He draws. He isn’t afraid to dress-up like a superhero. He writes super (cool) comics that feature smart and sassy girls — drawing inspiration from the five super cool females in his life.
These are just a few of the reasons I loved email chatting and getting to know comic creator, Ben Hatke.
Husband to Anna and dad to four adorable girls, Ben was kind enough to give us a glimpse into his day, why you should seriously consider taping up a large blank sheet of paper in your downstairs bathroom, where great stories come from, and a peek into his (cool) heroines.
But — not before coffee.
There are lots of creative media out there — so I’m going to ask the basic question first (although I have a feeling there’s a great story here): Why graphic novels?
Well, I’ve loved reading and making my own comics for about as long as I can remember, at least since I first found Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes in the newspaper. And as a very visual thinker, the comics medium tends to be a good fit for me as a storyteller. I is just a lot of fun.
But one of the things that really taught me that I had a knack for entertaining people with comics was something I started doing in college. I taped a big sheet of paper up in the bathroom of our dorm room and every time I was in there I would add a few panels to a crazy ongoing comic that featured many of our friends. Then I would sit up in my bed and watch people go into the bathroom and, right on cue, I would hear laughter coming from the bathroom.
Our bathroom became very popular.
For those of us who are new to Zita (from your Zita the Spacegirl series0), can you tell us a little bit about her? How did her series come to be?
Zita the character has been with me for a long time and in fact there is a whole bonus section at the end of the third book that tells where she came from, creatively, and how she developed. I even made a little timeline that goes all the way back to 1994!
You see the very first Zita the Spacegirl comics were drawn by my wife, Anna, when she was in middle school. When we met in college, she told me about this character and I developed Zita for her. Zita went through many iterations through the years and there is a pretty fair amount of Anna in Zita’s personality.
Zita’s world grew further through a series of web comics and short stories I did, before plunging into the three books that tell the story of why, exactly, this young girl is traveling from world to world.
You and your wife have a full house with four young daughters! What types of things do you do to foster their creativity?
I find that one of the keys to fostering creativity in kids is simply to make sure there are supplies and materials, and then not get in the way. We go through a LOT of paper in our house.Well, because of where we live (in the country) we’re a homeschool family, so it’s kind of all creativity and learning all the time. We have a house full of books and microscopes and art supplies. It’s been pretty exciting so far (and more than a little exhausting). I find that one of the keys to fostering creativity in kids is simply to make sure there are supplies and materials, and then not get in the way. We go through a LOT of paper in our house.
I also think a wide variety of experiences is helpful. This past weekend we drove into Washington DC with another family to see the Dying Gaul which is on display at the National Gallery. The kids all brought sketchbooks. This was a day after I bundled the girls into the car and took them to see the Lego Movie. I’m glad I live in a world where we can see and think about both those things in the space of a couple days.
At the same time, working from home in a full house certainly has it’s challenges. I’d hate to be cliche and ask “how do you balance” — so how do you keep all the balls juggling– and manage to keep coming up with stories?
I’m can’t say that it’s not sometimes completely crazy! I’ve learned to love my headphones. On the other hand, watching the girls come and go and have adventures has really fueled my creativity. Plus they visit me when I’m working from time to time and they are always ready to take a look at what I’m working on and give an opinion.
A day in your life looks like…
Some mornings start like this:
Every day is different, really, but the first thing I do every morning is make a list of what I want to accomplish that day. My lists are usually a little over ambitious, but it helps to have some things written down. I usually spend the mornings doing business stuff, answering emails and things, and then a warmup sketch or notebook time. Notebook time is when I take some time to draw or write down whatever crazy ideas have been floating around in my head.
I try to spend my afternoons doing some serious work on whichever project is my main project at the time. Right now it’s my next graphic novel, Little Robot. Here’s a picture from that:
Just draw every day. I recently made a quick little cartoon illustrating what I think is the only real trick to making good art. It goes like this:
Tell us about your newest adventure and heroine: Julia!
Julia! She’s a more domestic, artistic heroine than Zita. Julia likes things to be organized and tidy, but she also feels like her big old Victorian house is a little too quiet. So she paints a sign that says “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures” and hangs it up outside her door. Before she knows it a whole host of down-and-out creatures come to stay with her, including trolls, mermaids, goblins and a dragon. Her new room mates are anything but organized and tidy.
What’s the last thing you read?
Hmm… I’m currently in the middle of The Monuments Men, and I’ve been reading several H.P. Lovecraft stories. It’s hard to believe I hadn’t read Lovecraft before this year.