Webcomics Wednesday is a real treat for me. I spend my time perusing the internet looking for a good candidate, and I discover so much beautiful work. I’ve been writing about comics and graphic novels for a while, so it’s often not too tough to describe an artist’s illustrations. But other times it’s a real struggle, particularly when I come upon someone with such amazing visuals that all I want to do is write JUST LOOK AT THIS
AND ALSO THIS
Anyone who walked by my office yesterday might have caught me staring, jaw-dropped, at my computer screen, but I wouldn’t have noticed since I was too transfixed by Minna Sundberg’s stunning Stand Still. Stay Silent. But this comic is far more than just a pretty face; it’s a compelling story of a postapocalyptic future inflected with magic and Scandinavian mythology.
In contemporary Scandinavia, news of a growing rash illness is causing panic. Iceland is the first to close its borders, and soon other countries are following suit. Denmark cancels all international land and sea travel. Norway, Finland, and Sweden are likely to seal themselves up any day now. Sundberg cinematically builds the growing tension by focusing on a few groups of people, as signs of the snowballing epidemic gradually appear. First it manifests with general worry. Then, a shocked couple in the street discovers one of them is afflicted with the highly contagious rash. Then an abandoned gas station. Then a newspaper consisting of mostly blank broadsheets. As the desolation quickly escalates, Sundberg moves from a continuous narrative to a brilliant graphic montage: a series of photos in a pile, depicting people sealing their homes, building fences, crowding around radios, and learning to wield a rifle.
That’s the last we see of the contemporary world as the story fast forwards 90 years. Now, the only habitable areas of the planet are along the coasts of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark, and, thanks to their early isolationism, the entirety of Iceland, the capital of which is now the capital of the whole known world. The rest of the world is beset by terrible beasts and trolls that can infect anyone not already immune to the illness that set off the apocalypse, and groups of cleansers head out into the dangerous areas, burning down cities and structures to eradicate any disease-carrying creatures and return the land to a semi-habitable state.
One scholar, both worried about the artifacts in these cities and keenly aware of the monetary value of original books in this future world, recruits an unlikely band to “explore” uncleansed parts of what used to be Europe (really, plunder abandoned and dangerous areas for valuables, though the group wasn’t fully aware of that part). At this point in the story, Sundberg has only just begun the explorers’ journey into the outside world, but she has compellingly built a comprehensive world complete with gorgeous maps, character descriptions, a sharp sense of the political realities of the future, terrifying beasts, old-fashioned magic, and a fascinating depth of knowledge about Scandinavian languages.
Sundberg’s background as a graphic designer is fully on display in her superb layouts and gorgeous use of color, and her manga-style figures are teeming with wide-ranging expression. Her illustrations of water ALONE are worth a look, but also check out the sweeping, loopy dream sequences; expansive sense of perspective; heartbreaking landscapes of destruction; and intricate, lovely maps. Also, happily, she updates five days a week! I, for one, am in it for the long haul.