By Ben Hatke, author of Zita, the Space Girl
I like all the little extra bits in books -- author bios, acknowledgements, sketchbook sections (mostly in graphic novels), and other parts that give you a little peek into the author’s life and process. If I’m reading a series, I feel just a tiny bit cheated if the author used the same bio as in the previous book. Didn’t they have any interesting experiences between the two books? Did they win any awards? Learn to play violin? Walk the Appalachian trail? Did they get a new cat?
A lot of authors seem to live with cats. They also often mention a computer and maybe another person who lives with them -- like a supportive spouse. I have cats too! I also have a computer and, come to think of it, I’ve got the supportive spouse too. But what I also have, that I don’t see in many author bios, is an unruly pack of daughters. I think that one of the reasons you don’t see that as often in author bios is that it’s just really difficult to do that kind of intense creative work in a house full of young adventurers. Cats, on the other hand, are quiet.
It’s a double-edged sword. On the one side for a storyteller living with kids is a font of inspiration. The girls are my first audience. They always ask about Zita the Spacegirl and her adventures, and when I show them the pages I’m working on I get an instant, honest response from real kids. But oh, the distractions! You see, the other thing is that we homeschool. This involves a lot of field trips and activities but, really, the girls are home most of the day. I have a little office/studio and with a door that closes, but that can be surprisingly ineffective. A visiting friend recently just shook his head and said “I don’t know how you do it.”
I don’t know myself, but the best answer is “I just try real hard.”
Actually AS I WRITE THIS ARTICLE, my eight-year-old daughter is telling me about all the magical things that she’d seen in an indoor antique emporium, including blown eggs, a mouse diorama, and a chicken wagon (can you imagine something called a chicken wagon?). Now on the one hand (she’s still talking), this is a TREMENDOUS DISTRACTION because I’m supposed to turn this article in in the morning. On the other hand, how can a storyteller not be inspired by an eight-year-old’s description of blown eggs and chicken wagons? I didn’t get to go to the emporium today, but now those things will grow in my imagination. Who knows what they’ll become or where they’ll end up.
And now my five-year-old is telling me about the “soup” that she made. I had just assumed that it was pretend soup made of play foods because they got a set of wooden toy veggies for Christmas, and I thought I was pretty clever when I bought a few more minutes of writing time by asking her to bring me some. She brought back real soup in a tiny bowl. I really had no idea she knew how to make soup. It’s extremely salty.
And really, I would never trade it because the thing is, to develop great stories you have to go out and experience LIFE, but to actually write great stories you have to sit in a room with a pile of blank paper. I’ve set myself up with as close to the best of both worlds as I can manage. While I sit at home working on art and writing I have a team of Life Adventure Explorers who go out into the world and then come back and report to me. It’s a pretty good system.
And now it’s 6 o’clock and I’m being called down to dinner. I haven’t quite finished inking today’s pages, but it’s all good. I’ll finish this article later. . . .
Ben Hatke has published comic stories in the Flight series as well as Flight Explorer. In addition to writing and drawing comics, he also paints in the naturalist tradition and, occasionally, performs one-man fire shows. He lives and works in the Shenandoah Valley with his wife and a boisterous pack of daughters. This is his first graphic novel.