Meet Ben Hatke, class of 1996! Ben was born in Lafayette to Gene and Roseanna Hatke, both graduates of Central Catholic. Ben has two younger sisters, Sarah and Annie, who are also graduates of CC.
Ben attended St. Mary Cathedral School and St. Boniface School before moving on and graduating from CC. After high school, Ben attended Christendom College in Front Royal Virginia where he majored in history and graduated in 2000.
In 2001 Ben married Anna Bertolini, and today they have five daughters (Angelica 16, Zita 14, Julia 11, Ronia 8, and Ida 4). Anna is from Napa California and is also a graduate of Christendom College. She’s from an Italian family and for the past decade or more, Ben and Anna have been traveling back to Italy and gradually restoring her family’s ancestral home in the Apennines.
After college, Ben spent several years doing freelance illustration and design work. In 2006 he studied painting in Florence Italy, which was his first real, formal art training. At the time he had hopes of becoming a portrait painter. Around this time in the early 2000s, Ben also began creating comics and posting them online – most notably a webcomic called Zita the Spacegirl.
Ben signed a deal with First Second books (an imprint of Macmillan) for a Zita the Spacegirl graphic novel in 2008. The book was released in 2011 and was well-received. The trilogy went on to become a #1 New York Times bestseller. Today he writes graphic novels, picture books and prose novels. His books have been translated into eight languages. His graphic novel Little Robot won an Eisner award at the San Diego Comic Con in 2016, and the film rights for the Zita trilogy sold to Fox in 2017.
Ben lives and works in the Shenandoah Valley with his family.
Check out these short videos to learn a little more about Ben, his stories, and his creative process:
How did your education at LCSS prepare you for college and your career?
My education in LCSS helped me to write and speak with confidence. My year on the speech team at Central Catholic turned out to be an invaluable first lesson in public speaking (which I’ve had to do quite a lot of). It also led me to find caring teachers who acted as some of my earliest artistic mentors. Mr. Bob Butz, in particular, really sparked my interest in words and their origins with his etymology class. He was also a tremendous and inspiring artist and really pushed me to improve my own art (I still keep a little photo of one of his sculptures, with a very touching note from him, at my desk). My junior high science teacher, Ms. Wagner, let me do a whole series of comics about the science class which she displayed on the walls. That was definitely a very encouraging step toward my eventual career.
What did you like most about your experience at LCSS?
One of the things I enjoyed the most about my high school years was being on the wrestling team when Jim Croussore was the coach. I learned a lot about character from Mr. Croussore—he was a fantastically positive influence in my life. He was also a great teacher. Now that my own daughter is in driver’s ed I’m remembering that he also taught me to drive. That must have taken nerves of steel.
What is your favorite memory from your years at LCSS?
It’s hard to pick a favorite memory from my time in the Lafayette Catholic School System! A few months ago I traveled to Fort Wayne to speak at the Indiana State Literacy Association dinner, and I had the opportunity to reconnect with my 4th-grade teacher, Mrs. Berghoff. She reminded me that she used to slip us out of class once in a while and take us all down to O’Rears Pastry Shop for cookies. I had completely forgotten about that, but when she told me about it the memories just flooded back (including the delicious smells). So I think I’m picking that as my favorite memory.