Zita The Spacegirl Lands At MTV Geek

By Charles Webb & Eddie Wright

Starting today, November 22, in collaboration with artist and writer Ben Hatke and First Second Books, MTV Geek is releasing installments of Hatke’s cosmic adventure fantasy, Zita the Spacegirl. Every Monday at Noon, eastern standard time, a new chunk of the whimsical, sci-fi tale will hit the site. The entirety of the book’s 192 pages will roll out in 11 separate parts leading up to the official release in both hardcover and paperback on February 1, 2011.

This is the first of many collaborations between MTV Geek and not only First Second Books, but a multitude of publishers, writers and artists, both indie and mainstream alike.

From First Second Books:

Zita’s life took a cosmic left turn in the blink of an eye.

When her best friend is abducted by an alien doomsday cult, Zita leaps to the rescue and finds herself a stranger on a strange planet. Humanoid chickens and neurotic robots are shocking enough as new experiences go, but Zita is even more surprised to find herself taking on the role of intergalactic hero. Before long, aliens in all shapes and sizes don’t even phase her. Neither do ancient prophecies, doomed planets, or even a friendly con man who takes a mysterious interest in Zita’s quest.

Zita the Spacegirl is a fun, captivating tale of friendship and redemption from Flight veteran Ben Hatke. It also has more whimsical, eye-catching, Miyazaki-esque monsters than you can shake a stick at.

Zita began life as a webcomic and in the pages of the indie anthology series, Flight Explorer, before getting the full, graphic novel treatment from First Second. Though Zita is Ben Hatke’s first graphic novel, he’s been creating naturalist art and comics for years, publishing stories both online and in Flight. In addition to working with Geek on this very cool project, Hatke is designing the hat that surrounds the MTV Geek website with cosmically cool art from Zita.

We had the opportunity to chat with Hatke about Zita, his early work, his inspiration, his background and his future creative plans for Zita and more.

MTV Geek: Could you tell our readers a little bit about the Zita the Spacegirl?

BH: Zita is a girl from Earth with a perilous streak of curiosity. One day when she and her friend Joseph are walking home from school they find a crater with a meteorite. Inside the meteorite is a red button. Joseph, who is more cautious, wants to leave the button alone. Zita, of course, pushes it and when she does a door in the universe opens up and something grabs Joseph and pulls him through.
Zita then begins a journey to save her friend.

MTV Geek: Who are some of the companions Zita picks up along the way?

BH: She gathers up a motley group of friends as she travels. There’s Piper, who is equal parts con-man, wizard and junk dealer, a giant Mouse named Pizzicato, a war machine named One who was imprisoned for “failure to work well with others,” a timid robot named Randy who lives in a junkyard, and a large oafish creature named Strong Strong.

MTV Geek: How did the project come about?

BH: Some years ago I started posting short 3-page Zita comics online as a way of improving myself as a comics artist, and also for fun. I never intended to do a book at the beginning but the universe these characters live in sort of percolated in my brain. I eventually did a 15-page Zita story for Flight: Explorer about a magical wishing sock, and after that I started trying to develop her world a little further. It took me a surprisingly long time to realize that I needed to tell the story of how this girl ended up out in space in the first place.

MTV Geek: What were some of the inspirations for the book? I’m picking up everything from Miyazaki to the Muppets from what I’ve seen.

BH: Perceptive! Henson and Miyazaki have both been huge influences for me creatively. Jim Henson, in particular, because he was able to fluctuate between the colorful zaniness of the Muppets and the darker otherworldliness of projects like The Dark Crystal. He obviously wasn’t afraid to experiment. I’m also a fan of Maurice Sendak, Mike Mignola and Bill Watterson to name a few others.

As for the story itself, while I was working on it in the early stages I was reading a lot of very old folk tales and fairy tales and the logic of those stories wormed its way into my thoughts. I should also list G.K. Chesterton as an influence.

MTV Geek: How did you get started writing and illustrating comics?

BH: As a child I always loved comic strips and would often draw my own, but one of the things that really opened my eyes to what could be done with comics was Elf Quest by Wendi and Richard Pini. I loved Elf Quest.

I drew a lot of comics in college for a sort of school magazine, but what really opened the door for me was getting involved with the Flight anthologies. Not only was I able to work on slightly longer stories, but it was tremendously helpful to be able to share work with such a rich group of creators. I really owe a debt of gratitude to Kazu Kibuishi for inviting me into the mix.

MTV Geek: Could you talk a little about the style you chose for Zita?

BH: I drew this book with the goal of making something that was visually accessible. I put a lot of effort into the gesture and facial expression of the characters, and simple page layouts. It’s very tempting as and artist to push the boundaries of page layout and over-use all the little tricks like breaking the panel borders. But I tried to create pages that people who maybe hadn’t read a graphic novel before would be able to pick up and instantly follow. I tried to keep my color palette rich, but not overpowering and the character designs easy to read.

MTV Geek: What were some sources of inspiration you drew from?

BH: Inspiration comes from everywhere! I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction growing up (and I still do). But I also believe in getting inspiration from real life. I have a lot of other interests as well: gymnastics, music, juggling, fire-breathing, and hiking to mention a few. This was my chance to put as many of my favorite things as possible into one book.

Also, I have three daughters of my own now and they never stop doing things to surprise and inspire. They come to check up on my work, ask about my stories and comment on them. It helps me to see when I’m striking the right chords. There are bits of Zita the Spacegirl that I put in specifically for my girls. They also draw pages and pages of new creatures and ask me to put them in the books.

MTV Geek: How did you end up bringing it to the publisher, First Second? And just what inspired this collaboration with MTVGeek?

BH: A few different publishers had looked at the book, and I remember that First Second wasn’t really taking submissions at the time. But I thought “What the heck, I’ll just send them a friendly email.” So I sent a note saying who I was and what I had worked on and that if they were ever taking submissions I’d enjoy working with them someday. Shortly after that I got a really nice email from an editor there who was interested in the book.

She ended up being my editor for the book and a good friend. She’s a great editor.
As for collaborating with MTVGeek, that came together pretty quickly, and I think I have Gina Gagliano, First Second’s Marketing Associate, to thank for it. It’s a great opportunity!

MTV Geek: Could you talk a little about your own experience with online comics? What kind of impact do you feel they’ve had on the industry as a whole?

BH: Online comics really do change the game for the young cartoonist. The internet gives you the ability to share your work with an audience almost as quickly as you produce it. This is a fantastic tool for learning what kinds of things people react to and refining your storytelling, art and comic timing. My experience in sharing comics online has been overwhelmingly positive. It also allows you to create a name for yourself no matter where you live.

MTV Geek: How do you plan on rolling out Zita? Do you have a set number of volumes the story will be spread across?

BH: Currently I’m working on a second Zita book. It’s taken a long time to write but it’s shaping up to be a LOT of fun. I know how Zita’s journey ends, but I’m not certain exactly how many volumes it will take to get there. The Universe is a big place!

MTV Geek: What do you have coming up after Zita?

BH: I have several non-Zita stories in various stages of development. None of them involve space. Some of them involve magic. A couple of them haven’t even decided if they are graphic novels or prose novels.

Check out a trailer for Zita the Spacegirl from First Second Books.

Click the image below to read part one of Zita the Spacegirl and keep it here each Monday at Noon for the rest of this truly wonderful, fantastical space fantasy.

http://www.mtv.com/geek/comics/issues/?id=249

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