Today I have the wonderful author/illustrator Ben Hatke, who writes the Zita the Spacegirl series, answering some of my questions. I'm a huge fan of his graphic novels and so are my students.
Check out my reviews of Zita the Spacegirl and Legends of Zita the Spacegirl.
How was creating Zita the Spacegirl different from your work in Flight?
I was moving from a 15 page story to a nearly 200-page story for one thing, which was something I had never done before. I learned more than I could ever tell from the process. A work like that is much more complicated than a short story but there’s also a freedom that comes with a longer tale. Without the page constraints of a short story you can take the time to add in all kinds of extra touches, or stretch a single moment across a page spread.
On the other hand, unlike a short story in an anthology, in a graphic novel the spotlight is all on you and the one story you are telling. I had a little more stage fright with this one.
What was your inspiration for creating Zita the Spacegirl?
Zita’s origin is a story I’ve told many times but for me it never gets old. You see, when I was in college there was this girl…
When she came to school she brought with her a character called Zita the Spacegirl that she had drawn as a comic in her high school notebooks. I really wanted to impress this young lady (she was really cute) so I started developing the character, gave her a green cape and worked on an iconic outfit…
And it totally worked! The girl was so impressed that she married me.
Can you explain how a graphic novel comes to life, so to speak – the basics of how to create/publish a graphic novel?
It’s a mystery! Well, maybe not a total mystery, but I’m still learning and I’m not sure I’d recommend my particular working method because it involves a lot of trying, failing, backtracking and trying again.
These days my books start life in a big, spiral-bound 100 page sketchbook where I put story ideas, character sketches, and concepts as they come. In the sketchbook the story starts to refine itself.
The next step is a twelve to fourteen point written outline of the story. All the major story beats should be present. I put a lot of work into the outline, but I try not to not to be too detailed so that I still have room to make up some of the stuff on the fly. Making up stuff as you go is part of the fun!
After that I start thumbnailing pages and drawing finished pages at the same time. I try to stay about 20 pages ahead of myself in the thumbnails. I like looking back through my old thumbnail sketches because they look like the scrawlings of a madman.
Then after the editorial process (this can be a long or short step) comes the part where I color all the pages. That’s also the part where I listen to a lot of podcasts.
What are your experiences with art? Were you always inclined to draw, even when a child?
Oh yes, I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil. I started copying cheetahs and other animals out of old National Geographic magazines. I’ve always been drawn to comics as well. I find that stretching my art into other areas, sculpture and painting for instance, keeps my illustration work interesting.
I have a little bit of classical training, but for the most part I am a self taught artist who has been blessed with some very good mentors and talented friends.
What advice would you give to young artists/authors who want to someday create a graphic novel?
Draw and write every day. Draw and write even when you don’t feel like it, on days when you’re sad or tired, because those are sometimes the days that hold great surprises. Keep a sketchbook, and keep learning. Look at all the great art from the past.
And, if you’re serious about the graphic novel, learn the language of comics by reading Scott McCloud’s books.
I'll have to check those out! Thanks Ben for answering my questions!