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'Stand Still, Stay Silent' visits lovely post-apocalyptic Scandinavia

In 1973, Brian Aldiss coined the term "cosy catastrophe" in reference ot a subgenre of post-apocalyptic science fiction in which the world comes to an end, and everyone dies except the main characters. That frees everyone to pursue a relatively comfortable existence with little hardship: all the benefits of the old world, but little of the negative aspects.

In a similar vein, Minna Sundberg's Stand Still, Stay Silent portrays a future Scandinavia that's been heavily depopulated as the result of a viral outbreak. Ordinarily, that would be quite dire, as in Stephen King's The Stand. Fortunately, none of the disease or its effects are shown, and instead the focus is on people living in style.

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In the prologue, the only references to the disease are through secondhand sources, with the communicated through people huddled around a television. Things don't change much in the post-apocalypse, either. Primal dangers (this time, of more primal origins) are often pushed off to the margins. At one point, a character excitedly proclaims that he saw a troll, but another character brushes it off, saying it was no big deal, it was probably dead troll, and they're not much of a nuisance anyway. All the reader gets to see is a lumpen mass that might or might not be the beast in question.

A lot of Stand Still, Stay Silent feels like a travelogue, with a strong focus on the various transportation options in Scandinavia. Much of the opening deals with folks waiting in their cars at a ferry terminal. There are people driving around in the snow, and others finding a spot on a private yacht. Sundburg loves her maps, and topographical views of the coastlines, mountains and fjords make frequent appearances in Stand Still, Stay Silent.

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Post-apocalypse, a party waits at a terminal, where they meet before they board a boat and then an even bigger one -- after which they get on a train, which takes them to another (one that, incidentally, has a giant circular saw equipped up front; they must be headed to the Heavy Metal portion of Scandinavia). Who knew that the post-apocalyptic world would be mostly about sitting in a comfy chair while the landscape rolls by?

But I know what you're saying: "Wait, Larry... didn't you say something about trolls?" That's right, the big apocalypse leads Scandinavia to return to its mythical Nordic past, with people again worshiping forgotten gods. Monsters of legend roam the landscape; also, there's magic. It's a bit of a tonal disconnect from the ominous rain-soaked prologue, which, in retrospect, is a self-contained storyline that has little to do with the later steampunk fantasy world. (To be fair, however, even The Stand morphs from the story of the catastrophic spread of disease to the cosmic battle between good and evil.)

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Also a little jarring: Sundberg's liberal use of miniature character profiles.  When new characters are introduced, a little pop-up appears to indicate age, nationality and background trivia. As it turns out, most of these characters are never seen again. These pop-ups are just stylistic choices, then ... one that tends to take you out of the story.

And yet, I think this webcomic is still worth your time, mainly because of the art. I especially love how the prologue is dominated by long vertical lines that end in myriad tiny splashes. The gray-toned color palette chills the bone. Sundberg also fills her webcomic with lovely landscape art that depicts the remaining human villages as quaint, isolated stops among the vast swaths of snow and woodlands.

The fantastical elements take a back seat to her reflections on the simpler pleasures in life, such as huddling in a thick, fur-lined winter coat while cool Arctic gusts blow across your face. It's the subtext behind Stand Still, Stay Silent. A catastrophe may indeed be terrible, but would you be denied the comfort of a world that's returned to nature?

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