Galaxion by Tara Tallan
Sometime in the far-off future, humanity has spread amongst the stars and there is a general peace amongst it's many colonies, ignoring minor rivalries like that of two exploratory organizations, Terran Space Association and Interplanetary Patrol. But traveling through space still takes time and these two companies have put aside their differences to put experimental portaling technology from IP into one of the few ships with a big enough engine room for it: TerSa's Galaxion, captained by Fusella Mierter who is less than thrilled with the mess and the control she's had to give up for the process (although the long over-due upgrades on the ship are a nice reward). At first it looks like nothing has happened and Fusella is about to take charge of her ship back from General Scavina Nelson (who was the captain for the second test) when someone notes that the stars are very different and it appears that they have found the wreckage from the very first test, the Hiawatha which was thought to be completely destroyed.
So it's a space opera, a genre I love but have absolutely terrible luck finding good examples of in book format (or possibly just Young Adult books) and have had much better luck lately finding webcomics that do it well. I say lately but Galaxion is one of the webcomics I've been following the longest (IIRC I've been reading it for about five and a half years, I'm sure there's a terrible old review of it here somewhere) and yet I can still reread huge swathes of it and enjoy it just as much. This is Tallan's largest comic project to date and also technically her earliest, she originally produced the comic in print form from 1993 to 1999 and then relaunched the series as a webcomic in 2006 (there may have been an even earlier version but I'm going by the author page!). As a result this does not feel like a first work, the pacing is very smooth and deliberate and the comic flows very well when read in large chunks, just slightly less well in it's once-a-week update format since it has a number of different viewpoints so it can be months between a character's on-page appearances*. For me that is the biggest downside to the comic and one that I still struggle to bring up when recommending [any comic like this] to new readers, should I simply tell binge-readers to set up a bi-monthly reminder to check in and read the new pages or will they risk forgetting it? I try not to blame comics for their slow updates since every creator has their reasons for it, however limited updates and long-form stories are not always the best combination.
Since it should have been clear from the synopsis that I was going to love the setting/plot (they're so heavily connected in space operas), what about the rest of the comic? I can happily say that I like the cast as well, from the most central main characters to the sprawling list of minor characters who help keep Galaxion flying (and hurray for a story with a large cast for a space opera, I guess it helps when you don't have to hire and pay actors for each role). In retrospect, Fusella does seem a tad young to already be captain of her own ship but given how TerSa is shown to operate within the story it does fit that they would either give ships to as many people as they could and even forget about Fusella until she and her crew do something that they don't like. Fusella isn't precisely the main character however, I'm tempted to say Aria (the most Leji Matsumoto looking of the characters) is due to her prominence in the promotional artwork for the series and for how the story keeps spiraling back to her. Her role has grown as the story has progressed and I'm sure it's going to grow even more later on, although to elucidate further I'd have to mention a few more spoilers than I'd like so I will leave it at "it's a combination of bad luck and past interests." Tallan has also drawn a number of mini comics over the years and many of them show the crew's first interactions with each other and it's amazing how she seems to have nailed all of the characters from the get-go since these first appearances are perfectly in line with their current personalities. As funny as it sounds there hasn't been a great deal of character growth within the main story yet but some characters have and others have been called out on their actions and need to change (at least I believe that happened with Zan) which is always a good sign.
And finally, the artwork; after reading the comic for a few years and becoming a bigger anime fan I noticed how some of the art had Leji Matsumoto-esque influences and I wondered if it was on purpose or not until I actually met Tallan at Small Press Expo a couple of years back and saw a few fanarts of his series for sale alongside the books. The swirling lines worked well with the black ink and ink shading artwork, although looking closely I think the designs have become slightly less "anime [of the shojo 70s-90s kind]" as the story has progressed. This is also one of the few times a comic has switched from black and white only to full color and without breaking it's update schedule too! It was a little strange at first to see how many things were colored differently but it's a good strangeness to have, in some ways I feel like the color helps highlight the more detailed scenes.
In the end this is a series I recommend whole-heartedly to other sci-fi fans, it balances hard and soft sci-fi well, I like it's take on alien life, and as I said recently in Earth Star/Earth Girl, it's just nice to have a futuristic story where it's not a dystopia.
*if she had a pateron and one of the goals was to hirer an inker or colorist to produce more frequent pages I would pledge in a heartbeat, however I don't think that's the issue here