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Opening up the Silent World: Narrating Interaction in a Digital Comic

10:00 AM, Friday 17 Aug 2018 (1 hour)
This paper examines Minna Sundberg’s ongoing and award winning digital web comic Stand Still. Stay Silent as a type of e-literature increasingly found in the “gap” between digitized comics and graphic novels on the one hand and born digital e-lit on the other. While the Sunberg’s process of production will be briefly noted, the main focus explores how the comic thematizes modes of interactivity that Sundberg also encourages in her readers/followers via forms of social media. Set in a post-apocalyptic world , the comic is an ongoing tale of exploration and discovery, where a group young explorers have left the havens of plague-free safe zones in order to see what is left of the rest of the world. The supernatural elements associated with the plague, or “the illness,” are also associated with a past that somehow went wrong. Writing of “Beasts, Trolls, and Giants,” the narrator explains, “They are a shadow of our past, a distorted echo of what once there was.” Avoiding the shadow of the past and the monstrosities it has produced is a powerful theme, carrying an implied social critique that deserves examination. In an environment divided into safe areas and the Silent World, the first rule beyond safe zones is avoidance of beasts, trolls and giants: “do not run or call for help but stand still and stay silent. It might go away” (Sundberg, 2013: 68). While Christensen insists that Stand Still Stay Silent’s themes of isolation and fear of contagion fit formulaic plague narrative perfectly, my paper argues that this is only in the exposition of the story world. The governing principle of the comic, both structural and thematic, is transgression.

While the characters often go where they are not supposed to go, a central feature of the social interaction of those on the mission is debate about what to do and how to interpret their experiences. Lingustic, cultural, and interpretive gaps are evinced throughout the comic by the language difficulties of the characters: some only speak Finnish and others only Norwegian or Swedish (this is indicated by a drawing of each country’s flag); a few are multi-lingual; in order to communicate, they must cooperate as a group. These moments in the plot invite readers to also engage in debate in the comments feature available through the comic’s platform, to offer solutions and plot suggestions in between postings of the new panel(s), a feature Sundberg herself wrote about in her undergraduate thesis. A key means of building a readership, she writes, is to create, via a comments section, a means for readers to build a personal connection with the world of the narrative and the author; social media is another (2013: 17). The capacity for, and the necessity of, interaction is emphasized by both the plot and the digital affordances of the comic, and is set against expectations that the characters (and readers )might bring concerning the safety of isolation and fear of others.
Ocean County College