Rebellious space lesbians take the stage in Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer, a webcomic that launched in the spring and will be released in graphic novel form through Top Shelf Productions on Oct. 22. The story follows Pan, a young and disillusioned mechanic whose best friend — a princess — disappeared from her world out of necessity years ago. In Pan’s universe, princesses are “won” through gladiator fights fought by high-tech knights in mech suits.
When Pan meets a charismatic pair of off-world gladiators who aren’t what they seem, she teams up with them to fight the patriarchy and leaves her home planet in the process. What follows is a story of friendship, romance, politics, and self-discovery, set against a galactic backdrop of a society too stuck in its ways.
Ahead of the Cosmoknights graphic novel release, The Beat caught up with Hannah Templer via e-mail to talk about the sources of inspiration for the story, the challenges of writing and drawing it, and who she would cast in an onscreen adaptation, among other topics.
Samantha Puc: What are the main influences for Cosmoknights, not just in terms of story but in terms of aesthetic and genre?
Hannah Templer: My sources of inspiration are pretty eclectic! Hideo Kojima is a big one — Metal Gear Solid 2 and Zone of the Enders especially! You can see a lot of the aesthetic tone in the technology and mech-suits in Cosmoknights. I appreciate the futuristic, quirky, near-supernatural designs in those games and the way they don’t take themselves too seriously.
Treasure Planet is another; this was one of my favorite movies as a teen and I was totally enamored by the fusion of futuristic tech with sailing ships and 18th century architecture. I also love the way it approaches space exploration from more of a fantasy angle — things like oxygen and gravity are not major sources of tension, which lightens and refocuses the story.
See also: Gall Force, Eyvind Earle’s designs for Sleeping Beauty, Jem and The Holograms, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.
Puc: How has the story changed since you initially conceived of it?
Templer: I originally planned Cosmoknights as a 16-page mini — it started as a short story about two best friends just trying to be teens in space while contending with the looming threat of adulthood and the patriarchy. In the original mini comic, Pan entered the jousting tournament and won Tara so they could continue hanging out and being best pals. But when I started designing the mech-suits and building out the world, I realized the story I wanted to tell was a lot bigger! I wrote the current prologue and launched it as a webcomic in 2016, which then got picked up and turned into a graphic novel with Top Shelf.
Puc: Cosmoknights is currently being released as a webcomic, but if I recall correctly, the entire project — both webcomic and OGN — was announced all at once. Can you walk me through that publishing decision? What are the benefits of publishing the webcomic in the months leading up to the graphic novel release?
Templer: Cosmoknights was originally planned as a webcomic before it got picked up by Top Shelf, so that format was something I wanted to stick to for a couple reasons: firstly, I wanted it to be easily accessible to queer folk, especially closeted queer people who may not easily be able to access printed materials without drawing negative attention to themselves (this was my situation a few years ago!). Secondly, I feel that this genre of story works really well in a serialized format. I enjoy engaging with readers weekly and there’s something really special about the pacing of webcomics… sharing in the suspense of this story and experiencing it with others is really special!
Puc: What are the challenges of writing and drawing this story, from either a technical or storytelling standpoint?
Templer: Obviously, mech suits and battle scenes are super challenging to draw. But part of the fun of Cosmoknights is being fearless and taking on something that in the past I might have shied away from. I’m still learning and challenging myself to get better, and I love the way this series confronts my skills head-on.
The big storytelling challenge is sort of the reverse of this — the book has rocket boots and spaceships, but they’re not the lodestone — it’s a story about female friendship and queerness in the face of heteronormativity. Navigating the worldbuilding while not getting mired in the details, instead focusing on a character-driven story can be tricky! Also the scale of a big sci-fi story like this can feel daunting, but my editor Leigh Walton is great and helps keep all the loose ends under control.
Puc: This volume ends on a bit of a cliffhanger — without revealing spoilers, can you talk about what readers should expect for the future?
Templer: Yes, readers who have finished Cosmoknights have probably guessed (correctly) that there is more to come — this book is actually the first of a series, and I’m already hard at work on the second one! Readers can expect a wild ride now that this ragtag group of women with vastly different personalities and objectives have teamed up; more mech battles, more space exploration, and maybe even… some romance!
Puc: What has the response been like from readers? Has anything surprised you?
Templer: It has been amazingly positive! I love connecting with my readers and sharing in our unique experiences as queer women, enjoying a story where we get to be heroes and don’t die tragic deaths. I especially love talking with other GNC and/or butch women about Cosmoknights because we so rarely get to see ourselves portrayed in a positive light.
The biggest surprise is being reminded of how much people appreciate comics specifically as a medium — people flip their shit over the stuff you can only do with a comic. For example, there’s a panel in Cosmoknights where the tail of a speech bubble passes behind a champagne glass and is distorted by its curvature — I must have had 50 different people @ me about it on Twitter.
Puc: Do you have a favorite character, or a character that you feel like you relate to more than the others?
Templer: I love all of the characters dearly, and each of them contains a different piece of me. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Kate — she’s beautiful, clever, and has her shit figured out; I love to see a queer character living their best life. If I had to pick a character I relate to most though, it would be Cass — her experience as a butch woman resonates a lot, and her backstory comes from a really personal place.
Puc: Do you have a favorite scene or panel?
Templer: Yes. Minor spoilers ahead, but the flashback scene where Cass snaps and decides to fight for herself is one I think about a lot. Specifically the panel where she “sheds her skin” and takes up the shell of her choice — when I came out as a lesbian, so much of the process was ridding myself of heteronormativity and fighting tooth and nail for what I wanted, so this scene was powerful to write and reflect on, even as real events in my life mirrored the fiction.
Puc: If you could cast Cosmoknights as a film or TV series, who would you want to play each character?
Templer: I love this question!!! For Pan, Brianna Hildebrand — she’s almost exactly as I picture her in my head. Similarly, Kiersey Clemons for Tara, and Samira Wiley for Bee. When it comes to Cass, I honestly have no idea… butch actresses are pretty few and far between. I imagine her to be someone like Abby Wambach (not an actress, I know)… I’m always on the lookout. And finally for Kate, Trace Lysette.
Puc: Are there any creators or pieces of media that you’re really into right now, that you want to recommend to our readers?
Templer: Right now I’m obsessed with the video game Sayonara Wild Hearts — it’s super fun to play, beautiful to look at, and full of motorcycle lesbians! Comics that I adore and constantly come back to are: Barbarous by Yuko Ota and Ananth Hirsh, Fantasy Sports by Sam Bosma, and Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva. And some comic creators I love who are working on really amazing stuff (keep an eye on them in the near future): Mar Julia, Kiku Hughes, Marty Tina G., and Olivia Stephens!
Puc: Do you have any other projects in the works that you can talk about?
Templer: I’m working on two graphic novels right now! One is the second installment of Cosmoknights, and the other I can’t say much about yet — although it’s a book I think my audience will be very interested in. I’m excited to share more when it gets announced.
Cosmoknights hits shelves Oct. 22, but you can also read right now at cosmoknights.space. To keep up with Hannah Templer, follow her on Twitter @HannahTempler. Check out the Cosmoknights cover and two additional preview pages, courtesy of Top Shelf Productions, below.