Ninety years later, everything is gone. Everything except Scandinavia, that is.
Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are all that remain of the Known world, and only Iceland is a completely safe area. As far as anybody knows, the rest of the Silent world is populated by the terrifying and dangerous victims of the Rash Illness, a pandemic that started innocuously and swept the globe, decimating almost all human and animal life. Those who succumb to the Illness either die or become the beasts, trolls, and giants that roam the Silent world in what appears to be perpetual agony. The remaining human life is concentrated in small, safe settlements, and they deal with their dangerous surroundings through a combination of fire, military prowess, magic, and cats.
Yes, that’s right, cats—somehow the only mammals immune to the Illness and invaluable allies to the surviving humans.
Minna Sundberg, a Finnish-Swedish woman and the writer and artist of Stand Still Stay Silent (draws upon Nordic mythology to tell her post-apocalyptic story in this ongoing webcomic, which began in 2013 and updates every weekday. A particular info sheet from the webcomic that depicts the Indo-European language tree has acquired a significant online presence outside of its original context, so all you language nerds out there may have seen her art before without realizing it. Readers may also know her from A Redtail’s Dream, a webcomic she completed as a sophomore about a young man and his shape-shifting dog who are tasked with saving their village from a meddling trickster fox. Both comics feature her beautiful artwork, which brings both the Nordic landscape and mystical dreamscapes to life in vivid colour. Sundberg creates a truly entrancing webcomic experience in her website design, which leaves no detail unattended to and draws the reader seamlessly into the pages of her story.
The ease with which the reader is brought into the world helps us follow the adventures of the motley crew embarking upon an expedition to explore the Silent world. Barely any of the six main characters have combat experience, so the two Finnish cousins and the young Swedish aristocrat follow the lead of a brash Norwegian captain and a chronically unemployable Dane. The Icelander who joins them later is a shepherd, who is even less experienced than the other three characters who are in their early twenties. The poorly funded crew is the first of its kind, in part because most of the remaining civilizations have little interest in rediscovering an old world that succumbed to so much death and decay. Described by Sundberg herself as “a story about friendship and exploring a forgotten world, with some horror, monsters, and magic on the side,” the crew find themselves working through language and personality barriers as they uncover old books and encounter strange creatures in the abandoned cityscapes. The characters are hilarious and compelling, and the world they inhabit is rich and intriguing. Sundberg often inserts worldbuilding pages near the end of chapters, offering insight into aspects of the post-apocalyptic society such as “The Blessed Felines” and their training process, the differences between Icelandic and Finnish mages, or “The Dagrenning program,” akin to in vitro fertilization and allowing Icelandic citizens to have children who are immune to the Illness.
At times, the tone of the comic becomes notably serious, even horrific. As the crew journeys farther and farther away from safe and inhabited lands, they witness the consequences of the Illness first-hand in old hospital wards and through fighting the creatures that attack them. In the Silent world, “the first rule for survival outside the safe areas” is to “stand still and stay silent” rather than running or calling for help when a beast, a troll, or a giant is encountered, because “it might go away.” For the inexperienced crew, the stakes are understandably high. One wrong turn could get them killed, and it seems they can’t help but make wrong turns everywhere they go. Sundberg makes the difficult shift from comedic banter to terrifying and tragic troll encounter seem effortless.
Beyond its excellent art and writing, Stand Still Stay Silent is a prime example of the new ways online publication can bring together fans of speculative work. The comic has an active readership that contributes to its comments section and participates in the fan forum, which has become a repository for the fan work that arises out of the comments. In particular, the fan community of this webcomic seems to favour writing poetry and filk songs (a genre of music related to fantasy and sci-fi, which often parodies of existing music) about scenes and ideas pertaining to the plot and characters. Though most of the works—particularly the filk songs—are written in English, some commenters even write poetry in traditional Scandinavian poetic forms and translate their fan work into English. The cultural exchange that occurs in the comments shows the power speculative fiction has to bring together people from all across the world over a shared interest. This celebration of friendship and adventure parallels the themes of Sundberg’s creation, with many more new fan works sure to come as the webcomic continues to develop.
-Contributed by Victoria Liao