Secrets and lies in Stand Still Stay Silent

In one of the latest pages from Minna Sundberg’s Stand Still Stay Silent, Emil gets pretty close to putting himself in Lalli’s shoes in a way that Lalli can appreciate (“Is that what you have to deal with all the time?”). You may not know them, they’re two of my favorite characters from this comic (a category that also includes the entire rest of the cast), but they’ve been through many adventures together. In publication time, they’ve known each other for nearly 4 years, yet it doesn’t feel like they’ve ever had a complete, successful conversation.

From the beginning the problem was, of course, that Emil didn’t know Finnish and Lalli couldn’t speak Swedish. Translation between the two has mostly been handled and heavily edited by Lalli’s cousin, Tuuri. Another problem is they’ve angrily told each other things they didn’t really mean, and another one still (perhaps the most insidious) is they’ve refrained from speaking their minds on several occasions out of shame and general young-adult ineptitude. They have both shown signs of wanting to consider the other a friend but not really knowing if the feeling goes both ways. Emil especially.

Different languages, biased translation, saying things you don’t mean, lacking the courage to speak. Stand Still Stay Silent is a beautiful parade of all forms of miscommunication. The one form that is mostly absent is lying, and with few exceptions secrets. Every character is generally trying their best to convey all the information they find relevant to the mission but communication breaks all the same, because that’s what human communication does.

Many stories suffer an excess of secrets and lies (not Secrets and Lies though, that movie was so good). Admiral Holdo’s secret plan in The Last Jedi is an example of this. I remember I stopped watching Lost shortly after Marshal Edward Mars died saying

[Kate] is dangerous. Don’t let her get to you. She is not to be trusted. She would do anything to get away.

Not only was I intrigued by Kate’s past, but also by the marshal’s reasons for not disclosing it. Why be so secretive when you’re trying to convince someone of your nemesis’ wickedness, on a deserted island, seconds away from death? Well, I looked it up on Wikipedia. Turns out he had every reason to speak openly. The esoteric language seems to be there mostly to sustain the mystery, and the idea that this show was going to do that regularly really turned me off.

Stand Still Stay Silent earns its few secrets. Sure, there are dodgy motifs behind the main mission, but all characters we know are privy to this and either accept it or choose to ignore it. The first lie that comes to mind is Onni’s famous “I have no need for worldly possessions” to mask the accident that cost him his luggage. And maybe Reynir’s “I didn’t care what my parents thought!” when, coincidentally, also relating the beginning of his trip into the unknown. Both are single-page gags that tell us a lot about the characters without really affecting the plot.

Chapter 15 includes the heaviest secret in the story so far, which not only was promptly revealed to the audience when a main character found out about it, but even ended with a single-day, 8-pages-long update that basically rushed the readers to the moment when the entire main cast was up to date.

That is one of the strongest narrative takeaways from this comic, that I try to bring into my own practice. Do not manufacture secrecy or deception when awkwardness and shame are much more plausible barriers to any human undertaking.

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