Ben Hatke at Miami Book Fair by Kate M.

hatke03Ben Hatke at the 2014 Miami Book Fair International
by Kate M., age 11

I was thrilled when I heard Ben Hatke, a favorite comic author and illustrator, would be speaking at the Generation Genius Day program at the 2014 Miami Book Fair International. Hatke is the author/illustrator of the incredible Zita the Spacegirl series and the newly released picture book Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. Because I am a big fan of his work and a young inspiring artist, I was excited to hear him speak. I thought I could learn a lot from him, and I was right.

I had some high expectations for the author behind the Zita books, but he was everything I imagined — fun, animated, energetic — just like his books. Hatke told us that making the Zita books taught him how words and pictures work together to tell stories. This is what else he shared:

He stole the idea of Zita the Spacegirl! (gasp!) Okay, it’s not what you are thinking. He met a girl in college who told him about a character she made up: Zita the Spacegirl. He created stories around the character to impress the girl. I guess his scheme worked, because now he is married to her. Later, Hatke continued to develop Zita and her story in web comics.

His mom frequently took him to the library. His dad always encouraged him to make things. Together, his parents gave him a love of stories and making things. That love brought him to comics.

Some big lessons he learned while making his books:

Brains want to make connections. Readers make connections between the panels on the pages of a graphic novel.

Hatke pays special attention to gesture and body language. What can his characters say with body language and no words?

He draws from life. Art can be made stronger just by observing the world around you. Put some of your own life in your stories. Put themes from your life into your drawings. Experience life and connect it to your art.

Behind his process:
Step 1: Have an idea! How can you tell when an idea is a good idea? It’s good when the same idea keeps nagging at you and it won’t leave you alone.

Step 2: Hatke writes a one-page, 12-14 outline based on his idea. He uses it as a general guide and adds details along the way. Simultaneously, he doodles characters, designs, scenes and ideas in a sketchbook. He starts a new sketchbook for each project. Doodling is the fun part. His favorite things to draw are creatures and robots. Sometimes he finds ideas for characters in The Natural History Book: The Ultimate Guide for Everything on Earth. The most challenging thing for him to draw? Cars. He calls cars his kryptonite.

Step 3: Before he starts working on the final pages, he creates thumbnail pages. Thumbnail pages are rough sketches of what the final pages will look like. Despite having an outline, the ideas continue to develop slowly on the page.

So what’s next for Ben Hatke? During his author session, he gave us a preview of his new book releasing Fall 2015. Little Robot is a sweet, playful book for all Zita fans. If you are not a fan of the Zita the Spacegirl series that means you haven’t read it. Go to your local bookstore or library and read them now!

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