The Webcomic Overlook #121: Galaxion
This was the first year I’d ever heard of a little something called the Joe Shuster Awards. Like many people, I sorta did a double take and went, “Holy crap! One half of the creators of Superman was a Canadian?” Not to insult the Canadians reading this site (of which there are plenty), but the whole “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” motto kinda threw me. It turns out that Shuster immigrated to the US when he was 10, which does kinda make him as American as I am. Still, Canada has every right to claim him as a native son, especially since it turns out his cousin was none other than Frank Shuster of the famous Canadian comedy team “Wayne and Shuster.”
The Joe Shuster Awards have been honoring an “Outstanding WebComic Creator/Creative Team” since 2007. Previous winners have included the team of Ryan Sohmer & Lar deSouza (for Looking for Group and Least I Could Do) and Cameron Stewart (for Sin Titulo). This year’s crop of candidates is pretty impressive. The webcomic nominees this year include Kate Beaton (for Hark! A Vagrant), Rene Engström (for Anders Loves Maria), Karl Kerschl (for The Abominable Charles Christopher), Gisèle Lagacé and David Lumsdon (for Eerie Cuties and Ménage à 3), and Steve Wolfhard (for Cat Rackham). As much as I lauded this year’s Eisner nominees, the crop of webcomic candidates at the Canadian awards may be a better reflection of the webcomic market.
(Both the Eisners and Shusters also share the same candidates, what with Karl Kerschl nominated on both ballots this year, and Cameron Stewart nominated on the Eisners and winning the Shuster last year. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “Hey, American webcomics creators! Step up your game already!”)
There were also a few names I wasn’t completely familiar with. One was Tara Tallan, the creator of the webcomic Galaxion. I knew little to nothing about it, other than it was set in space and all the characters dressed like extras for Star Trek: Enterprise. How could I resist? I’m a sucker for a good space opera. The Joe Shuster nomination only whet my appetite.
There’s plenty about Galaxion that, at a surface glance, is pretty enticing. The title itself is a winner; if anything gets you in the mood for a rip-roaring space opera, Galaxion does a pretty darn good job. And then there’s the art. It’s clearly meant to evoke the work of manga superstar Leiji Matsumoto, whose work (Galaxy Express 999, Captain Harlock) I love to pieces. Ms. Tallan’s work bears several superficial similarities to her inspiration, especially with regards to her site’s banner.
However, Ms. Tallan is not an imitator; she has her own style, which I respect. Matsumoto’s art is more wispy and fragile. Tallan’s style is more solid and rounded. As a result, the characters feel more grounded to reality. Galaxion is less akin to a dream experience than it is to watching an episodic sci-fi serial in the mold of Star Trek or Buck Rogers.
Another element Tallan borrows from Matsumoto are the ship designs based on unconventional forms. Here, I think Tallan makes a bit of a misstep. It’s easy to let your imagination run wild when a spaceship looks like a steam train or a submarine or a resurrected battleship. They’re at least things that move and do awesome things in real life. But a free-floating snail shell? Not exactly the sort of thing that fires up your dreams about deep space exploration. Best case scenario, it gets me in the mood for cinnamon buns.
The Main Cast page lists Aria as the main character. However, it’s safer to say that the webcomic is more of an ensemble piece, and there are no main characters. Aria is no more the focal point of the story than any of the other members of the cast. The crew is filled with people from all ages, races, and backgrounds. Most who we meet, like Aria and Captain Fusella Mierter, seem young, as if they had just graduated high school. Others, like General Scavina Nelson and Chief Engineer Anna Ito, seem to have been in the service for a few years. The mix of personalities cause several characters to clash. More often than not, the crew members just don’t get along.
Ensemble casts are heavily reliant on chemistry. “And what is this … ‘chemistry’?” you ask. I’m glad you asked, my automaton friend!
“Chemistry” is basically how naturally the characters interact with each other, and the audience positively reacting to it. The most obvious (and possibly most difficult to execute) is sexual chemistry. That basically when you have two characters, and no matter what they’re talking about, you’re waiting for them to suddenly start making out with a vengeance (e.g., Jeff and Annie of Community). But chemistry doesn’t always mean that everyone plays nice. There’s a lot of mileage to be had in an antagonistic relationship, where you just can’t wait to see the two hurl sneering comments to one-up each other (e.g., Dr. House and everyone else on House MD).
Does chemistry exist in webcomic form? Definitely. The characters in Templar, AZ and Octopus Pie bristle with chemistry, where every possible character combination is magical and something to look forward to.
Unfortunately, I don’t sense much chemistry, if any at all, in Galaxion. In fact, most of the time, I was hoping that most of the characters would stay the hell away from each other. It feels … unnatural. In Galaxion, everyone is basically programmed to feel a certain way.
For example, there’s a scene where the young captain gets overruled by the experienced general. She throws a hissy fit that lasts for several pages. I imagine that, in the bullet points of the Fusella character, Fusella’s data sheet has “chafes under authority +4” highlighted and underlined, so that’s what she’s supposed to do. Or when Aria stammers like a dork around hot guys. There’s no hint previously that she’s the shy schoolgirl type, but the character outline probably says “awkward around hotties” so that’s what she does.
“Hello, El Santo!” you retort. “That’s just a little something called ‘character consistency’!” Maybe. But, like I said, it feels totally robotic. Rather than organically deepen the characters, these interactions make if feel like they’re simply playing predetermined roles like some sort of RPG character sheet.
This is something of a problem since the first three chapters are structured like a high school soap opera, with everyone swooning and flirting. The chemistry-less interactions, though, hurt the webcomic in another way: for a sci-fi webcomic, the whole “science fiction” aspect seems absolutely inessential. It hardly even works as an office drama. I wonder, for example, how someone as young and inexperienced as Fusella can be given captaincy over one of the most high profile experiments in the world? Wouldn’t that be like putting a college grad in charge of the CERN collider or the Human Genome Project? I’d buy her high-ranking position if Fusella showed even a shred of maturity, but every moment we see her, she’s either pulling a “Who farted?” face or generally behaving like a twelve year old. I was immediately reminded of the anime Martian Successor Nadesico, where, in one episode, it was revealed that the captains were merely young hotties who served no role than to be a figurehead to be plastered on recruiting videos. That, frankly, is the most plausible explanation for Fusella serving on the bridge.
Galaxion is strongest when Tallan hews closer to the sci-fi elements. As a result, felt the comic finally picked up around Chapter Four. The focus shifts from Fusella and Aria to General Nelson, a much more plausible and intriguing lead. However, even if Fusella and Aria were still the main characters, the story was bound to pick up because, for the first time, they’re given something to do.
In a nutshell: the Galaxion is the testbed for a new propulsion technology that’s supposed to significantly cut down interstellar travel. The previous test ship, the Hiawatha, has disappeared two years before testing the original prototype. It turns out that the engine does nothing that the crew had expected. Instead of hurling them through space and time, it ends up shooting them into a parallel universe.
It’s not the kind of parallel universe where, say, Aria is suddenly a cop, Fusella raises the kid she never had, or General Nelson does a super punch to defeat a nebulous smoke monster. No, this parallel universe seems completely abandoned, with no human running around. Or… are they? General Nelson takes a crew down to check out the Hiawatha, which had crash landed in alterna-New Zealand. From that point, everything starts to go wrong. The ship files are locked out, for some reason, and even the black box turns out to be encrypted. Then they run into the castaways from Survivor and all hell breaks loose.
This is when I realized something: after establishing the jump, Galaxion should have skipped most of chapters One through Three and went straight to Chapter Four. One of the reasons the ancient Greeks hard-coded conflict into the basic building blocks of literature is that it makes for good chemistry. For the first time, personality clashes sorta make sense. It definitely beats two characters sitting around and downloading exposition on what the ship relationships look like.
I’m still not sold on Galaxion, though. The first three chapters were the comic spinning its wheels. While the last two chapters were less so, I still feel very little emotional investment in the characters themselves or where the plot is headed. A well plotted webcomic has me plowing through the story swiftly no matter what the length. Galaxion was a difficult two week march where I had to work hard to maintain interest.
I admit the art is nice, but I’ve already reviewed plenty of sci-fi themed webcomics on this site that combine good art with fascinating characters and a story you can’t put down. Galaxion only gets one of those three.
Still, I wish Tara Tallan all the best at the Shuster Awards. I know it’s a long shot, what with the killer competition this year, but, hey, you gotta root for the underdog.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Posted on May 26, 2010, in 3 Stars, adventure webcomic, dramatic webcomic, manga style webcomic, romance webcomic, sci-fi webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Galaxion. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.