A couple weeks back, I commented on the dearth of good science fiction webcomics. To be honest, this lack extends to more than just webcomics; if you go into any major chain bookstore, you’ll find plenty of fantasy and dark romance parading around in fantasy clothing, but only a handful of science fiction novels. While part of this lies with the business model of these bookstores (which run under the belief that unless something is by a hot writer, it won’t sell once it’s two years old), part of the problem lies with the difficulty in writing believable science fiction.
Writers never knows when fans might know more than they do on a given subject. Thus when authors indulges in technobabble to explain away a plot point or background setting, they never know when the fans are going to throw physics back in their face. Rather than cope with the need to research scientific principles and achieve a basic understanding, most authors avoid it altogether. Fortunately, the cartoonist for the webcomic Galaxion found another method: avoid talking about the science behind the story.
The result is a comic that focuses on the characters and plot, and keeps the science fiction as a background element. Indeed, one of the great benefits of webcomics (in the hands of even a proficient artist) is their graphic nature; the artist can show the scene rather than explain it, and allow the readers to fill in the blanks with their own knowledge (if they so choose).And while this old science fiction aficianado might notice small flaws in the comic, and other aspects that should be developed further, Galaxion avoids many of the pitfalls that have infected other science fiction comics.
If anything, Galaxion manages to hide too much of its background. Take the Myradi; this enigmatic term has appeared several times, without explanation on if they are a political group, a corporation, or even an alien species. (By reading through the notes under the comic, I was finally able to confirm that they are aliens; the only sentient aliens that humanity has discovered at this point in the comic’s timeline.) Another element that could have been explained a bit further is why the group is testing a Faster-Than-Light propulsion system; initially I was left thinking that humanity only had sub-light propulsion for its starships.
These are small flaws that probably don’t matter to readers who aren’t conversant in physics or are big science fiction fans. Nor does it detract from the primary focus of the comic: the characters. In this, Tara Tallan has done a superb job; the cast is varied and have a viable chemistry that is fun to watch. (Indeed, the banner for the comic reads “Galaxion: Life. Love. Hyperspace.” Not that this is a teen romance or the like, though there are some fun moments where we get to watch one of the main characters get clubbed upside the head by the charm and good nature of another of the cast.)
One interesting thing about Galaxion is that the comic is actually a relaunch from an older version. While I never read Galaxion when it was at Girlamatic, due to my dislike of the subscription-based model it was working off of (and the fact I’m cheap and don’t want to spend money on comics I’m not sure I’ll enjoy), the occasional notes under the comic mention the previous work several times. Undoubtedly, Tallan took the core elements of previous incarnations of Galaxion and focused primarily on them, to create a more streamline and effective comic.
This approach works. Extraneous elements are touched upon and then stored in their own section, allowing first-time readers to go straight through the comic’s primary storyline. Little prequel stories and fun side-stories will appear from time to time (with Tallan apparently using tangentially-related material as fillers when she has to go on hiatus), but avoid disrupting the flow of the comic for first-time readers. The result is a comic that isn’t too brainy for the average fan, but hasn’t been dumbed down either, and is definitely worth reading.