This week’s Webcomics Wednesday is going to Finland . . . again. That’s where Petra Nordlund writes Prague Race, a macabre, manga-inspired fantasy. Spirited Leona is happy to finally be living in her own apartment with her adorable cat, Gabriele, and when she stumbles into a curiosity shop with her friend, Colin, she finds the perfect piece of art to put on her new walls: a spooky poster of a cat with 13 arms. The shop is bizarre and run by a surly woman who seems eager for them to leave, especially when Leona spots her fat little dog sitting in a tub of water. For a while, things go right back to normal—Leona follows her whims, Colin crushes on Leona, their friend Miko watches bemused from the sidelines—but soon a swarm of pinecone-ish bugs invade Leona’s apartment, and the cat from the middle of the poster goes missing, leaving nothing but a hole and the arms behind.
From there, the eerie atmosphere ratchets up, and the cheery story about a gang of lovable weirdos takes on a more sinister edge. Colin attempts to get a refund for the poster in an effort to win Leona’s heart, but what he finds instead of an aloof shopkeeper is a fanged creature, a vicious smuggler, and dog that transforms into a cute little four-legged shark . . . who then balloons to real-shark size and swallows him up whole. Meanwhile, Sela, the gruff smuggler, sends Toska, the daffy fanged creature, to get rid of any mystical evidence or witnesses in Leona’s apartment; namely, Leona and Miko.
Luckily for Leona and Miko, however, Toska’s too excited to share secrets about his magical home to get to the clean-up part of his job, and Leona is too eager to learn about a place with real dragons and unicorns to properly fend him off. Not to mention, of course, that Leona wants some answers about the dozens of hands suddenly sprouting out of her back. Toska’s explanation is not too hopeful: the hands are a parasitic creature that, though helpful in the short term, will eventually become so powerful that they’ll suck the life out of Leona, and she can’t get rid of them without breaking her spine. What will she do? Spend the next few months she has left exploring the magical underground with Toska, Miko, and Gabriele (who becomes more and more mysterious as the story goes on) in an effort to rescue Colin, who has been transported there via shark stomach. There will be plenty of danger, but the biggest is that humans are especially prized for their parts, and they’ll have to navigate the world without getting captured and/or eaten.
In scratchy, textured panels in atmospheric black, white, and grays, Nordlund routinely shakes up the perspective in each scene, which imparts a film-like quality to the story and adds a refreshing touch of variety. Her inky night skies and windy trees in particular are a real treat. Her characters are all distinctive and recognizable, and their emotional reactions combined with her effortless sense of timing make for some hilarious moments. But it’s her creatures that really win the day. Like some freaky mash-up of Studio Ghibli and Maurice Sendak, Nordlund’s fantastical beings manage to be both cute and menacing. Fishsticks, the corgi-cum-shark, has the chubbiest cheeks and friendliest smile . . . but he’ll turn into a vicious maneater if he has to, particularly if there’s a hag with a gaping, toothy grin on the prowl.
Nordlund has been at Prague Race for a few years now, and it’s wonderful to see her art style develop and change over the existing six chapters. The universe of the story continues to deepen as she adds more characters and rich backstory, and hopefully that means this webcomic will continue to grow for a while. Happily, she updates three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) so readers won’t have to wait too long for new content.