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Thursday, 10 October 2013

Zita the Spacegirl

Writer and artist: Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second

What's it about?
This is a brilliant little book for kids (aged 8 to 12) about a planet hopping girl named Zita.  The book starts with her on Earth playing outside with a friend, Joseph.  Her friend gets sucked through a portal and Zita runs away in fear and shock (she is only little after all).  Given some time to get over the shock, she returns to where Joseph was taken, reactivates the portal, and goes through herself in order to rescue him.  She finds herself on a planet which everyone is evacuating as it is due to blow up in 3 days.

Undeterred, she searches for Joseph.  Spying him in the distance, kidnapped by some sort of tentacled-diver-helmeted Screed, she chases after him.  On her journey she befriends a big lump named Strong-Strong, a tall Piper, a giant mouse, and a Heavily Armoured Mobile Battle Orb (H.A.M.B.O).  She travels through the frenetic city and the rusted wastes.  She meets enemies.  She finds Joseph (that's not really a spoiler) and she is a true Spacegirl!

What's good about it?
This book is fabulous.  It's as kids books should be - unfettered by day to day mundanity.  The characters are humourous and fun.  The background and the world building is marvellous.  The enemies and the incidental characters are bold if not a bit rude.  Zita herself isn't going to take any rubbish from anyone.  When she meets HAMBO he is being attacked by little blue dudes.  She fends them off and HAMBO instructs her to stomp them.  Well she's not going to do that.  She's kind and she just wants to find her friend before the planet blows up.

Like the best kids books it's about teamwork and the importance of friendship, and it's told with flair and imagination.  For example, HAMBO is a bit of an arrogant tyrant, or he would be if he wasn't so lowly.  Zita is constantly confused and baffled by the new creatures and customs put forward to her and she has to make sense of this world, trust in others, and follow her heart in order to complete her quest.

I've read a lot of fantasy books about the lone hero out to save someone close to them, and none are told in as fun a way as this.  Zita is brave and willing to put herself in danger to save her friend.  Joseph is the one who gets upset and nervous.  How often are girls the driving force and main protagonist in this sort of hero story?  How often are they the lead in a sci-fi story?  Not very often I tell ya.

What's bad about it?
It's not a kids book that adults will want to read over and over for themselves as it's definitely for children. It would be fun to read with young 'uns though.

What's the art like?
As mentioned above it's a really imaginatively told story and that comes across in the art as well. Check out the detail of the aliens on these two panels:

Hatke is good at drawing emotion.  This is Zita shortly after she's seen Joseph disappear. She's terrified:
You'll notice that a lot of the art I've chosen for this review has Zita looking upset or baffled.  She does smile in the book - she is happy at times - but she is also confused and perturbed about a lot of things.  Nonetheless she strides forth to save her friend.

The evil Screed:

This review, from Four Colour Criticism, goes into quite a lot of depth about the use of big open panels to give voice to Zita's stronger emotions.  It analyses the art in way I cannot.  I recommend you read it.

Other information
Price: £8.99
ISBN: 9781596434462
See the website here: http://zitaspacegirl.com/ including some Zita webcomics.
You can look inside the book and read the first several pages on Amazon here.
There is a sequel out - Legends of Zita the Spacegirl.

Also check out Laika and Anya's Ghost also published by First Second.

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of the work of "Emile Bravo", an European artist. Lovely^^