What is the Use of a Book With No Pictures or Conversations? Zita the Spacegirl Has Both, and Then Some.
Zita is the kind of person who, when she and her friend Joseph stumble upon a meteorite in a meadow, climbs down into a smoking crater to investigate it. And when she pulls a device with a giant red button out of the space rock, of course she’s going to press it! What’s the worst that could happen?
Well… A rift in time and space could open, so that an alien being can grab Joseph with its tentacles (Tentacles! Bad news!) and pull him away from Earth. At that point, most people would probably run away—and Zita does just that, at first.
But Zita is also the kind of person who, when her best friend is kidnapped by an unknown being from an unknown world, she presses that button again and jumps headlong into the portal it makes, straight into the unknown. And thus, like
before her, she
falls down a Alice rabbit wormhole and tumbles into Adventure! And that’s all
just in the first sixteen pages.
I happened upon Zita the Spacegirl, written and illustrated by the ridiculously talented Ben Hatke, through one of those weird coincidences that suggest that sometimes the universe is trying to get your attention. So picture this: I’m staying overnight in a friend’s guest room, which is practically overflowing with stacks of mostly unread comic books and graphic novels. As I prepare to go to sleep, I check Twitter on my phone (like you do just before bed), and I see that another friend of mine, who has impeccable taste, is absolutely gushing about a graphic novel called Zita the Spacegirl. I take note of this, planning to look the title up at some point, but I probably never would have remembered to follow up if I hadn’t casually glanced over at a stack of comics right in front of me and discovered Zita sitting right on top!
Look, I was tired. It had been a long day and I was already in bed, but the book was right there. I had no excuse to ignore a clear cosmic sign like that, none, because I could read it right then, and for free! So I picked it up and read it—cover to cover, probably without even breathing.
No, I guess I must have breathed, because otherwise I would be dead right now. But you know what I’m saying. It was not just great, it was compulsive.
Okay, so Zita the Spacegirl is probably intended for young readers, like maybe middle grade and younger, if I were absolutely forced to categorize it. It was published by First Second Books, purveyors of quality graphic novels for all ages—and that’s really who I would say this book is for: all ages. Unless you’re one of those sad people who lost your heart and soul somewhere along the way to adulthood, in which case you might recover some of them in the pages of this book.
If it sounds like I’m overhyping this, I’m really not. Few books, graphic novel or otherwise, are as inventive as Zita or simply as much fun, or as full of wide-eyed joy and wonder. Zita is a remarkable protagonist, a headstrong girl who is loyal, friendly, helpful, resourceful, and oddly cheerful in the face of danger and strangeness. Within moments of landing on an entirely alien world, populated with a creative range of aliens and robots (robots!), she is hot on the trail of Joseph and his captor, on a madcap journey across a galaxy with the aid of some unlikely allies. If her sensible friend were along for the ride, he would likely advise Zita not to be so reckless, but let’s face it, she would ignore his advice anyway.
I fully adore the style of this book, the fast-paced action, the writing, and the characters; Zita would fit right into an anime film by Hayao Miyazaki like Spirited Away or Kiki’s Delivery Service, and boy would I love to see that. You’ll probably want to give Zita the Spacegirl immediately to the kids in your life, especially any girls who might be a little too much into Disney Princesses. (If only for the fact that Zita’s uniform, complete with a cape, is far more stylish and functional than even Belle’s, Jasmine’s, or even Merida’s corporate-approved fashions.) I gave a copy of this book to my 7-year-old niece, who read the entire thing in one sitting, which by all accounts, is a rare accomplishment indeed. It was such a hit, I braved New York Comic Con just to meet Ben Hatke and ask him to autograph a copy of the sequel, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, for her.
And of course, I asked him to sign one for me, too.
So, in case you’re missing the obvious signs the universe is sending you, or you’ve been feeling particularly obstinate about paying attention to them, this is my not-so-subtle call to action: Get a copy of Zita the Spacegirl, right now. Read it. Then pass it on. Zita is the kind of book that, when read at a young age, will always stick with you.
E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. He has published short fiction in a variety of print and online magazines and anthologies, and his young adult novels, Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, are available now from Pyr Books.