Smash Pages Q&A | Hannah Templer on ‘Cosmoknights, Book Two’

The creator of the science fiction graphic novel series discusses the changing dynamics of the team, maintaining a sense of fun and why she launched it as a webcomic first.

Known for her work on G.L.O.W., Flung Out of Space, The Vampire Slayer and many other titles, Hannah Templer‘s most ambitious work has been the critically acclaimed Cosmoknights, an original graphic novel series that first debuted as a webcomic back in 2019.

The first volume introduced a universe where “mech-suited warriors duel over the daughters of the aristocracy, and a fledgling resistance of lady knights aim to bring down the system from within.” While the first volume brought the crew together, the second volume focuses on how they come together as a team, exploring their relationships and the drama that entails, while still bringing the same sense of adventure that made the first volume so much fun.

Top Shelf will publish Cosmoknights Volume Two in June, and Templer was kind enough to answer my questions about it.

I thought I’d start with your secret origins — how did you first discover comics? And what made you want to create them?

When I was a kid I read a lot of comics: Archie, Tinkle Digest, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, The Far Side… but as I got older, my choices were a little more limited, so by my mid-teens I had stopped reading them. It wasn’t until college when I took a course about graphic novels that I rediscovered comics– and after that I started visiting local festivals and picking up self-published work by other artists that made me fall in love with the medium again. I distinctly remember reading Farmer’s Dilemma by Sam Alden and being blown away— I had my own stories to tell, but I had never really thought that comics could be a way for me to tell them until that moment.

After I graduated college, I worked as a full-time graphic designer for a few years to support myself, but was always doing zines and comics on the side. Over time, I became frustrated that my passion had been relegated to a “hobby”… while I had the desire and drive to create great comics, most of my work was held back by time constraints and other issues. Eventually, I decided I wanted to make something ambitious without holding back, even though it meant making some scary decisions about my career–and that’s when I came up with Cosmoknights. Nothing has been the same since!

One of the things you’ve touched on in previous interviews about this project is that you decided to release Cosmoknights as a free webcomic because it gave LGBTQIA+ readers easy access to the story without drawing attention to themselves. I was curious how successful that’s been —  do you regularly hear from readers about how that strategy is working? We live in a time when books are being targeted and removed from shelves around the U.S., and this seems to be a smart way to make a story accessible.

I can’t speak to hard statistics, of course, but I will say that having the comic available online has made it accessible to an audience that it would not have found otherwise. I made the decision to release Cosmoknights for free based on my own experiences as someone who was not able to safely access printed LGBTQIA+ books for many years due to my life situation— I myself discovered my identity through podcasts and other artists online, so I believe strongly in offering my work freely whenever it’s in my power to do so. While books are being banned and internet platforms are changing and becoming less hospitable, we will continue to find and build our own spaces.

Volume one was spent building up the crew, but with volume two you’ve now brought these different characters and their stories together in the contained environment of a spaceship. How did your storytelling change between books one and two, as you moved into this new environment and brought everyone together?

That’s a great question! I really enjoyed squishing these ragtag characters together into a spaceship (the sci-fi version of a “get-along shirt”) and watching them interact over the course of the book. The structure of Book Two was written entirely around character and relationship arcs, with each scene contributing a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that culminated in the finale. While I was conscious of keeping things light and action-forward to match Book One, I really enjoyed drawing all the quiet moments and conversations that drove these characters in the second book. There’s definitely a lot more introspection and depth as we dig into these characters, their histories, and their motivations!

We didn’t get to see much of the princess in the first volume, but this time she has a major role, and we’re introduced to the wonderful Percy. Can you talk a little more about her and what she brings to the ensemble?

Yes! Scottie is a new addition to the main crew (alongside Kate, who also joined at the end of Book One). Scottie is an interesting character to write because as a Princess, she has the best of intentions, but comes from privilege and isn’t always in touch with reality. During Book Two, she must reckon between hard truths while still standing up for what she believes in— remaining open to growth while holding fiercely to the things we know to be true can be extremely tough, and I relate to Scottie so much in this way. While she can be clueless, she is incredibly sincere and empathetic, and brings a lot of kindness and (unexpected) bravery to the crew.

I think one of the things I love about this story is that, even with the more serious social/political commentary you have going on with this universe you’ve created, you manage to keep the overall story pretty fun, with lots of action and drama between the characters. Is it hard to maintain that balance?

I have five words that guide all of my work on Cosmoknights (they’re on a sticky note by my monitor): warm, joyful, fun, unapologetic and queer. While this series is technically dystopian and the characters do suffer (not to be ignored or minimized), I am absolutely laser-focused on celebrating queer joy and queer victory. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but I do have a gut instinct that steers the tone of the series – finding joy and warmth alongside grief is an incredibly important part of my own queer journey, and an experience that is undoubtedly familiar for many other queer people. I want these characters and the moments they share to feel familiar, akin to moments we might share with friends here on Earth, minus a few of the more epic backdrops.

Could you talk a little bit about your fashion influences and what you were going for with them? Despite the science fiction setting, I like that the overall style seems more grounded in reality.

Yes! Actually, in line with the last question, I wanted this universe to feel familiar, so a lot of the fashion (space royalty aside) is very similar to what you might find in our reality. I love choosing outfits for each character, and I design their clothes very intentionally to reflect their gender expression and growth. Pan is a great example of this – she leans more butch in her choices at first, but as she grows in confidence and explores her own fluidity (thanks in part to her friendship with Kate), she branches out a little bit, from t-shirt and jeans to sequin jumpsuit! Kate is another great example of a character with a very distinct style— she has a mature sense of fashion that comes from years of knowing exactly who she is, but she  is also full of contradictions as an anarchist with expensive tastes. Cass, meanwhile, is set in her ways; she knows she’s hot, she will show off at any opportunity.

This volume ends on a cliffhanger, which suggests we’ll be getting a third volume. What are your overall plans for the future of the series — is it a trilogy, or do you have more stories planned for this world?

It’s a trilogy! The story will wrap up in the third volume with more action, adventure, and heart, and I’m really excited for all the things I’ve got in store, but no spoilers! I don’t have additional stories planned for this world… I’m a big believer in finishing a story and letting it go, so I have no desire to do endless sequels or spinoffs or anything like that. I will be both sad and grateful to finish this project and move onto what’s next, but I do have many more stories to tell!

What else are you working on?

Aside from working on Cosmoknights Book Three, I’m adapting a series of middle grade novels into graphic novels these days (I don’t know if I can talk about this yet!) I also recently wrote and drew a DeMarco P.I. short comic for a 2000AD/Rebellion one-shot that will be out this summer (Mega City Max) that I’m super proud of. And of course I’m slowly cooking up some new original comics— I’d love to do a couple of shorter self-published books or webcomics before my next big project, but we’ll see where my brain (and finances) take me…

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