INVADER ZIMOriginal medium: Television animation
Produced by: Nickelodeon
First Appeared: 2001
Creator: Jhonen Vasquez
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Bad-guy protagonists, their menace level ranging from The Yellow Claw to The Grump, have been with cartoons almost as long as cartoons have had continuing characters. Desperate Desmond, for example, is just about a century old now. Cartoonist Jhonen Vasquez
seems to specialize in them. Both of his major creations, Invader Zim and the earlier Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, have featured stars who work to inflict harm on people. A major difference is, Johnny appeared in comic books, where murder and mayhem ordinary, even routine; whereas Zim appeared on Nickelodeon, the kids' TV network, where Ren & Stimpy is usually about as far as things go in that direction.
Not that Zim's efforts actually resulted in a great deal of harm. Gaz, one of the few others aware of his goals, thought it was okay that he wanted to conquer and/or obliterate Earth in furtherance of the empire maintained by his own planet, Irk, because he wasn't any good at it.
That was Zim's goal since he'd been assigned to this planet in the first episode, when The Almighty Tallests (his society assigns authority according to height, and these two were tied for it) assigned him to some planet on the edge of the known universe that nobody knew or cared anything about, hoping he'd get himself killed, or at least lost, in the attempt. The only reason he'd been there to get assigned in the first place was because he was too dense to realize his previous "assignment", the planet Foodcourtia, was actually an exile, for spectacular incompetence he'd earlier inflicted on the Irkan Empire.
That show aired on Nickelodeon, which was already known for Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys, on March 30, 2001. Also established in that episode was Zim's cover identity as a kid in school. And his arch-enemy, Dib, was introduced. Dib was a boy obsessed with the paranormal, who'd seen so many extraordinary things, nobody paid attention to him anymore. Dib easily saw that Zim was an alien, but couldn't convince anyone else not even his own father, Professor Membrane, a brilliant scientist but unattentive to his kids. Gaz, who was Dib's sister, knew Zim was an alien but didn't care. GIR was Zim's appropriately useless robot assistant. Ms. Bitters was Dib's and Zim's teacher.
Zim's voice was provided by Richard Steven Horvitz (Billy in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy). Dib was Andy Berman, a face actor who lacks other voice credits. Gaz was Melissa Fahn (Hello Kitty). Professor Membrane was Rodger Bumpass (Squidward in Spongebob Squarepants). Ms. Bitters was Lucille Bliss (Crusader Rabbit). The Almighty Tallests were Wally Wingert (Jon in Garfield) and Kevin McDonald (Pleakley in Disney's Lilo & Stitch series).
Invader Zim started the same day as the Fairly OddParents series, but didn't do nearly as well with audiences. While Fairly OddParents went on to become one of Nickelodeon's most popular series of all time, Invader Zim sank after less than two seasons. The second was well under way, with several episodes still planned, as well as a movie version to serve as the series finale, when word came down that the show's extremely low ratings didn't even justify seeing it to its conclusion. Remaining episodes were left unfinished.
But not permanently. The show enjoyed a healthy afterlife in DVD sales, and was shown in its entirety overseas. It's also appeared on Nicktoons, a secondary TV outlet used mostly for old Nickelodeon material.
Today, Invader Zim is regarded as a cult classic. It wasn't popular enough during its original run to sustain it in new production, but has been the subject of enthusiastic interest from later fans.