Q&A With Ben Hatke on Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

Books People

Legends of Zita cover sketchLegends of Zita cover sketch

Cover sketch with color, a little closer to final layout.

Characters cookCharacters cook

Character sketch by Ben Hatke

Liu: Okay, and now on to my own questions: What’s your process for writing a comic book like this: do you have a story in mind and then start sketching out characters, or do your sketches of characters and creatures lead you to a story idea?

Hatke: For me drawing and writing really mesh together well. When I’m developing a story I start a new text file and a new sketchbook. The text file grows as I add notes and write outlines. At the same time the sketchbook fills up with scenery, character designs and creatures spouting bits of dialogue.

So art and writing work in tandem. They dance together right from the beginning.

Legends of Zita cover sketchLegends of Zita cover sketch

Cover sketch – almost same as final layout but note Zita’s expression.

Liu: How much do you have plotted out before you start, both in terms of the plot itself and the actual layout and images?

Hatke: I’m crazy about outlines. Art and writing work closely together, as I said, but always in the service of a good story. And for that I rely on a solid outline.

I work on the outline of the plot, usually from 12 to 14 story points, for a long time. I revise it until I think it is a solid skeleton on which I build a good story. The outline is my guide, but I keep it pretty general so that I can still make a lot of the details, dialogue and situations up as I go.

Thumbnail exampleThumbnail example

Thumbnail example for first few pages of the book.

Stories are a mysterious dance between plot and character. I tend to put my characters into situations and tell them “okay you can get through this in any way you want as long as you arrive at the next place in the outline.” This lets me give myself the illusion that I’m making it all up as I go, but the outline is my safety net.

Once I have that perfect outline I move right on to drawing finished pages. At no stage do I have a complete thumbnail version of the book. I sketch out a scene, draw it, and then move on to the next chunk. I’m usually less than 20 thumbnailed pages ahead of my finished inks.

Thumbnail exampleThumbnail example

More thumbnail sketches — these scenes might not have made it into the book.

Finally, after some editorial work (which usually involves redrawing a few scenes) I start coloring. Coloring a 200-plus page book is time consuming. I listen to a lot of podcasts at this stage.

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