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Posts Tagged ‘Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

On the fence about graphic novels? Legends of Zita The Spacegirl by Ben Hatke might help you hop off and take sides. This reworked classic tale of two look-alikes who trade places proved a surprisingly enjoyable experience with its modern twist and implicit message about identity.

When Zita’s space adventures thrust her into the spotlight, she doesn’t take any pleasure in it because fame comes with a price. Everyone views her as a hero who can save their particular planet from danger. Then along comes an outcast Imprint-o-Tron (robot) with the ability to imitate Zita’s appearance. Zita takes advantage of this nameless robot to temporarily escape the public eye by switching places, except the joke is on Zita when the robot refuses to switch back.

By this point, I’m thinking this is a modern updating of The Prince and the Pauper, the first novel which I read which used this trick. As in Mark Twain’s version, both Zita and her robot clone use their experiences in each other’s shoes to make decisions about their future. In doing so, they also make choices about the type of girls/robots that they wish to be. Sometimes an adventure story is just an adventure story. What makes Legends of Zita The Spacegirl stand apart is that its whole is greater than all its parts. In other words, beneath its space travel comic format is a story with enduring substance.


As for its space travel comic format, it isn’t so bad either! What stood out most to me is how much, in contrast with traditional text-based novels, I enjoyed the action scenes. Most of the time, I tend to skim long passages about fights. In Zita The Spacegirl, battles never felt dull, because they translated to colorful pictures of enemy skirmishes accompanied by the words: “Boom!” “She’s strong!” “Skree”. This isn’t to say the battle scenes were the parts I liked best, but simply that perhaps for me graphic novels are the best way for me to read them. Kudos to Hatke in also creating reflective moments, funny moments, and all those other kinds of moments I have grown to love in my traditional text-based novels.


One of the reasons my reluctant readers gave me for liking Legends of Zita The Spacegirl is: “I can read it!” For them, most books are an arduous chore of trying to sound out and understand each and every last word, with the hope that they can make sense enough of the story to answer questions about it for an assignment. In contrast, for me, trying to read a book predominantly by pictures feels like my own exercise of frustration. Thank you, Ben Hatke, for reminding me that comic books (and therefore graphic novels) can be fun!

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

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We had better switch back before the ship takes off.

Zita tells this to her robot double in Legends of Zita the Spacegirl. Next thing Zita knows, her double has tossed her out of the ship and is claiming Zita’s role as heroine. Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke, is the second in his graphic novel series.


“I never left comics,” Ben Hatke told School Library Journal when asked why he returned to comics after taking time to focus on fine arts. Actually, Hatke would contend that it’s the other way around. He started out as a self-taught freelance artist, reached the point where he felt he could do better, but not without studying the fundamentals of art. “It was a point when I decided I should either learn to really do this right or find something else to do with my life.” And so first he studied at a studio in Italy. After that, he got a library card to the to the British Institute library in Florence and created a second course for himself. Hatke believes that taking time to focus on fine arts had a revolutionary effect on his comics. “I think everyone who wants to make comics … should take the time to draw from life whenever they can. It changes the way you look at things.”

Hatke is an artist, writer, and comics creator. He is the creator of the Zita the Spacegirl graphic novels, the second of which I’ll review tomorrow, and a contributor to the Flight Anthologies. He lives in Virginia with his wife, four daughters, a flock of chickens, and a cat. You can find his journal comics, which he gathers into a yearly collection, online at his website. Like me, breakfast is Hatke’s favorite meal of the day. He also apparently loves swords, whistles, fire-breathing, and rolling 20-sided dice with his friends.


According to Kidsreads, the Zita series covers a lot of issues from ego and fame to identity. When asked how he handled these in terms of the audience and age range which Zita attracts, Hatke responded that he doesn’t think about what is age appropriate. Instead, he thinks of Zeta as a real character, because then “her emotional journey will always be accessible to anyone who might pick up the book”. As for issues of identity, those are central to growing to up. As such, being “pigeonholed into a role” is something that we all have to deal with at some point. And while some roles might have validity, roles will only ever be part of who we are. In other words, identity is a universal issue that transcends age.

Other fun tidbits about Legends of Zita can be found by seeking out the rest of the Kidsread interview. Just for samplers, one of Hatke’s favorite parts of this book is the amount of space travel he could incorporate. For inspiration, he browsed a lot of Hubble telescope images and other space images. Also, I found of particular interest how much he involved his family. He tells the stories to his wife. His four daughters let me know when jokes fall flat, or when action is confusing, and if Zita seems like an honest character to them. And for this second book in the trilogy, the oldest two even each got to draw a small background creature.

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