Because I can’t really call something this subjective a “report.”
The very first girl standing in line to get my autograph was nearly shaking. She was probably about 14 years old, she looked at me, and with a quavering voice she said, “You’re the first important person I’ve ever met.”
Tell me, what the hell is somebody supposed to say to that?
A warm-yet-clever response didn’t come to me until thee days later, but believe me, it’s not something I’m used to hearing here in Los Angeles. Here I’m used to being just another animation writer in a sea of assholes with word processors looking to make words for cartoon rabbits, cartoon robots and cartoon children with child-relatable issues children will enjoy.
So welcome to InvaderCon, the not-really-official tenth anniversary celebration of Invader ZIM, masterminded by two lunatics — one named Croom and the other named “Snackpants” — and held in a triangular Mariott in a typhoon in Atlanta.
I’ve been to Cons before. I remember standing in line to get George Takei’s autograph when I was just a wee lad and didn’t know enough not to use words like “Wee Lad” in the same sentence as “George Takei,” but I had never been on the other side of the table, as it were.
And honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I was a writer, damn it, and not really the star of this little animation miracle we’d pulled off ten years ago by any stretch. Jhonen V is obviously the brain most desired at this affair, and there was no way he was going to cross the country for it. (He’s cursed by a hatred of flying and blessed by a hatred of people.) Next on this list is one-man Fist-of-Ridiculous Richard “ZIM” Horvitz, who could entertain a room full of Easter Island heads on his own if he had to. Then there were the rest of the big cast: The beloved Rikki “Gir” Simons, Andy “Dib” Berman, and Melissa “Gaz” Fahn. Who gives a dead hobo’s ass-cover about the writer?
Ah, I should have remembered: I did, when I was young. And these are science fiction fans like me. They do, too.
So even though I wasn’t feeling on the top of the bill, I got treated like bloody royalty by a shockingly generous group of fans who were genuine interested when I talked in the big panels, listened to me ramble during two separate solo talks that were just about writing, and even stood in line to get my autograph on things I wrote. Weird.
It was strangely moving being back with the old cast again. I hadn’t directed any of the voice sessions, but I had assisted quite frequently, and sitting on the stage doing a full reading of “Mopiness of Doom” made me “all misty ‘n’ shit.” “Mopiness” a story where Dib gives up hunting ZIM to study “real science” with his dad… only to later realize he’s made a huge mistake and rededicate himself to his fight against ZIM. It was dead-on appropriate for this little gathering; a story that in essence says ZIM and Dib will be fighting each other for all eternity. The GIR-hatted crowd swooned at every line.
Honestly, I feel the bullet points coming on now. Far too much transpired for me to assemble it into a cohesive narrative, but in summary I will say this: I owe a big debt of thanks to Tom Croom and his staff for looking after us like die-hard pros during this event, and I owe a bigger debt to everyone who showed up just because they liked this improbably ridiculous show I worked on ten years ago.
And now, them bullets:
- People really like knowing about the stories that didn’t make it into production. Of course I dusted off the tales of “Pants!” “Burrito King,” “Beefus Megabombus” and “Squishy: Hugger of Worlds.” Ah, Squishy. You died too young.
- Richard revived an old running gag from the recording booth. In his best Yoda impersonation, he would simply intone, “Cloudyyyyy” as the answer to every question. It was part of a joke Rikki had about Yoda being the worst Jedi ever because he could never predict a damn thing. By the end of the weekend, fans were holding up signs that read, “Cloudy!” It’s even more funny because it always drove Jhonen crazy and he would hate that after ten years it still won’t die.
- I’ve never seen more green in one place, ever. Especially hats. So many green hats there were. GIR hats. ZIM hats. Irken hats. Green hats aplenty. They will destroy us all. Drowned in a sea of green hats.
- I was worried I wouldn’t get a chance to use the hotel gym in peace. Rikki pointed out, “You’ll never see fans in the gym.”
- None of us had a chance to read though “Day of da Spookies” before we read it on stage. Nevertheless, we did shockingly well, and Melissa did a good on-the-fly Skoodge. Jhonen commented in his blog that Richard just pinned the needle to eleven all the time. Well… He’s Richard. And he’s in front of a big group of screaming fans. This equals eleven.
- Melissa Fahn likes singing. She likes singing show tunes. She likes getting a car full of people to sing show tunes. Or a table full of them at dinner. She’s that kind of singing person.
- Inappropriate running joke number one: We claimed we would punch Melissa in the neck to get her to sing high for the Doom song. Then we would punch her in the neck for good luck.
- Andy is still worried America hates Dib. This weekend he got a dozen marriage proposals on Dib’s behalf.
- Speaking of Dib, I’m shocked at just how many girls like dressing up as Dib. Seriously, I saw a dozen female Dibs this weekend, and barely one male one. It seems like Dib has almost become some kind of butch-girl icon. I think that’s pretty cool. And it makes me sad that I never got to write Groyna, the crypto-lesbian girl-jock character who teams up with Dib in the “Pants!” episode. (True.)
- The hotel was a giant triangle shape that looked down fourteen floors into the lobby. I don’t know why I mention this except that it was cool when you looked over the ledge.
- Inappropriate running joke number two: The best way to be creative is to eat babies.
- There are a lot of strip clubs in Atlanta. We passed ‘em on the way to dinner. And on the way back. Yep. Lotta strip clubs. One claimed to have a buffet.
- There’s a group called “Soapy Waffles” who’ve started animating the episode “Mopiness of Doom” themselves. I’d call this an impossible task, except the girl doing the storyboards is actually damn good. Completely untrained. And in high school. She says she wants to go to Cal Arts. They had better let her in or I will get Bruce Banner angry.
- http://www.orgxiii.org/ makes awesome Irken hats. I may have to buy one, though I have no idea where I’d wear it. Maybe skiing. Maybe to jury duty. Maybe over my face as I sleep.
- Melissa is a mom now. She and Richard spent a full half hour showing each other pictures of their kids. It was dangerous levels of parental adorable in one place. I had to get a hazmat suit.
- We had a Waffle breakfast where someone presented Richard with a small bar of soap with a slice of bacon inserted through it. There was also a Tureen of Infinite Bacon. Really. Despite being devilishly early, we all took it upon ourselves to be entertaining. Melissa decided it was a Bar Mitzvah and held a contest for each table to come up with a name… which we all made fun of until it successfully entertained people. I also took the opportunity to get a photo of Mego Spock in front of the crowd at this little shindig. I figured a room full of Waffles was as good a place as any to represent InvaderCon.
- There were a lot of cool parents there who’d brought their kids. I think it may have contributed to the atmosphere being so durn nice. Rikki had told me about an anime con where the attendees had smashed a toilet with a hammer. There was no toilet-smashing at InvaderCon.
- One girl had come all the way from Australia to attend this thing. She was also very cute. I made no attempt to hit on her, as I am old.
- I sold scripts to pay for the trip. “ZIM Eats Waffles,” “Bad, Bad Rubbery Piggy,” and “GIR Goes Crazy and Stuff.” I also had a few copies of “Hamstergeddon” because Tom’s wife insisted, and a mere five copies of “Mortos der Soulstealer,” because someone on Facebook had liked it. There was this one 12-year-old-lookin’ kid who was with his parents, but just didn’t have the money to buy one. After I’d packed up, I happened to hear his mother say to him, “I bet you can find them on the internet.” “Seriously,” I said to him as I passed, “They’re all on the internet.” But after I rounded the corner, I had a Mean Joe Green moment, went back, tossed him a copy of “Piggy,” and said, “If you just want to read one, take this.” The kid’s face lit up. Suck it, Mean Joe.
- We went to a restaurant called “The Vortex” for dinner on Sunday night. Richard had gone their earlier in the week and wouldn’t stop talking about the fried pickles. This fine establishment’s featured burger is “The Double Coronary Bypass,” which consists — if I recall correctly — of a pound of beef served on two grilled-cheese sandwiches for a bun, with five slices of bacon, four slices of cheese and three fried eggs. Tom was disturbingly insistent I eat one. I didn’t. But we decided it should really be served by a burly man who straps the sandwich to his fist and punches it down your throat.
- Atlanta was hit by amazing thunder storms every night. Tornado watches were announced on the news. Lightning tore the sky a new asshole. Sheets of rain slapped at the windows hoping to lash us like pirates. It was cool.
- The whole of the InvaderCon staff were a cool bunch of people. Particularly Ryan and his fianceé Annie. If you ever see them, give them ice cream for no reason. Tom’s wife Shannon also deserves a medal. (No, not for being married to Tom. Though, really, who knows…)
- It was hard telling people the truth about why ZIM was cancelled; Viacom’s stock fell, the order was given company-wide to cut the budget, and we were the problem show with the lowest ratings. It’s one of those confusing, grown-up moments when you realize the world genuinely isn’t fair and the power of corporate reality really does trump things like “sense.”
- It was also hard telling people why ZIM didn’t come back again recently. It once again came down to money — or at least that’s what I’ve been told. Nicktoons was interested, but didn’t think they had the budget to do it right. I said to this baffled, disappointed crowd that the biggest chance the show had was to get back on Nickelodeon proper somehow. Would it be possible? Who knows. But the good news is the current crop of executives know the show is popular. They know it has a huge fan base. They look back on it as something the network mishandled, not the problem show that didn’t know what it was doing. Damn, you try to be anything but hopefully when you’re looking into the eyes of a few hundred fans.
I’m sure other factoids will bubble up in my consciousness as I look back on this InvaderCon thing, but all in all, I consider myself lucky to have had the chance to attend. Invader ZIM was cut down before its time, and while I was working on it there was much pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth, but if ever I needed an affirmation that it was all worth it — that yes, people still keep falling in love with this show even ten years later, and I’m lucky to have been able to contribute to this strange charismatic flipper baby of a series — InvaderCon was it.
And it took me three whole days to figure it out, but I wish I’d said, “How do you know you’re not important?” to that girl.
I would have felt like Mr. Rogers, but what the hell.