Check out an exclusive first look at the thrilling book trailer for the Return of Zita the Spacegirl, the triumphant conclusion to the graphic novel trilogy about Zita and her space-faring adventures. So much killer action. And below, writer/artist Ben Hatke explains what he's learned from doing this series.
Here's the official description of The Return of Zita the Spacegirl, which comes out May 13:
Zita the Spacegirl has saved planets, battled monsters, and wrestled with interplanetary fame. But she faces her biggest challenge yet in the third and final installment of the Zita adventures. Wrongfully imprisoned on a penitentiary planet, Zita has to plot the galaxy's greatest jailbreak before the evil prison warden can execute his plan of interstellar domination!
And here's an exclusive essay from Ben Hatke about the experience of crafting this epic trilogy:
Watching Your Characters Grow
(Or What I Learned About Character Development from Zita the Spacegirl)
In my last year of college, I met a really cute girl. She was adorable and quirky, with an Audrey Hepburn haircut and a smile that would . . . anyway, I started looking for ways to impress her. You know, like you do.
One day she told me about the comics she used to make in high school — comics about a space girl from the future. And I thought, "maybe I should develop this character and make a comic for her."
So I designed a costume and drew my first Zita comic. It had time travel and a tyrannosaurus in a cape and it was very, very silly. But it was a start, and the comic totally worked because that really cute girl married me. So go team comics!
As the years went by, I revisited Zita as a web comic.As I continued to develop her, she got younger, her personality began to take shape, and she slowly developed a cast of friends. And then (to gloss over some in between stuff) I found myself writing three books about the why of it all, about what exactly this girl was doing out in space.
Developing a character with a specific, fleshed-out and believable personality takes time. I was lucky with Zita because I spent a lot of time working with the character before I ever started working on the books. And all that work helped Zita to hit the pages of the first book armed with a more fully-formed personality than she would have otherwise.
In my case, all this advance character development was more luck than planning.
With this third volume in the Zita trilogy, I'm saying goodbye to Zita (at least for a little bit), and it's given me the chance to look back on how she has developed as a character through the years and reflect a little bit on what Zita and her friends have taught me about developing character personalities.
Here are a few things that I've learned and that I try to keep in mind:
1. Personality is different from, and just as important as, backstory:
In other words, what a character knows/experiences + how a character reacts/behaves = who that character is.
I've found that writing or drawing your character into a variety of different, even random situations can be a lot of help in developing a full personality. How does your character react when s/he accidentally squirts way too much ketchup on a sandwich? Is your character calm under pressure? Frantic? How does you character react to other strong personalities? Don't worry about canon, just put your character in a grocery store and see what they do.
2. Gesture: I harp on it all the time, but I think it's important. Even if you're writing a novel and not a comic I still feel it's important to know how your character moves. Do they talk with their hands? Is your character very expressive or is s/he physically reserved? Zita, for instance, moves with more energy than grace. Even if you aren't an artist you might try sketching your character to get a sense of how they move through the world.
3. Goals and feelings change but basic personality traits do not: As a character moves through a story s/he grows and changes. In many ways that what a story is. But certain things will and should always be hardwired into the characters personality. Zita's journey has a lot to do with the pull between home and friends and Zita grows in experience and her feelings about going home change through the course of her journey. But she will always struggle with impulse control and a quick temper. It's who she is.
4. Characters begin as pieces of you, but then they grow into distinct personalities all their own that exist in your head. It's weird and a little unsettling — and it's part of what's so cool about making stories.
It's also why there are so many stories of authors being really sad when they say goodbye to a character.