I’ll lay this squarely on Chris Hallbeck’s doorstep; he tweeted a recommendation of a webcomic for its gorgeous art, but since I clicked over and started reading, I have been getting increasingly uneasy. The comic is called Stand Still, Stay Silent, it’s by self-described Swedish-Finnish lady person Minna Sundberg, who it turns out is 24 years old today.
- Happy birthday, Minna
- You are way to young to be producing work this good¹, stop it
- You are seriously creeping me out with this comic
Were you to click through to the front page of SSSS (and you should), you’d wonder why I was (am!) creeped out. Six cheerful enough, youthful enough characters are smiling at you. Their dress indicates they are from far northern latitudes, maybe from the Lapland region. Okay, there are a couple of rifles, but also what looks like a medical bag and maybe a collapsible stretcher — they’re biathletes training in backcountry, or ski patrol members in an area with bears. Look at them, they’re so cheerful.
Spoilers occur below here, so decide if you want to start from page one of the prologue before coming back or not. Cool? Okay.
Those youthful, cheerful maybe-Laplanders are survivors of an apocalyptic disaster, and likely a near-total collapse of civilization, one that reveals itself so slowly. We start on the somewhat ominously named Year 0, Day 0² in Norway, when the complaints are about the rain washing out the roads, concern for an elderly grandmother living on her own, and the “rash illness”. A boat trip for supplies on the mainland is arranged to bring Gran to her doting grandson, and all is well. But … Iceland is shutting down the borders? Still, nobody with the mysterious disease in the patient zero group is that badly off.
Three days later, Denmark is closing its borders and conspiracy theories are running rampant. Day 5, everybody’s wearing masks, businesses are closing for the week, and a Finnish family with some weirdo members that fear nuclear war is holing up for a vacation far from everybody else. Oh, and one of the original patient group has died. By Day 9, a Swedish family heading … anywhere away, really, finds the gas station abandoned (although the pumps were kindly left on), the newspapers with only a few pages (the reporters have gone to ground along with everybody else), and seven of the original eleven patients dead, and others infected later starting to succumb. It’s starting, and nobody knows where it came from, where it’s spreading, or how long it will take to resolve.
These four different vignettes (none featuring that core cast of cheerful, youthful characters) in four different countries on four different days aren’t panicked — they’re annoyed, they’re fighting with their bosses, they’re bitching about the weather and the lack of sports pages and crossword puzzles. They still think that it’s going to be a bad month or two, and it looks like people elsewhere in the world may be hard hit and that’s very sad, but they don’t think the world is ending.
And that’s why I’m creeped out — I have a feeling that the 20 or so characters that we’ve met so far (all of them given names and relationships to the others) are already dead and they just don’t know it yet. Those six cheerful, youthful characters that we haven’t met yet? I wonder how long before we meet them, and how much life they had before Year 0, Day 0. I wonder if there are other pockets of people elsewhere in the world that are isolated enough, or closed their borders early enough, are self-sufficient enough, and haven’t succumbed to chaos … or is that youthful cheerfulness the only thing that’s kept these six and their community (however large it may be) from consuming itself?
Not knowing how we get from Day 9 to those six relentlessly cheerful and youthful mysteries is what’s creeping me out. There’s darkness and failure happening in the cracks and shadows, but it’s out of sight for the moment. We may never see the full horror of what happened to the world and whether it burned itself to the ground, or maybe just simply … wound … down as there were fewer and fewer people to perform all the tasks that keep an industrial civilization running.
Fortunately, I won’t have that long to wait to get some answers (however many we get), or at least get to know those six youthful, cheerful — explorers? defenders? scouts? recolonizers? — on account of the fact that Sundberg is putting up pages like this four days a week.
Keep an eye on this one, it’s going to be a wild ride.
¹ And to have produced another 500+ page webcomic prior to SSSS, that’s just as gorgeous, imaginative, and assured in two languages? Stop that, you’re making everybody else look bad.
² But as yet incongruously so, because everything is still normal.