Comics: Stand Still. Stay Silent.

“Stand Still. Stay Silent” may be best described as a post-apocalyptic Nordic mythology inspired adventure story. The brainchild of Minna Sundberg, a Finnish-Swedish artist and writer, it reintroduces mages, myths and folklore against a backdrop of the ruins of the modern world. And it does so beautifully.

The setting is 90 years into the future. Disease has swept across the world but a few remote areas were spared: Iceland, the Finnish lakes, some inaccessible Norwegian fjords and a handful of isolated Swedish settlements. The rest of the world has gone silent, its technology and culture feared or forgotten. The safe settlements are constantly under siege by monstrous beings. No attempts has been made to reclaim any of the knowledge of old, and no expeditions have been sent into the infected zones. Until now. The story follows a small, underfunded and under-qualified team on their daring expedition into troll-ridden Denmark, seeking to harvest as many books of old that they can find for research (and profit, of course, plus possibly also a bit of fame).

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“Stand Still. Stay Silent” is a rare blend of uplifting and terrifying. On the one hand, it is a story about a thoroughly mismatched group traveling together, which translates into themes of bravery, loyalty and (slowly) emerging friendships,with a rich sprinkling of humour. On the other hand, it is outright horror. The monstrous entities lurking in the silent world are a perpetual presence, growing in menace as the expedition strikes deeper and deeper into the dead cities. Deformed remnants of the long-since deceased, man and beast alike, merged into shapeless hungry creatures, wait in the shadows. This is a story that goes from funny to frightening in the span of a page.

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The artwork is astonishing, growing prettier with each chapter. Even the gore is beautifully done (see above). The style includes elements from Nordic art and culture, and the filler pages often contain tidbits of information about mythology and folklore, again beautifully drawn. Maps and schematics are plentiful and gorgeous, and there is enough backstory about the disastrous pathogen to keep my inner scientist quite contented.

If there is one small point to deduct, it may be that the expedition takes a while to get underway. For those interested in plain horror from the get-go, the wait may be on the long side. But it is worth it. Also, the longer backstory serves to introduce the characters thoroughly, which is essential for such a diverse ensemble cast.

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The comic updates regularly (four times a week) and the artist is rarely if ever late. For those of us who have followed near-abandoned and sporadic comics, this is an absolute treat. At present (Jan 2017) there’s an archive of more than 650 pages (13 chapters plus change) to enjoy. This is also one of those rare occasions when I can wholeheartedly recommend that you DO read the comments, as the readers are a vocal, friendly and informative group, offering translations of the (odd) segment in Finnish/Swedish/Norwegian/Icelandic as well as comment on the story itself.

“Stand Still. Stay Silent” is a gem – an unusual story, nicely written and beautifully illustrated. Go read!

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(All images belongs to Minna Sundberg and can be found on the webcomic here.)

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The best comics! (Last Blood)

I figured I’d do a series of posts highlighting some great (and free) online comics. There are some fantastic artists out there and it seems a shame not to plug their work. While I tend to prefer horror/fantasy comics, the ‘must-recommend’ list is still quite varied.

First out is Last Blood, which is a take on the typical zombie story but with a few clever twists. The art (by Owen Gieni) is beautiful in a rough and gritty sort of way, perfectly complimenting the story (by Bobby Crosby). It starts on familiar ground: the small group of survivors and the zombies closing in – you’ve seen it before. And just when you think you know what you’re in for, you suddenly get… (drum roll) vampires.

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The premise is simple: the zombie apocalypse happened and human blood is in short supply, meaning that any vampire not wanting to starve needs to protect the last human survivors from the undead zombie hordes. As for the humans, the situation is simple: the enemy of my enemy (and the lesser of two evils) is the only option available. The introduction of a human-vampire alliance is only the first twist, and I won’t mention the rest and spoil the surprise. Suffice to say that trust is at an all-time low, there’s plenty of peril to go around and the two types of monster lore fit together surprisingly well. Both vampires and zombies benefit from this fresh interaction, bringing a much needed different dynamic to story structures that do occasionally risk going a bit stale.

Last Blood is high on concept and perhaps less so on characterisation, but I’m willing to forgive that if the underlying idea works. And here it does work very well indeed. Last Blood is clever, it feels new and it makes surprising sense. The latter part is quite a treat, as I’m always happy to suspend my disbelief but very grateful if I don’t have to do it too much. So if you’re after a fresh version of ‘zombies and vampires and apocalypse, oh my’, prefer your plot hole-free, and don’t mind if the premise takes the driver’s seat, Last Blood is almost perfect.

There is one caveat: Last Blood is unfinished and has not been updated since 2011. While I’d very much like to see it continue, or even make it to the big screen, I’m not holding my breath after half a decade. Still, it’s worth a read, even if you have to make up the ending yourself for now.

Link to the online (free) comic: http://lastblood.keenspot.com/
(also available from amazon.com)

Let me know what you think, or if there are other comics/stories you think is worth a mention in the comments below?

Book Review: The World Without Us

I read a fair bit of non-fiction and often find that these books can be just as strange as their creative counterparts. The World Without Us (Alan Weisman, 2008) is one such stranger-than-fiction book.

What would happen if all humans suddenly vanished? How long before wildlife reclaimed cities? How long would our buildings last? How long before all traces of us are gone? In short, what would the world without us look like? It’s a fascinating hypothetical and sounds like it should be more than a bit disconcerting, but the book itself is quite positive in its description of our impermanence.

There are examples of places on earth where sudden human abandonment has already happened, including the Korean demilitarized zone and Chernobyl.

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Pripyat, Ukraine, abandoned April 27, 1986, the day after Chernobyl.

“In Pripyat, an unlovely cluster of concrete 1970s high-rises, returning poplars, purple asters and lilacs have split the pavement and invaded buildings. Unused asphalt streets sport a coat of moss.”

In the wake of human disappearance, nuclear plants would eventually overheat, and the world might see Chernobyl after Chernobyl. It might also see the triumphant return of many endangered species. In Korea, the 4 km wide demilitarized zone is one of few remaining refuges for the Asiatic black bear with its white chest patch, the tusked Chinese water deer, and the exceedingly rare Amur leopard.

What about cities? The book uses New York City as an example. This is, as most other cities, a ‘tamed’ landscape. The land upon which NYC was built was once packed with streams, now replaced by the storm sewer systems and kept in check by more than 700 pumps. If humans disappeared, the pumps would stop, the streams flood the tunnels and streets, eventually carving out rivers as streets collapse. Flooding of the subway would take no more than two days, and the cave-in of streets only a few years. Post-apocalyptic fiction describing long-abandoned concrete cities still structurally intact might just be a bit generous, if truth be told.

“As Lexington Avenue caves in, it becomes a river. Well before then, however, pavement all over town would have already been in trouble.”

Wildlife already exists in our presence and would flourish in our absence. This new New York would see foxes and coyotes, deer and bears, maybe the odd domestic cat gone feral, yet cockroaches would die without heated buildings at these latitudes and rats might also not do well without our garbage to live upon.

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The abandoned High Line, New York City.

This is post-apocalyptic non-fiction at its finest. Old stone buildings linger, modern buildings not so much. Water seeps into cracks, freezes in winter and tears concrete and asphalt apart. Plastic and bronze, however, are the stuff of forever. Millions of years from now, bronze sculptures in our image could be staring blindly at the hypothetical visitor to our planet.

The World Without Us is nicely written, engaging and compelling. The first third of the book in particular is highly recommended. It does veer off a bit mid-way through the book, but despite these asides, it remains worth the time. An excellent book for any writer of post-apocalyptic fiction as well as science enthusiasts. This is a ‘what if’ that stays with you.

(free chapter here: http://www.worldwithoutus.com/excerpt.html)