Graphic Novels, Tough Chicks celebrates the amazing female characters that abound in graphic novels. While many people still associate this particular form with a male readership, certain graphic novels empower women and combat feminine stereotypes through illustration and text. Tough chicks resist injustice, fight for their beliefs, and they don’t take flak from nobody. These women are capable of fighting their own battles, both literally and figuratively.

This week I’m delighted to be discussing a younger tough chick, the titular Zita from Zita the Spacegirl.

Zita the SpacegirlTitle: Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl #1)

Author: Ben Hatke

Publisher: First Second on February 1, 2011

Source: Library

Zita’s life took a cosmic left turn in the blink of  an eye.View Spoiler »

What would you do if your best friend was sucked through a portal in front of your very eyes? Well, if you’re the titular character from ZITA THE SPACEGIRL, you jump through and go after him! When Joseph is unceremoniously whisked off to who knows where, Zita doesn’t hesitate to charge ahead, obstacles unkown.

This is my favourite aspect of Ben Hatke’s whimsical Zita the Spacegirl: the portrayal of loyal friendships – and a heroine with some serious pluck. When she emerges on the other side of the portal, Zita finds herself in whole new world. Literally. The planet she has landed on is in turmoil, its population selling all their other-worldly possessions to buy a seat on ships set to evacuate. There is an asteroid on a collision course for the planet, large enough to destroy everyone on it – including Joseph and Zita.

Zita panel
Image: Ben Hatke

Zita takes this new world and her potential impending doom very much in stride, barely batting an eyelash at giant care-bear looking monsters (scarier than you might think) and evil tentacled beasties. Rather than being frightened of the unknown or disturbed by difference, Zita befriends many of these creatures on her quest. Thankfully Zita has a lifetime of mischief and an irresistable charm to fall back on, so she’s well suited for both making new friends and questing.

One such friend is a giant mouse named Pizzicato (but he goes by Mouse) whose sole form of communication is a small typewriter-like device connected to his throat. This vaguely steampunk-y device prints out small snatches of language as well as emoticons to convey his displeasure.

Although Zita possesses many admirable qualities, it is her ability to see beyond appearances to someone’s true worth that makes her an undeniably tough chick When she encounters Randy the Robot, he appears little more than a derelict simpleton. The others who’ve joined Zita’s quest suggest disabling him, but Zita sees an intelligence and loyalty in Randy that her friends do not. She argues for his life, and he becomes a key player in later events. To paraphrase J.K. Rowling, it takes some serious lady balls to stand up to your friends. And Zita’s got ’em.

Zita panel 2
Image: Ben Hatke

The main plot arc and many of the creatures that Zita meets are easily recognizable tropes: young girl whisked away to another dimension, befriends a talking mouse, and battles an evil creature. Even the art style is reminiscent of many established artists, most notably Raina Telgemeier. While it doesn’t exactly break new ground, Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl does introduce a tough chick for the younger generation.

Zita the Spacegirl may not be the most original graphic novel you’ll ever read, but it’s an important addition to the slowly expanding list of MG/children’s graphic novels that portray girls who start – and finish – their own adventures. It’s also a story about the importance of seeing beyond appearances and asking for help from your friends when you need it, valuable lessons for readers of all ages.