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Ben Hatke on Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

Artist/writer Ben Hatke created a delightful and amazing adventure in Zita the Spacegirl. Now he’s back with more Zita (and more space!) in Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, which is even more awesome than the first book. Here’s what Ben had to say about it.

What’s Zita up to in this second book?
She’s still trying to find a way home to earth, but it’s all been complicated by the consequences of saving a planet from destruction. Word has gotten out that she saved Scriptorius from the rogue asteroid and now her new and somewhat unwelcome role as a traveling hero is weighing on her. So she slips away for a moment and encounters a robot who can mimic her appearance. One thing leads to another and they switch places.
How much has Zita grown up or changed since the first book? Do you see the character evolving in significant ways as you progress with the series?
Zita is definitely growing up, and changing as she makes her way from world to world. She still has her impulsive tendencies, but that heroic role that’s been thrust on her…she’s starting to grow into it.
In the first book, Zita landed on a world that was alien to her and, through the course of her adventure, she built herself a group of dedicated friends. But in this second story she gets separated from that supportive group and is branded a criminal, so simply making new allies isn’t that easy. In this story, Zita needs to develop a bit of self-reliance.
I am definitely trying to avoid hitting the “reset button” for each new adventure.

You’ve mentioned you wanted to up the amount of space adventures for Zita in this book. Why was that?
One of the things I am pleased with in this book is that there is space travel and scenes set in space. In the first book the action was reserved to a single planet and Zita arrived on that planet via a jump crystal and not in a ship. This time around we get to see numerous ships, domed space stations, creatures that live among the stars, and even a circus that travels from world to world. In a way I feel like I’ve finally put some “space” in Zita the Spacegirl.
I also got to draw a lot of big, spacey backgrounds and that turned out to be a lot of fun. I looked at a lot of Hubble telescope images and other beautiful space images for inspiration.

This book covers a lot of issues for Zita, from ego and dealing with fame to identity issues. How did you handle those in terms of the audience and age range Zita attracts?
It’s funny, but I don’t think a lot about the age range for Zita. I try not to think about what’s “age-appropriate” and instead think of Zita as a real character. I try to keep her honest. Zita is a character all her own and I feel like if I keep her an honest character and a “real” kid then her emotional journey will always be accessible to anyone who might pick up the book.
I think issues of identity are central to growing up and, while dealing with fame isn’t something most of us ever have to worry about, I think that being pigeonholed into a role is something we all encounter at some point. Sometimes there’s even some validity to the roles that people set for us, maybe more than we know or think. But at the same time a set role never quite “fits” who we really are.
But it’s all surprisingly easy to write when you’re dealing with a strong character like Zita.

What were some of your favorite scenes to plot out and draw in this book?
This book has some more action in it and I’m finding that I have a lot of fun drawing kinetic scenes. It’s really interesting to think about how a character moves and then try to get that down in a drawing.
My favorite action scene in this book is a chase through a domed city-size trading station. It has alleys and buildings and docks for space stations. And there are a lot of different characters involved in the chase, from the bulky Doom Squad troops, to a giant Cat and a lithe and acrobatic human(like) woman named Madrigal—oh, and Zita, who has her own unique way of moving.
What do your kids think about Zita and her stories? Do they offer you advice or criticism as you’re creating them?
Yes! I’m lucky to have a pretty good test audience living at home with me. I have a nine-year-old, a seven-year-old, and a four-year-old (all girls) who enjoy checking up on my progress. (I also have a one-year-old, but she’s still more likely to chew on the pages than anything.) The girls let me know when jokes fall flat, or when action is confusing, but they’ve so far never been confused by Zita’s emotional reactions. I think she seems like an honest character to them, and that’s good.
My oldest daughter, Angelica, is developing a marvelous artistic insight all her own. She was a genuine help in judging the colors on a couple pages. She even suggested a color changes on a couple of pages that I was skeptical about but ended up being spot on.
Oh, and the older two each got to draw a small background creature for this book. They’re like little easter eggs.
So yeah, I guess my family is pretty involved in the process. I’m working on the third book now and there was a great moment when I was working on the written draft. I came down for dinner and just started telling the story to my wife, Anna, and then the kids started gathering around to listen. Dinner got cold on the table because no one wanted to start before I finished the story. That’s how I realized that I was working with a solid draft for book three!
How many more Zita stories do you envision doing? And what’s next for her in that third book?
The third book forms a distinct ending point for Zita’s story. There may be more books down the line, and I definitely have further plans for both Zita and her universe, but for the time being, Zita’s story is a trilogy. As for what happens in the third book…there is a lot of action, a lot of surprises, and I don’t want to say much more for fear of giving anything away but…one character is a skeleton!