Zita the Spacegirl began in 2004 as a Webcomic by Ben Hatke, comprising a series of apparently unconnected online strips featuring the eponymous human girl and her humorous adventures with aliens and robots in outer space. A few of the original strips can still be viewed online here. Others may still be viewable via the Internet Archive.
Hatke later published a short Zita story, "Wishing Socks", in the graphic anthology Flight Explorer (2008). This was followed by three kid-friendly graphic novels which place the characters in context. Zita the Spacegirl appeared in 2010, followed by Legends of Zita the Spacegirl in 2012 and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl in 2014. The three books have a self-contained storyline, but end on a blatant Sequel Hook.
In the first book, Zita, a young Earth girl, along with her friend Joseph, sees a strange device fall from the sky. When Zita messes around with it, it opens a portal that takes the two kids to another planet. Joseph gets captured by a Screed, who brings him to a cult that believes he is the key to stopping a meteorite from destroying the planet.
Zita goes on a journey to rescue Joseph and return herself and him back to Earth before the meteor hits the planet, on the way she encounters Gentle Giant named Strong-Strong, a con-man named Piper, a Proud Warrior Race guy named One, and a klutzy robot named Randy, all who join her in her journey to rescue Joseph and hopefully return home.
Hopefully it's not too much of a spoiler to reveal that Zita doesn't get home straight away. In book 2 Zita capitalizes on her fame as the planet's savior, but soon discovers that being a hero is far more complicated than she'd expected.
Book 3 opens with Zita on trial for crimes she (mostly) didn't commit, but she soon discovers that being thrown in jail is the least of her worries as some of her friends are in danger and even the planet Earth may not be safe.
The Web Comics and graphic novels contain examples of:
- Action Girl: Guess who. Also Madrigal and Robot Zita in Legends.
- Aliens Speaking English: Although there are a few that don't.
- Animate Inanimate Object: Ragpile, who came to life in the dungeons and longs to see the outside world. A throwaway line from Femur implies that he's at least partially biological, though. From the same book we get some of the rocks (the ones that look like chunks of coal) deep inside the prison planet, which are capable of motion but hide that for unknown reasons.
- One of the web strips has a sentient alien mailbox, although it might be robotic.
- And the Adventure Continues: The end of book 3. "And that... is when my adventures really began."
- Art Shift: This will only be evident if you've seen the early online strips in which Zita had a rounder face and lighter-colored hair. A couple of the early strips were redrawn to match the new style.
- Badass Adorable: Zita, of course. Also Madrigal.
- Badass Cape: Zita and her robot wannabe.
- Berserk Button: Well, more of an extreme annoyance button, but Piper really doesn't like it when Strong-Strong calls him "Whistle Man", and he's even more annoyed when, later, Robot One picks up on the name.
- Big Bad: The Dungeon Lord in Return.
- Big Damn Heroes: All of the good guys get their moments to shine.
- Big "NO!": Piper, when the Screeds show up to capture him.
- Cliffhanger: The end of Legends sees Zita about to be arrested for crimes she didn't commit. Mostly.
- Crossover: With Mighty Jack later on. A much older Zita tries to help, and ends up clashing with one of the protagonists of that story.
- Doomy Dooms of Doom: The space police are called the Doom Squad.
- Enemy Rising Behind: In Return, Madrigal is too busy watching Glissando save Randy from a Screed to notice one sneaking up behind her.
- Guile Hero: Zita frequently utilizes this trope.
- Heart Symbol: Comically subverted. In this web strip Zita meets a small creature that seems to be saying it loves her. In fact it's trying to warn her about a deadly heart-shaped monster that's just sneaked up on her (a Star Heart - a species that also plays a key role in the second graphic novel).
- Played straight with some of the notes Mouse uses to communicate with Zita.
- Heroic Sacrifice: The giant mecha defending a planet against the Star Hearts will merge with its pilot irreversibly. Robot Zita chooses to sacrifice herself by piloting it in Zita's place. Previously the mecha had rejected the robot because she was just a hero wannabe, leaving Zita as the only other alternative. It is only when the robot chooses to sacrifice her identity to save Zita's that she qualifies as a true hero and the mecha accepts her instead of Zita.
- The sentient rock containing the jump crystal smashes itself apart in order for Zita to receive the crystal.
- Hero Stole My Bike: Zita's hijacking of a spaceship in Legends; unfortunately for her, she got hit with a heavy dose of Surprisingly Realistic Outcome and that deed gets her arrested, tried, and jailed.
- Hero with Bad Publicity: In Legends, Zita was forced to hijack someone's spaceship to try to reunite with her friends, word of the deed, however, did spread quickly and Zita wound up having police robots frequently chase after her for her theft of spacecraft.
- The Homeward Journey: Zita and Joseph's primary goal in the first three books is to get back home.
- Hot Gypsy Woman: G-rated version. Lady Madrigal, traveling space circus owner-performer, and (it turns out) Piper's estranged girlfriend.
- Humongous Mecha: In Legends Zita and the robot that's imitating her gets to drive one in defence of planet Lumponia. The Lumpies also use smaller steam-powered mecha on the planet's surface.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Guess what they call it when a Star Heart attacks a planet. Go on, you'll never guess.
- Involuntary Dance / Mind-Control Music: Piper's flute-playing can make listeners dance until they drop, or just fall unconscious on the spot.
- Ironic Echo: In Legends, when Mouse is reluctant to board a stolen spaceship with Zita she tells him, "In or out, Mouse." Later on Madrigal uses the same phrase when Zita is reluctant to board Madrigal's circus ship.
- Living Ship: Madrigal gives Zita a small one in Legends.
- Made a Slave: What happened to Joseph after he wasn't returned home. Or so he explains when he reappears. He also picked up enough useful skills as one to Take a Level in Badass
- Me's a Crowd: This web strip.
- Also one of Hatke's Real Life daughters, though which came first...
- Narnia Time: Despite apparently spending months in space Zita and Joseph arrive home seemingly just minutes after they left.
- Or Was It a Dream?: Zita and Joseph have a moment of this at the end of Book 3 but later acquire proof that it wasn't.
- Platonic Boy/Girl Heroes: Zita and Joseph start out this way, but are soon separated, though they are later reunited.
- Prophecy Twist: The prophecy is a picture that accurately depicts a scene that does come to pass... but from a perspective that's grossly misleading about what's actually going on in the picture.
- Self-Duplication: Doppelganger in Legends, a diminutive circus performer who can make multiple copies of himself, distinguished by different-colored outfits.
- Shrink Ray: Doom Squad have a robot (or cyborg) called Shrinkey, whose right arm is a shrink ray. Amongst those who get shrunk is Glissando the cat, who goes from being bigger than a lion to the size of a house cat. After a while he seems to get used to the idea.
- In book 3 the effect wears off, causing Glissando to regain his normal size just when he's needed.
- Situational Sword: the giant fighting robot.
- Stealth Pun: In Legends, the Star Hearts have a hive-like society with a queen, though nobody actually calls her The Queen of Hearts.
- Femur in Return is a not-completely-dead skeleton whose finger-bones can be used to pick any lock. They're skeleton keys.
- Steampunk: See Humongous Mecha above.
- Take a Level in Badass: Joseph, when reappearing in Return
- Technical Pacifist: Piper, until Madrigal is threatened.
- Theme Naming: Madrigal and her cat Glissando and mouse Pizzicato.
- "Wanted!" Poster: The cover◊ of Legends of Zita the Spacegirl shows a couple of personal appearance posters for Zita, with large "Wanted" banners pasted over them.