Solarpunk Graphic Novel ages 8+
Megan Lloyd

“Captain by Default” isn’t exactly how 12-year-old Lena Tauri dreamed of leading her first expedition. But after space pirates capture the grown-up crew of Stargarden Echo, Lena fools the ship’s clunky, outdated DNA access locks into thinking she’s her missing mother, Captain Aisha Tauri.

It’s not just Lena--all the children left behind pitch in to fill their parent’s jobs. See, the scientists of Stargarden Echo were only months away from completing a 7-year mission building the first Intergalactic Gateway. They planted hundreds of Transport Seeds across the stars and only had a few dozen to go. The finished Gateway will instantly send them back to Home System. But until the complex project is completely built and booted up, they’re stranded. And now, it’s all up to the kids!

Of course, not everyone can fill their parent’s shoes. Job swaps happen all the time as young crewmembers find what they love or where they excel. It takes a huge amount of trial and error and more than a few white lies programmed into the ship’s stubborn, outdated Artificial Intelligence, but one by one the kids find their best fit. The only one stuck for good in their parent’s role is Lena. Of course, her rebellious older sister Xia would gladly steal control—that is, if Xia wasn’t locked up in the fertilizer bay for betraying their ship to the pirates in the first place.

Together our greenhorn kids work to plant the remaining Transport Seeds, exploring fantastic worlds and befriending quirky alien races along the way. They navigate the tricky subtleties of teamwork and learn to care for and support each other—all without adult supervision! As the crew grows more confident, the kids start to wonder: What if instead of just trying to evade the pirates and get home...what if we saved our parents ourselves?


Echo is one of five Stargarden ships laying groundwork for the Intergalactic Gateway. These particular ships are built to sustain teams of scientists and their families on long missions. Green and growing things line every walkway and brightly colored solar windows turn all wavelengths of light into different forms of energy. No weapons or military outfitting--science and research equipment only, every access point and passcode DNA protected. Different biomes house food gardens, alien horticulture, and beautiful recreation spaces. Echo is the oldest Stargarden still in commission and, for many of the kids, it’s the only home they’ve ever known.

The space they travel through isn’t entirely unknown.  Quite a few alien worlds have communicated by radio with Home System for years and are eager for Stargarden Echo to visit (like the Lishtin, friendly body-swappers who can beam their consciousness from Lishtin to Lishtin). Others are hostile and, quite frankly, would rather be left alone (example: The Mmnmmnmmns, a race combining the absolute worst qualities of seagulls and best aspects of dung-beetles).

Our crew of kids must explore each world they encounter, befriend different civilizations, and convince these new species that Yes, this is what adult humans look like.  What do you mean, smaller than you expected?!

Lena (12) CAPTAIN:  (sunny, spirited, prankster) Well. Captain of a critical mission with everyone you know (and millions you don’t) counting on your success. At age 12. No pressure. How would Mom handle this? Well, no more practical jokes, no more messing around—all fun is now out. Aw, man! But where’s the dividing line between being a good captain or a good friend? She used to always ask her older sister Xia for advice like this...but Xia’s not exactly a good role model anymore. Lena’s probably better off stumbling through on her own. Probably.

DAD: School Instructor
MOM: Captain

Yonhoon (13) FIRST OFFICER: (stand-offish, cool, smartmouth) Clever enough to solve any problem—so long as he doesn’t waste time being sarcastic about it first. Although most of the tween crew finds him aggravating, Yonhoon is a complete hit with the very young children (many of whom are his siblings, including 8-year-old Jae). His knack with the little kids eventually lands him the role of School Instructor (although his wisecracking still lands him in trouble).

Jae (8) SOLAR TEC: (hyper, hyper, blabbermouth) Yonhoon’s younger brother is desperate to take his mom’s place as pilot.  Only problem? He’s TERRIBLE at flying. He tries a few other jobs (including a disastrous go in the kitchens) until Lena assigns him to Solar Tec. Turns out Jae’s got a knack for repairwork! But all Jae wants to do is FLY. Every spare moment goes into practicing, studying, obsessing over the day he’ll finally achieve his dream.

MOM: Pilot

Kola (9) PILOT: (MASSIVELY shy, self doubting, quiet)  Kola is adopted—her DNA doesn’t match her parent’s crew profile. Unlike the other kids who can swap jobs, Kola can’t access the system at all. But after watching Kola pilot a rec simulator, Lena convinces her to take a pilot’s aptitude test. It’s a HUGE shock to everyone (Kola included) when she smashes the Intergalactic records for accuracy and speed. Until they find a way to upload Kola’s DNA in the system, poor Jae must log Kola in every day.

DAD: First Officer
MOM: Solar Tec

Maude (11) CHEF/ ENGINEER Maude is a tech prodigy who gets along with exactly no-one. At first she takes on her mom’s role as Engineer, until she throws Jae out of her dad’s kitchen for good and takes that role too. She resents Lena and the two often clash over command decisions. Maude also upkeeps the ship’s Artificial Intelligence. She’s always programming in updates, emotion files, and crew swaps—whoops, did I say emotion files? No one else is supposed to know that...

DAD: Chef/Horticulturist
MOM: Engineer

LUMEN a.k.a. STARGARDEN A.I. (rigid, stubborn, unfeeling) Turns out Maude wanted a friend but instead of, you know, actually being nice to an actual person, she brings the computer to life instead. Originally just a disembodied voice, Lumen manifests after Maude messes around inside his programming. Initially horrified by how badly the kids have mucked up his original purposes and protocols, Lumen eventually learns enough about being human to join the crew, taking on the role of First Officer after Yonhoon swaps to teaching.

Xia (16) PRISONER (clever, rebellious, secretive)
A few months ago, Xia was expelled from a prestigious space training program and shipped back to Stargarden Echo with a stern military escort. Lena hero-worshipped her cool older sister and was delighted to have her back on board. But when it turns out Xia’s expulsion was connected to her role as a junior smuggler AND she betrays her family for Crime Admiral Croc Leto, the sisters’ relationship gets a little...complex. Despite being locked up in the makeshift brig, Xia does offer her sister advice and even helps the crew avoid disasters from time to time. But everything’s part of a bigger plan with Xia and it’s never clear which side she’s really on.

Croc Leto (30s) CRIME ADMIRAL
(greedy, short-tempered, obsessive)
Great title, right? Yeah, when you’re the terror of eight star systems, you can call yourself whatever you want.  Croc wants to expand his smuggling operation and plans to hijack the completed Intergalactic Gateway. He’s got henchmen planted on every Stargarden except for Echo—and without all the Transport Seeds coded to his ships, the Gateway is useless. He recruits Xia because of her parents’ DNA access on the elusive vessel. Together they scheme to capture Stargarden Echo and force the grown-up crew to turn their control over to him. Of course taking care of those bratty kids won’t be any trouble, right?  RIGHT?!


Close Encounter of the Worst Kind: Our crew’s first time landing on a new planet! These aliens have some very, VERY intense mythology about how brave, indestructible, and strong humans are. And in order to plant this system’s Transport Seed, our crew of children must prove these myths right.

Free Range: The translation software malfunctions SO badly, the engineering department accidentally orders 800 live alien...turkeys? Dolphins? Whatever they are, they outnumber the kids 50 to 1 and the alien delivery crew isn’t leaving until they’re paid their full share of...well, the computer can’t translate that either. 

Fixer-Upper: Stargarden Echo stops at an outpost for repairs. An old friend of Lena’s family runs the place and the whole day is nothing but close calls as the crew schemes to keep their missing parents secret.

Maude Complex: Well, the computer is alive now. And walking around. And learning about what “lying” means. BOY is he feeling...what’s the human phrase? Ah, yes. Unhappy.

Turnabout: None of the kids have been sick without their parents before—and flu takes them all at once. Only the computer Lumen and Xia (whose fertilizer bay doubled as a quarantine zone) are unaffected.  A Transport Seed needs to be planted. TODAY. Does the crew trust Xia enough to let her work unsupervised?

Harvest Moon: Lena’s hardest choice as a captain yet. Plant the final Transport Seed or take a dangerous chance to rescue their parents back from Croc Leto. But an escaped Xia ends up making the choice for her and a final showdown drives Lena down a road she never wanted to consider. Will the crew stand with her decision?