambly|
|2007||Jellyfist||With Jennifer Goldberg|
|2001–2002||Invader Zim||Creator, head writer, original character designer, voice actor||Television series|
|2006||Shut Me Up||Director||Music video for Mindless Self Indulgence|
|2011||"White"||Director||Music video for The Left Rights|
|2012–present||Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja||Character designer||Television series|
Awards and nominations
- Squee! was nominated for 1998 Eisner Awards for Best New Series and Best Humor Publication.
- I Feel Sick won an International Horror Guild Award in 2000 for Best Illustrated Narrative.
- Invader Zim won an Emmy, an Annie, and the award for Best Title Sequence at the 2001 World Animation Celebration awards. It also garnered seven other nominations.
- Vasquez and his work were honored in the National Design Triennial: Inside Design Now, a 2003 exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
- Johnny The Homicidal Maniac: Director's Cut trade paperback (SLG Publishing, 1997) ISBN 0-943151-16-3
- Jhonen Vasquez On M.O.D.O.K. & Marvel An October 8, 2009 interview for Comic Book Resources
- Strange Tales
- Strange Tales II
- Tierney, Adam (2004-09-01). "An Interview with Jhonen Vasquez and Rikki Simons". IGN.
- Pellerano, Andrew (2009-03-13). "Bloody Fun Day". YAY! it's Andrew!. Retrieved 2009-03-20.
- Mindless Self Indulgence – "Shut Me Up"
- msivideo (November 19, 2010). "The Left Rights – WHITE". YouTube. Retrieved Jan 9, 2011.
- Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Issue #6
- BioShock 2's
- 1998 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Nominees
- "The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror" by Stephen Jones, Carroll and Graf, 2002
- "Invader ZIM" (2001) Awards
-  "National Design Triennial"
- Official website
- Jhonen Vasquez on Twitter
- Jhonen Vasquez at the Internet Movie Database
- An Interview on SuicideGirls.com
- Revolution Science Fiction (October 26, 2001): "Death and Morons: The Jhonen Vasquez Story" (online-chat transcript)
- Jhonen Vasquez Spotlight (2007 New York Comic Con speech Podcast. 54:12m) Downloadable mp3
- Interrogation Special with Zoetica Ebb (August 22, 2007)