Fiction has a long history of using anthropomorphic characters to tell serious stories. Watership Down, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Zootopia are just some examples of narratives where animals were given human characteristics to address relevant issues. Mirka Andolfo’s Unnatural uses anthropomorphic characters to tackle issues such as segregation, government, and the meaning of love.
Released by Image Comics, Unnatural is the English translation of Andolfo’s Italian comic book Contro Natura. The story is set in a dystopian world where relationships between species have been deemed by the government as unnatural. Leslie is a pig girl with unsettling dreams who may soon get some unwanted help trying to figure out her love life.
Andolfo’s art is beautiful and her coloring is bright and almost bubbly. Her characters have a cartoon-like quality to them that gives Unnatural a charming and light-hearted feel. They are also incredibly detailed and have a human-like quality. Disgust, joy, and apprehension are clearly seen and cause the reader to become engaged immediately.
The world is superbly crafted and a perfect juxtaposition to the lush art. The dystopian setting is a dark and scary one. Using social media to find your “perfect” match and the government giving certain citizens preferred status are just two things that may sound reminiscent of the real world to some readers. Unnatural is filled with signs both subtle and not-so-subtle that demonstrate just how frightening things are.
Andolfo does a great job of never making the world or the story too oppressive. Despite the uncertainty that is felt by the majority of the characters in the book, Andolfo never beats the reader over the head with how horrible their lives are. Using signs in the background and comments made during conversations, the writing lets the reader know what is going on. The setting of Unnatural never overpowers its characters.
The cast of Unnatural are a charming and likable group. Aside from the fact that she is a talking pig, Leslie could be your neighbor or coworker — she’s funny, a little frightened by the world, and has an overbearing boss. She is also not supremely confident but very determined, making her more endearing. Leslie’s interactions with her friends establish how much they care for each other. Unnatural does a great job of placing focus on its characters which is especially important since without them contrasting the setting, the book would make for a very depressing read.
Much like violence, using sex in comics is tricky. The writer is walking a very thin line as it is easy for it to become gratuitous and ruin any enjoyment. Thankfully, this is not a problem in Unnatural. The book’s use of sexuality is more of a prop than a crutch and the story is never defined by sex.
Unnatural is a well written comic with a deep story and vibrant art. It’s a topical tale with captivating characters. Many comics lose their way when delivering their message, but Unnatural is poignant while remaining fun.
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