Zita the Space Girl, by Ben Hatke

Illustration by Ben Hatke, with permission.

Zita receives dubious consolation

Honorable, fiercely determined and a good friend, the titular protagonist of  Zita the Space Girl has many admirable qualities as a hero for youngsters.  She’s also the sort of person who pushes a big red button just to see what happens.  

Here she and her friend Joseph find exactly that:   in the middle of a smoking crater in a grassy field sits a chunk of meteorite, and nested inside the cracked rock they find a small square device with a big red button.  Against Joseph’s better judgment, Zita pushes the heck outta that button, and ZOOSH opens a portal in the air, from which snakes out a long tendril that lassos Joseph and drags him away to who-knows-where.

Zita does the smart thing:  she runs — then reconsiders,  and since she was the one who got him into this mess, she returns to the scene of disaster to once again push the button to open that door to another world.

Kids are greedy for adventure stories that star kids as heroes.  The best recent all-ages graphic novels tend to follow this precept.   Zita joins comix standout graphic novels like Amulet and Bone in creating interesting and believable fantasies with spunky, determined and good-natured young heroes.

Ben Hatke writes kids as though he himself never fully grew up, a great quality in a comics writer.   His Zita is clearly in over her head, overwhelmed by the stomping horde of alien beasties in the marketplace of the other realm, and while she’s got buckets of courage, still she reacts believably at the frightening and alien situation.  If she stops to cry a bit who can blame her?  She has lost her friend and her homeworld.   Yet like many a 9 year old (or thereabouts) her capacity for upset is overcome by her desire to be up and doing something.  And this forward momentum propels the story on an excitable ramble.

The art is charming and genial with appealing heroes and monsterly monsters.  And appealing  monsters as well.  Marginal details add depth and humor to the alien cityscape.  Bit-part characters show up for cameos that beg for continuation.

Here in our library we get together on a monthly basis in our “Comix Jam”  to project comics on the Big Screen with our document camera.  We’ve been running this adventure for the past couple months to a rapt audience.  The best that can be said about any book in a library collection is that no matter how many copies you own you never have enough, and when you have finished reading it the kids all ask if we have the sequel.

In this case the answer is ‘not yet’ but I hope we will.  Mr Hatke, draw fast…  Or you know what?  If it comes out this well, take your time, it will be worth the wait.

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