I was a fan of Jhonen Vasquez's early comic works for Slave Labor Graphics, namely Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Squee!, so I was delighted when he transitioned to the animated television show Invader Zim. But since Zim was unfortunately taken off the air far too early, Vasquez's output has been sadly scant. So while it might've been shocking that he did the character designs for the upcoming Disney television show Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja, it was a welcome surprise. Before the show begins airing on Disney XD weeknights at 7PM (starting September 17th, 2012), you can become better acquainted with the concept as Vasquez has been sharing his original character designs along with commentary on his Tumblr blog.
Right from the beginning, Vasquez wants the viewer to acknowledge that this is a different show than Zim: "I actually dig these versions [pictured below] a lot for all the differences from what people usually associate with Zimâs designs. Most of what I submitted on this show was a lot more rounded out and bendy, where Zimâs earlier design was all about the angles and hard edges. I just figured a different show should look like a different show!"
When it came to designing the namesake protagonist of the program, according to Vasquez, "what I was given was a very general description of 'Looks like a ninja' so it gave me a chance to do whatever the hell I dreamed up, so the scarf thing was one of the first details that popped into my head." The above were Vasquez's "first sketches of possible Ninja designs for Randy Cunningham. I always want to go for a little more inhuman on stuff, so Randy as a Ninja in these early designs was a bit more covered up in my favorite sketches, but with the big eyes glowing or showing through so he could still be expressive enough."
And when it came to drawing Cunningham out of costume, Vasquez thought that "itâs an interesting job dreaming up BODIES for characters without knowing the character of the character, if that makes any sense. Most of this stuff I did without knowing too much about what the show was going to be as I was just doing design and wasnât involved in any of the writing or any such thing." Vasquez created "Randy as a ginger and more of a regular looking kinda dude, and his colors in my sketches are way different than what he ended up as. In the final product heâs got blue or purple hair, but I liked having him looking a bit more cohesive palette-wise, and a bit more normal to contrast with the crazy superthing he turns into."
Howard Weinerman, Randy's best friend, is the result of "horror movie/metal fans mixed in with a whole mess of Nick Frost and a whole lot of cargo shorts. His final form seems to have taken on the ginger quality I originally gave my Randy designs!" And, of course, there's Howard's older sister Heidi, who's described by the show bio as "tall, beautiful, popular and on the cutting edge of pretty much everything."
According to Vasquez, the two characters above are "some concepts of villainy for Randy Cunningham - McFist and his henchman the Viceroy.
"I donât remember the exact description I had for McFist but I knew he was supposed to be some kind of corporate jerk, probably former military, with his defining feature being a robotic arm controlled by a fish brain. Pretty sure it was a fish brain. McFist I think saw the biggest changes from sketches to how he appears in the show, with concept stage McFist being a stocky block of a man. Looks like he slimmed down in the end, but here heâs a bit more of a cybernetic monster jerk. I canât recall if the fish brainâs old-school arcade joystick made it into final animation, but I thought it was funny that that arm would be controlled with as simple an interface as a joystick.
"Viceroy was actually one of my favorite dudes to figure out and I think he remains relatively unaltered from concept to final animated form. Described as kind of a super-genious henchman dandy, I ended up going with something inspired by Richard Ayoadeâs Moss from the IT Crowd, and Sam Jacksonâs Mr. Glass from unbreakable."
In regards to The Sorcerer, Randy's main antagonist, Vasquez is "pretty sure he was just supposed to be some kind of old timey magician from Japan but heâs just a monster now. Was really into the overly distorted proportions for the guy, tiny legs and arms that would most likely drag on the floor if not held up, and then thereâs his crazy long neck. Not a whole lot left of whatever human he maybe used to be."
Above we can see a generic "band geek" and the "hulking horror" he becomes. This transformation is due, according to Vasquez, to the Sorcerer having "the power to transform people and things into monster versions of themselves, so this was my go at what that might result in. Figured some common element would be this black mass that sorta operated the victim, but that was probably too bizarre for a kidsâ show. Iâm not the best person to decide that! It was pretty much your general purpose supernatural Miyazaki goo."
Images and quotes courtesy of Jhonen Vasquez's Tumblr blog.
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