Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Zita the Spacegirl gets down to business right away. It starts with two friends, a mysterious crater, and a device that opens a portal to another dimension.
Meek Joseph is immediately captured by a tentacled being with a deep sea diver's helmet. Adventurous Zita, in a daring effort to save her friend, follows the creature through the portal. A strange alien planet exists on the other side, and Zita finds that she is not welcomed with open arms.
In Oz-like fashion, Zita eventually befriends a group of allies that include a giant mouse, two malfunctioning robots, a gentle beast of burden, and a rogue inventor who manages to get them out of trouble almost as many times as he gets them into trouble.
The book won me over when Zita, having just been run over by a giant space snail (along with several other incidents), hides amongst a wall of pipes and has a quiet cry. No sooner do the tears start to flow than two tiny hairy plumbers pop out of two of the pipes and start to argue about how to stop her leaking face.
"To fix this sorta leak all you gotta do is tell it good news!"
Unfortunately, the other plumber gets his "goods" mixed up with his "bads." Strange creatures murmuring back and forth, they had all the rhythm and humor of Jim Henson's best work. I wish he was still around to film such a nutty and clever exchange.
Joseph has been kidnapped by a group that believes he has the power to stop a renegade asteroid from destroying the planet. Zita will need her new friends to help get Joseph back and stop the asteroid from doing its damage.
What I enjoyed most about Hatke's world was his creativity when it comes to gags. He has an inventive mind that stretches beyond the limitations of the real world. When Zita and her inventor friend are captured at one point he unveils a small tube.
"You can get out of jail with toothpaste?" Zita exclaims
"Not toothpaste. Doorpaste. The rarest and most valuable paste of all," he replies. It's a simple gag that relies on outside-the-box thinking, and the book is chock-full of them.
Hatke's drawing style manages to depict a variety of strange creatures, some cute, some sinister, and all fascinating. At one point Zita flips through an encyclopedia of different species. Though we only see four entries, Hatke could have put in dozens more, and I would have been fascinated. His landscapes are equally strange and beautiful.
The surge of high-quality children's comic books in the past few years has been most welcome. Every month there are several new titles that manage to impress me with their distinctive artwork and strong storytelling. A child today has way more entryways into the medium than ever before. Zita the Spacegirl is one of the latest from First Second, a great, relatively new comics publisher that will hopefully be putting out other talented titles for years to come.