April 6, 2000
By Franklin Harris
Did the fine folks at Nickelodeon remember to check Jhonen Vasquez's resume before hiring him to create one of their new cartoon series?
Nothing against Vasquez, whose comic books are hysterical. Far from it.
It's just that it takes either a lot of guts or staggering ignorance -- and knowing TV executives, probably the latter -- to schedule an animated children's show created by a man who is best known for writing and drawing a comic book called "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac."
Of course, no one expects Nickelodeon's latest Nicktoon, "Invader Zim," which will debut this fall, to be anything like Vasquez's comic, which is published by Slave Labor Graphics and is collected as a graphic novel. But some folks are known not to let facts get in the way of creating a scandal, especially when "impressionable children" are "at stake."
What will the PTAs think? Will there be boycotts? Does Jerry Falwell know about this? Will Hillary Clinton incite her villagers to revolt?
Yet there it sits. "Invader Zim." Right smack in the middle of Nickelodeon's 2000-2001 lineup.
And "Invader Zim" is just one of a crop of, shall we say, edgy children's programs the networks and cable stations are preparing to unleash upon an unsuspecting public this fall.
"Invader Zim" is about an alien, Zim, sent to spy on the Earth. Zim figures that the best way to go about his task is to disguise himself as an ordinary elementary-school student -- or at least as ordinary a student as one can be and still have green skin.
One student, Dib, is onto Zim's plan, however, and is set on exposing him.
Meanwhile, Cartoon Network is hoping for a few Japanese imports to help it take away Nickelodeon's title as the most watched cable TV channel.
Cartoon Network is expanding "Toonami," its high-rated block of action-oriented cartoons, from two hours to three hours this summer. And joining the wildly popular anime series "Dragonball Z" and "Gundam Wing" will be another popular Japanese series, "Tenchi Muyo."
If you think you're sensing a trend with all these Japanese shows popping up everywhere, you're right.
The Fox Family Channel already broadcasts a four-hour block of anime programming, called "Made in Japan," on Sunday mornings. And this fall, its sister network, Fox Kids, will also likely have an anime-heavy lineup.
Fox's announced schedule includes two anime series so far. "Digimon," a popular "Pokémon" clone, will be returning for a second season, and Fox has also picked up "Dinozaurs," a series that combines computer animation with traditional cel animation.
Fox also has announced that it will show "The Vision of Escaflowne," a highly regarded anime series currently available on home video from AnimeVillage.com. However, Bandai, which owns the rights to "Escaflowne," has issued a statement claiming that the series' broadcast rights are still up for grabs.
And, of course, "Pokémon," the series that started the whole American anime craze, will be back. Kids WB has ordered a new season of the series, "Pokémon GS."
Things get weird
Then things start to get really weird. Fox Kids has picked up a new series from John Kricfalusi, the creator of "Ren and Stimpy," called "The Ripping Friends." John K.'s latest is about four "manly superhero friends" who take on such threats as "villainous mutated under-shorts." Expect John K.'s typical gross-out brand of humor.
Then there is "CyberSix," which is about a female android who disguises herself as a male high school teacher when she's not fighting the forces of evil.
And, lastly, there is "Diabolik," based on the long-running, psychedelic Italian comic book of the same name. Except that while the title character of the comic is a notorious thief, the cartoon's main character is a hero who battles a criminal organization controlled by his brother.