Webcomics have been around since the earliest days of the internet – like Bobbins, which started as an office comedy strip in 1998 and has since then morphed into a whole franchise of supernatural detective stories. Sites like Tapastic and Webtoons provide a platform for hundreds of creators, but some of the best content comes from entirely independent artists funding and producing their own websites and releasing their stories page by page every week. This way of reading comics uses the technology we have today, yes – but truthfully, webcomics should be recognised as a repurposed and updated version of comics’ earlier form – the weekly comic strip.
Two of the best comics I’ve read – webcomic or otherwise – are written by the Finnish cartoonist and illustrator Minna Sundberg. Her first, A Redtail’s Dream (aRTD) was released between the years of 2011 and 2013, whilst her second, Stand Still, Stay Silent (SSSS) started in 2015 and is still ongoing.
The best description of aRTD is a modern-day Finnish fairy-tail about a boy called Hannu and his pet dog, Ville, who fall asleep in the forest and wake to find their entire village has been dropped into the dream realm by one of the fox spirits as he was making the Aurora Borealis. To get them back, they must find the spiritual leaders of their village and convince them to lead everyone back to the real world. It’s a simple story with a simple format, which Sundberg initially envisioned as a 150 page experiment, but which became a 556 page epic instead. Though it takes place in modern day, it’s such a contained and remote setting that it could take place in any time, any place. But truthfully it’s the art that makes aRTD worth a read, which gets increasingly epic and beautiful as Hannu and Ville get deeper into the spirit world, and Sundberg grows more experienced – according to the author, each page would take her 8-10 hours to complete after she had finished her initial sketches.
Stand Still, Stay Silent at first seems nothing like its counterpart. Set 90 years in the future after the earth has been all but wiped out by disease, a rag tag team of inexperienced adventurers leaves the safety of the immune zones and journeys into the Silent World – which is filled with deformed and diseased monsters, and only mages can navigate – to try and recover some valuable Old World books. However bleak the premise might sound, it is genuinely funny and filled with lovable characters. And while it has moments of horror and tragedy, the friendly and inviting style of her art keeps you reading. Her technique has obviously developed since she started aRTD – not just in her skill, but in the composition of the pages, which are often hauntingly beautiful and original.
Yet comparisons are impossible to avoid. In both, the technological world we’re familiar with has been stripped away, and the characters journey through unfamiliar and often illogical worlds. But more importantly, both stories adapt Scandinavian mythology and insert it perfectly into a modern context. Much like the format of webcomics, Sundberg uses and repurposes the old to create something new and exciting.