What Birds Know reminds me of two of the main reasons I love web comics. The first is the diversity of stories and styles – I wouldn’t say it’s utterly unlike any story I’ve read before but it’s certainly not what you’d expect in main stream comics. And second is the commitment to telling a story; it’s not the longest running comic I’ve reviewed by any stretch but sticking with a project like this for ten years is impressive and inspiring.
I then feel bad being somewhat critical about some elements of this comic; people emphasise and recall negative comments far more than they do praise and I try to remember this when writing these reviews. But equally I need to be honest and call it as I see it. Anyway when you read the negative remember to read the positive and recall both are equally true.
The characters and comic concept
Vandi, Dores and Elai are three young women heading out on a three day camping trip in the woods. Officially they’re on a school assignment to pick mushrooms required for a school assignment but really they’re just wanting to get out on their own for a few days, away from teachers, parents and responsibilities.
But when they decide to visit the ancient ruined tower of the Oracles of Nin what had been a fun filled school trip start to turn into something else entirely.
What Birds Know is very much a character driven story and is heavily detailed in the lives and personality of the characters in a way you tend to see more in a novel than in a comic. There are pros and cons to this; it provides a very rich reading experience, you learn a lot about the characters and what motivates and drives them. Conversely it means a high page count without much actually happening in the story.
Personally I’m happy with that as long as the characters are interesting and the back story is at least semi-relevant and What Birds Know generally ticks both boxes.
In any regards the characters are a strength of the comic and there is some really good character development, though bearing in mind the main story only takes place over a few days.
A lot of the character background is delivered in the form of the dreaded flashback as characters recall or discuss periods of their lives. You may have guessed I’m not a fan of the flashback but there are always exceptions and because they are so fundamental to What Birds Know they get away with it – though I’d personally have trimmed a few pages here and there.
Then there is also a parallel story line around what’s happening back in town while the girls are out camping. Thankfully it’s not as substantial as the flashbacks as it feels somewhat extraneous to the main story. Still it’s interesting in parts but it’s a little hard to see why it was needed.
Then finally there is also a lengthy spoken exposition (so really another flashback) detailing a lot of back story the main characters are unaware of and basically explaining everything that is happening in the comic. I have very mixed feelings about this section; it can be unsatisfying to never find out why the events of a story happen, though equally it can be empowering, and the way this gets delivered is a little heavy handed. Also a lot of what happens is pretty much unexplainable - a combination of bad mojo and people messing with things they shouldn’t, which then makes me wonder why it was needed at all.
Finally the main story itself; it really only covers the events of a few days but they are a very dramatic few days and there are some lovely (if sometimes disturbing) creative plot elements. This is the strongest part of the comic, suspenseful and compelling, it really takes you on a ride with some very unexpected twists and turns along the way.
The art is very nice, I really like the style and use of colour in the work. Lovely use of backgrounds and space give a really good sense of where the characters are and what their environment is like which is something I’m really keen on.
Authors, publishing and timeline
The authors of What Birds Know, Emelie Friberg and Mattias Thorelli, are both residents of Malmö in Sweden. They both attended and met at The Comic School of Malmö (I love that there is dedicated school for comics, that link goes to a fairly inactive FB page but they have a main webpage in Swedish).
What Birds Know is not currently published in hard copy but there is a comment on the main page suggesting that they plan to publish when the entire work is complete.
What Birds Know is apparently in its final chapter now but it’s already as long as most of the previous chapters and it feels like there is still a bit more to go. Regardless, it looks like it will wrap up in the next 6 months, maybe a year if there is an epilogue or something.