If you missed this 2011 7-Imp post, let me quickly summarize for you: Zita’s first set of adventures—Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl, released by First Second Books last year—is the story of a girl who lives on Earth but is transported to another planet when her friend is kidnapped by what can only be described as an alien doomsday cult. In the new world, she meets warrior robots; giant mice; mechanized, spider-like predators, out to get her; a mysterious man, also from Earth, named Piper; a large, lumpy, friendly creature named Strong-Strong; and the Scriptorians, the planet’s first inhabitants, who intend to use Zita’s friend Joseph as a ritual sacrifice to prevent the destruction of their planet. Whew. When it’s all said and done, Zita must make a huge sacrifice in order to help her friend.
In the new adventure—Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, which was released earlier this month and which Kirkus calls “a charmingly dashing interplanetary adventure” and “utterly bewitching”—Zita discovers that she’s now renowned as an intergalactic hero — but also that fame is not all it’s cracked up to be. Complicating matters is the junkyard robot Imprint-o-Tron who impersonates Zita after spotting a Zita poster. And I can’t give the entire story away, should you want to read this yourself, but I will say that Zita goes from hero to fugitive, and she must also learn how to work with the Zita-doppelganger to help save a planet. This tale also involves the mysterious and beautiful Madrigal, not to mention the evil Star Hearts, “interstellar scavengers capable of unassisted spaceflights” and the “scourge of many a planetary system.”
And, boy howdy, does the whole thing end with a big, juicy, delicious cliffhanger, too.
Zita, installment number two, doesn’t disappoint is what it boils down to. Our beloved protagonist is fearless and her adventures are thrilling. Or, in the words of Madrigal, Zita shines in a crisis and inspires loyalty. Yes. That, too.
I thought I’d interrupt all of creator Ben Hatke’s drawing to ask him how easy (or not) it was to write and draw the sequel; how many Zitas we can expect; and lots of other stuff, including ways in which I can bribe him and his family into stuffing me into their suitcase for their next trip to Italy, which may involve cookies. I also include a few questions from my own Zita-crazed daughters. (This is not something I regularly do, lest it become very kids-say-the-darndest-things here at 7-Imp, but I’ll do it just this once.)
On that note and with regard to this wonderful comic at Ben’s site, I have to say that Zita’s adventures went a long way in teaching my six-year-old how to read, given her immense devotion to the books. Now, my first child came out of my womb with a book in hand and nearly went from not-reading to reading fluently, but the six-year-old is learning to read as most children do, and I mean to tell you that she rips through these—way more than most books—because of her giant crush on Zita. To be clear, both girls are bananas over these books, but it’s remarkable how far the two books went in engaging the child still working her way around words in books.
Ben shares lots of art and early sketches from the new book today. I thank him for taking the time to visit 7-Imp again (especially for taking the reins on this interview, which he really did, given my busier-than-normal work schedule right now).
Jules: To start off, can you tell us what kinds of things are on your desk right now?
Ben: My desk is overflowing! Right now, it’s a big mess of sketchbooks and paints and great stacks of comics pages, books I’m reading, and little gifts my kids bring me throughout the day. And a couple minutes ago there were cookies on my desk.
Jules: What’s your most interesting kid-gift of late?
Ben: Angelica has been making these rainbow-painted, cut-out birds, all top views, that she affixes to long, thin sticks so that their wings flap. I get those when she’s finished flying them. I also get flowers, and I have a painted stone turtle doorstop.
Jules: You mentioned books you’re reading. What are you reading right now?
I also recently read The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell — a zombie story. Right now I’m reading A Canticle for Leibowitz, which is a strange and interesting tale about the ages after a nuclear holocaust — with monks!
Jules: I have to ask, since you mentioned The Hobbit. Are you eager to see the film adaptation this Fall and will you take your children, or are you so devoted to the book that you’re too nervous to see it?
Ben: Well, I guess the truth is the latter. I’m one of the people who was not a big fan of the LOTR trilogy, thinking it missed the point of the ending, especially, by a wide mark.
Then the trailer for The Hobbit came out, and darned if I didn’t find myself getting excited! I liked the idea of Guillermo del Toro doing it, but I still thought “yeah, this could be fun.” It looked in the spirit of things.
But now he’s splitting it into three movies. That’s troubling. Does this make me a grouch?
Jules: And the comics on your desk? Tell me about those.
Ben: The biggest stack is the inked pages from the third Zita the Spacegirl book. I worked full steam on that story over the summer. I feel like with this third book I’m finally gaining some real cartooning confidence and it’s been a blast to work on this story. I have a sketchbook that’s nearly full to the gills with concept art.
Jules: “Robot Comics”?
Ben: Robot Comics!
Like most comics-lovers, I got into comics through the newspaper comics strips. When I was growing up, I used to make my own comic strips that were very similar to Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes. I went on to make long-form comics (graphic novels and short stories), but I still love the format of the strip. It’s limiting, but within those limits you can do some pretty fun things.
The robot comics are my return to, and exploration of, the comic strip.
Jules: Can you tell us one sneak-peeky thing about Zita 3? Just one, tiny thing?
Ben: Oh, I want to tell you all about it! But I can’t.
Okay, I will tell you this one thing: One of the characters is a skeleton.
Jules: Let’s talk about Zita 2.
Ben: Yes! It’s the new Zita adventure that was released on September 4th.
Zita’s on a quest now to find a way back home to Earth, but she’s going to run into some complications. There’s more action in this story, and we meet some new characters. There is also actual space travel in this volume.
I’m very eager to see what people think of this continuation of the adventure. I had the opportunity to sign and give away a few advanced copies at TLA and IRA this year, and my friend Dave Roman was laughing about how ridiculously eager I was to see people reading this book.
Jules: Was it challenging at all to work on the sequel, or did the ideas just flow?
Ben: The ideas did not flow AT ALL. This book went through many drafts, some wildly different, and it took much longer than I ever expected it to. I know that—because I get to write and draw and paint and make comics for a living—I basically waive my right to complain about anything, but still … The day I turned in Zita 2 was one of the best days of my recent memory. It was a perfect September day and I had my wife drop me off in a small town nearby. I went to the Dollar Store there and bought a bunch of snacks and then hiked home along the railroad tracks through the woods. I waded across the Shenandoah river. It was awesome.
On the other hand, the written version of the third book, the bones of the story, DID just flow out. It was really energizing. I was banging on the keyboard, thinking: “This is great!”
Jules: You mentioned that there were paints on your desk. How exactly do you create your art?
Ben: For the Zita books, I create black and white pages, scan them, and color mostly in Photoshop. In a few of the pages, I get fancy and give them a light wash, but mostly the colors are digital.
Smaller comics strips are inked and then colored with various watercolors. I keep the colors loose. You can do a lot digitally, but in the end nothing beats nice paper and nice paints.
Jules: I remember from our last 7-Imp chat (2011) that you also studied a little bit in Italy. Do you still paint in oils?
Ben: Yes, I still do oil paintings whenever I can, but not nearly as often as I’d like. We went back to Italy this year, though, and I managed to get out this summer and paint a few landscapes. No portraits or figures, though!
My best painting project from this summer was a large (4-foot) landscape of Gravagna that I made for my wife. It was a present for our eleventh wedding anniversary. Gravagna is the little village where her father was born, and I wanted us to be able to take the village home with us, at least in a small way.
Jules: What’s next for you?
Ben: Oh, I have all kinds of plans!
I do a small, self-published yearly print collection of my journal comics, personal illustration and things. I’m also working on a picture book for Macmillan. That’s the project I’ll be jumping into immediately after Zita 3.
Jules: Ooh! Picture book! Can you talk a bit more about that, or is it too early?
Ben: It’s too early to talk about it just yet! I’m feeling very aware that I’m in new territory with this — and respectful of how tricky it is to make a really GOOD picture book.
Jules: So, what happened to the cookies that were on your desk?
Ben: I ate them! Would you send me some replacements?
Jules: Only if you and your family squeeze me into your suitcase for your next trip to Italy. Just tell me your favorite kind of cookie, and I’ll get my travel gear ready.
Ben: I am really partial to amaretti these days. Mmmm.
Jules: I don’t normally do this, but here goes: My daughters (ages 8 and very-nearly-7) are big Zita fans. They have some questions for you, too, that go a little like this …
The Eight-Year-Old [jumping up and down a lot]: Oooh! Ooh! Ask him: Why are your books so awesome?
Ben: Ha ha! Maybe we just like the same types of things!
The Six-Year-Old: Ask him: How do you make your words so funny?
Ben: You know, I put a lot of thought into how a character speaks, and the real, honest truth is that I do a lot of the voices out loud and then try to write it with the voice I was using.
Both of Jules’ Imps: How many Zita books will there be? We want a whole series.
Ben: Will you be angry if I tell you that Zita is a trilogy?
I have more plans for the characters though, so maybe it’s more like a “first trilogy.”
LEGENDS OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL. Copyright © 2012 by Ben Hatke. Published by First Second Books, New York. All artwork and sketches used with permission of Ben Hatke.