Published by First Second
Zita is a brash young girl who isn't afraid to touch a button from space. Unfortunately, that's not exactly a good life choice. Soon, her friend Joseph is sucked into a space warp and Zita must follow in order to save him from her own mistake. Transported to a doomed planet full of aliens, Zita has to keep her wits about her and gather what friends she can from the outcasts of society to save Joseph--and maybe make it home, if they're lucky--in this engaging, impressive first entry in the series.
Ben Hatke, a veteran of Flight and its all-ages cousin, Explorer, doesn't try to make Zita cute or lovable or any of those other traps that books with a young protagonist sometimes fall into. Instead, she's a little bit of a jerk, and it looks like someone else might pay for her mistakes. That allows the story to be one of redemption for Zita, as she must rescue Joseph, even if it means possibly being trapped in space forever. She has to overcome fear and a nice level of danger (just enough to make the reader worry, not enough to be too violent for kids), make tough decisions, and learn the value of forgiveness.
The characters themselves and the bit players surrounding them are the real artistic draw. Hatke keeps the aliens more varied than an episode of Star Trek, and if you look closely at the crowd scenes, you'll see he's dropped in some Easter Eggs. In other cases, homages to Jim Henson or Miyozaki can be spotted, at least one of which is pretty blatant. I love the way that Hatke takes the time to make this world feel real by having more than generic aliens or just a few species. This is an ecosystem, not a static world.
I also came away impressed with Hatke's page layouts. Though most of the action takes place with the reader's eye placed close to the characters, he's not afraid to provide longshots for perspective, allowing scale to dominate the page. There's a strong flow from panel to panel across the narrative, too. Hatke is very good at deciding what visual will have the most impact, and to avoid talking heads. Sometimes, we just see feet!
Zita the Spacegirl is a great all ages book, one that is definitely geared to and perfect for younger readers, but also retains enough strong work visually, thematically, and in dialogue to be something adults can enjoy, too.