Who are you, and what did you write?
I’m Ben Hatke. I write (and illustrate) graphic novels, picture books and prose novels for young readers and adults. My best known works are probably the Zita the Spacegirl Trilogy, and the Julia’s House picture books. My next book, Reynard’s Tale, is an illustrated story for grownups in the tradition of medieval folklore and some of Edward Gorey’s books. It will be released on April 19th. I’m currently working to finish a YA novel called The Princess in the Piazza.
What hardware and software do you write with?
I am a big fan of Leuchtturm notebooks. I try to spend as much time as I can with pen and paper.
For longer projects like a script for a graphic novel or the manuscript for a prose novel I use PAGES on my MacBook Pro. I really like to stick to tools that are as simple and accessible as possible.
I tend to write out picture books in 9X12 Strathmore recycled paper sketchbooks. The Strathmore sketchbooks allow me to drift between writing and drawing without much distinction between the two.
When and where do you write?
My most creative hours of the day tend to be between about 2pm and dinner time (and maybe a bit in the evening). That is when I do most of my real story work. My mornings I tend to spend on errands, chores, business stuff, or things like inking comics pages or scanning art.
It kind of feels like I spend the first half of the day just psychologically gearing myself up to write. And then once I finally get going it’s hard to stop.
As to the where: I have a small, one-room writing studio about 15 feet from the house. It’s an old summer kitchen and so it has its own chimney (and tiny wood stove). It has a TARDIS blue door (complete with call box sign) and the walls are crowded with art and bookcases and bows and arrows.
It’s not perfectly insulated, though, so in the coldest months I often end up at the library.
What's your dream writing setup?
That is a question that shines a light on a lifelong dream.
The other day I picked up an old notebook from all the way back in 2008 and I found a description of my ideal studio. “A studio for lots of artists” it said. With “a painting room, a guest room, a private office.” Fifteen years later that dream space is still unrealized and the dream is essentially unchanged.
I want to build a collaborative community space that is also a safe haven for visiting artists—a blend of painting studio, sculptural studio and maker space—a sort of merging of N.C. Wyeth’s Brandywine studio and the Jim Henson Creature Shop, if you can imagine it. There would still be a private writing space for me, of course, but that wouldn’t need to be much more than what I have now.
In 2019 I had gotten as far as working with my dad (who is an architect) to create a full set of floor plans and elevations (those are up on my patreon), and I was even talking with a builder. But then my daughter died very suddenly in an accident and that was followed by the pandemic.
My life feels different now, and so the Studio Dream remains beyond the horizon. But hopefully not too far.