An interview with Ben Hatke
Ben Hatke is a graphic novelist for kids and teens. His first graphic novel was Zita the Spacegirl, and since then he has written many more including Little Robot and Nobody Likes a Goblin. He has published comics 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. Hatke lives and works in the Shenandoah Valley with his wife and their boisterous pack of daughters.
His latest book is MIGHTY JACK, a modern retelling of the classic Jack and the Beanstalk story. Josef, a Kids & Teen Bookseller in our Winnipeg store and big fan of Hatke, had an opportunity to ask the author a few questions about his work.
MRB: Looking across your body of work I have noticed a lot of different looking goblins and clockwork creatures. Given that and the general plot of the first Zita, is it fair to say Jim Henson's Labyrinth was a big influence on you?
HATKE: This is entirely fair to say.
MRB: Jack's concern and love for his sister provides some excellent motivation for action. Is that relationship based on something you’ve encountered?
HATKE: Sure. It's not a one-to-one correlation with any specific relationship, but I did grow up with two younger sisters and, you know, I tend to just watch all the people in my life and their family dynamics and friendships and all those relationships tend to worm their way into my stories.
I'd say I got use as much enjoyment out of writing Jack's family dynamic as I did working on the more action-fantasy bits.
MRB: When will we find out if Jack's seeds are magical or extra-terrestrial?
HATKE: That's an interesting question! We'll find out a lot more about where the seeds came from, but it's sometimes hard to draw a hard line between fantasy and science fiction.
MRB: And I just have to ask: Is the line "It's. Not. Weed-killer." based on the "That's not incense." from Serenity (the Firefly movie)?
HATKE: Oh! Not consciously! But Serenity/Firefly is one of my very favorite things, so that must have been rattling around in my upstairs.
MRB: I read your Justice League redesigns. Would you be interested in working with an established hero in-canon, or would you working with DC need to be a unique hero or Elseworlds-style adventure?
HATKE: That's a sort of perennial question, isn't it? I'm so SO happy writing my own characters, but when I meet up with other writer/artists, who are also working on their own stuff, this often comes up: "What character would you agree to/most want to work on?" We even did a little podcast where this question came up.
There are a handful of characters I'd like to tell stories about (cough-Green Arrow-cough), but it would probably have to be an Elseworlds kinda thing without too many continuity strings attached.
MRB: You have a well-deserved reputation for wholesome and hopeful work. A lot of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Superhero fiction seems to lean towards a darker view of the world. Can you comment on why you chose the messages and themes you do?
HATKE: I'm just out to tell good stories. And I think, in the world we live in, it's easy to take a grim view of things. We can always use a little hope.
The trick is to strike that balance where the story and the relationships still ring true. So "wholesome" and "hopeful" can't just mean "rosy" and "nice" or it all falls flat. Even in a hopeful story there will be pain and imperfection.
Mighty Jack is available now in softcover. Find it and many of Ben Hatke's other books upstairs in our Kids section.