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Strange Tales

Strange Tales Spotlight: Jhonen Vasquez Q&A

The Invader Zim and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac creator invades Marvel with a whole new maniac: MODOK!

By Sean T. Collins

In a series of twistedly hilarious comics from SLG, including Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squee!, Fillerbunny and I Feel Sick, writer/artist Jhonen Vasquez has developed a brand of black humor that made him one of the most popular comics creators the indie scene has ever produced—a position cemented by the cult-classic status of his Nickelodeon cartoon "Invader Zim." But Vasquez's comics are as funny, weird and wild as anything on the stands, indie or no. Perhaps that's why he chose to tackle one of Marvel's most misunderstood miscreants for his contribution to STRANGE TALES: the mighty, mega-craniumed M.O.D.O.K. Vasquez graciously allowed us to pick his brain about working with the biggest brain in the Marvel Universe.

 Marvel.com: What character are you taking on?

 Jhonen Vasquez: Whoa, whoa. That's a bit personal, don't you think? [Laughs] Oh, alright. I had initially struggled between depicting a very popular, heroic character, Wolverine in this case, and just being ridiculously silly and small with him, but eventually went with someone less media-friendly—M.O.D.O.K.

Marvel.com: Always nice to see M.O.D.O.K. in action. Why'd you pick him?


Page from Jhonen Vasquez's story in STRANGE TALES #2
Jhonen Vasquez: The popular characters are attractive in that they'd be fun to play with in ways that are far from what people would expect, but that's about it for me. It'd be more like jumping into someone else's body, John Malkovich-style, but then having them behave more like yourself. M.O.D.O.K., however, I can relate to, as I'm pretty much a hideous, angry head that channels a bit of self-loathing into a desire to subjugate others.

Marvel.com: Naturally. Have you been into that character for a while?

 Jhonen Vasquez: I remember my brother was a huge hero comics collector when I was a kid, and though I would read the books he had, the ones that really attracted me were the ones that were essentially just page after page of character bios. There were freakish characters in there that I'd rarely see in the books, and the grotesque villains, like M.O.D.O.K., were always my favorites for how unpleasant and fantastic their origins and forms were. Something about villains whose origins are victim stories just makes them way more interesting to me than the average bad guy, and when that victim is transformed into a repulsive, bloated head in a floating helmet/chair, there's just no end to good times.

Marvel.com: So what happens to him in your story?

 Jhonen Vasquez: M.O.D.O.K., to me, has a bit of that angry nerd vibe, a character isolated for their intellect, punished and tortured for being smarter than the rest, who then becomes just as terrible as the people who torment them. I figured M.O.D.O.K. was, despite being surrounded by goons, a pretty lonely guy, so lonely, in fact, that he'd have gone pretty insane with it. 

In looking for someone like himself to hang with, I figured he'd barely need them to pass the requirements in order to bring them along, going so far as to kill someone without knowing he even did it. It's pretty deep, but it's also a familiar tale, deeply rooted in classical storytelling. Basically, a guy hangs out with the severed head of a child and has adventures throughout time until a planet eating superbeing eats said head. English Lit stuff right there.

Marvel.com: I think I slept through class that day. Now, through your own work, you've got plenty of experience with far-out sci-fi, action, and general weirdness, all of which are hallmarks of the Marvel Universe. I'm curious-did you approach working on a Marvel character like M.O.D.O.K. any differently than you would characters from your own work?

 Jhonen Vasquez: In this case I'm going to have to say no. The characters are different, and personalities—as much as you can get across in four pages—are different, but I'm going to guess people familiar with my stuff won't exactly be shocked to see the stuff go down that does in my comic. If anything, the most jarring change would be the color palette, which was a deliberate choice to go with an almost cheerful, Sunday funnies kind of look to contrast with how disgusting things get in the story.  

As cool as it would be to actually take on characters like this and fit them in with the way they are generally portrayed, especially a M.O.D.O.K. story, while still giving it a touch of my style, you give me just four pages to play with a floating monster head and I really have no choice but to make it as ridiculous as I can in the time and space I have.

Marvel.com: One of the interesting things about STRANGE TALES is how it exposes Marvel fans to cartoonists and styles they might not be familiar with. What do you think you bring to the table as a writer and artist that's different from the norm?

 Jhonen Vasquez: I suppose I bring to the table that Jell-O dish that nobody ever wants to eat at the picnic. The table's got bowls of chips and pretty straightforward stuff that everyone digs, and then they see my Jell-O and wonder who the hell invited me. Thing is, some people, maybe not a great deal of them, but some people dig what I do, so when they see my stuff there on the table, they scoop it up in their hands and scurry off behind a tree where no one can see them gobble it up. They're usually pretty unpleasant people, but they're out there, and they keep asking me to make more.

Marvel.com: Sounds delicious. Now that you're making your Marvel debut, care to share some of your favorite Marvel stories?


Page from Jhonen Vasquezs story in STRANGE TALES #2
Jhonen Vasquez: ALPHA FLIGHT #1. I remember Puck and Sasquatch best, monsters and tiny bastards. Again, it was something my brother had collected when I was a kid and I'd just nab them from his "collector's bin" devaluing them left and right with chocolatey fingers eager to find out what sort of things a Sasquatch gets up to in the snow. These days my Marvel delvings are pretty much theatrical with stuff like the X-Men movies and "Blade." I was sad to see Blade finally taken down by the IRS.

Marvel.com: So say we all. Any other Marvel heroes or villains you'd like to tackle someday?

 Jhonen Vasquez: I still think I'd like to do the Wolverine story I had in mind first before deciding on the M.O.D.O.K. comic. It'd be the saddest, most pathetic Wolverine ever seen, the Wolverine the fans have been clamoring for.

Marvel.com: For those fans out there who don't know your stuff, what do you recommend if they'd like to see more of your work?

 Jhonen Vasquez: Of the stuff out there and ready for the grabbing, anyone that wants it probably already has it by this point, but "Invader Zim" has been on DVD for about a hundred years now, and all my old comic work, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squee! and I Feel Sick, are always floating around in shops. Not actually floating. People can keep up with what I'm up to either from my website www.questionsleep.com, or through my twitter page http://twitter.com/JhonenV .


Check out Jhonen Vasquez's MODOK story in STRANGE TALES #2, on sale October 7!

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