Creating ‘Little Robot’: Ben Hatke Interview

Books GeekMom
Image: First Second

Ben Hatke, of Zita the Spacegirl, and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, has a new book! Yay! It’s called Little Robot, and I highly recommend it. Ben was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about his new work:

GeekMom: Hi Ben! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for GeekMom about your new book, Little Robot. I really enjoyed it.

Ben Hatke: You are welcome! And I’m glad you enjoyed it.

GM: Did you always plan for this to be a (mostly) visual story? What were the challenges and most fun aspects?

Ben: The original Little Robot webcomics were newspaper comic strip format and they were also largely silent, save for a few robot noises. So, coming into the project, I already had a sort of history just using the robot’s gestures and “acting” to tell a story. I continued that going into the graphic novel and gave the robot a little co-star that operated in a similar way—gesture over dialogue.

It was challenging to decide just how little text I could get away with, but for the most part I find purely visual storytelling a lot of fun. I used one of my daughters as a reference for a couple poses.

GM: The “hand” becoming a friend was a great part in the book. How did you come up with that idea?

Ben: I think that’s one of the things that came from the part of the process where I doodle in my sketchbook. In the early parts of a project like this I tend to be working on the plot in text and the design in a sketchbook at the same time, and each of those elements informs the other.

Of course I’m definitely not the first person to use a “helping hand” type of character. I was watching a clip from The Iron Giant recently, which I hadn’t seen in many years, and was a little dismayed to find that there’s a very similar robot hand scene in that movie!

GM: Tell me the creative influences for this particular pair of characters (the girl and the robot).

Ben: Well, as I said, the robot arose from a series of comic strips I had been making, so it had a long gestation as a character. I wanted to pair the robot with a little girl for this story and that was another thing that developed through the sketchbook side of things. I wanted a little girl who was very different from either Zita (from Zita the Spacegirl) or Julia (from Julia’s House for Lost Creatures). I drew the little girl in this story dozens of times in my notebook and she gradually began to… become who she is. Sort of. Character creation can be kind of a mysterious process because there’s an unconscious element to it.

GM: Although this is a book aimed at children, the story of relationships is relevant to all ages. What do you hope readers get from your book about friendship?

Ben: It’s more of a meditation than a lesson on friendship I think. Friendship is a messy business with misunderstandings and changes along the road.

GM: Cats sneak into your work. I presume you have some?

Ben: I think I’ve always had at least one cat. I’m definitely a cat person. And a turtle person.

GM: Question from my son: What was the original purpose of the robot? The robot factory?

Ben: That’s a good question! And something I’m going to hold close to the chest for now. I have an idea and it may play into another story…

That said, the “factory” is sort of loosely based on all those big faceless warehouses you see from the highways and from some country roads in middle America. Because who knows WHAT goes on in those places. Those big warehouses are so boring-looking that our eyes just sort of don’t register seeing them. But they are EVERYWHERE…

Thank, Ben!
Little Robot is available now. GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

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