By Zack Quaintance — Unnatural #1 has intrigued me since it was announced. The first sentence of its summary reads: Leslie is a simple pig girl. She loves sushi, she's stuck with a job she hates, and she lives under a brutal totalitarian government—one that punishes transgressors for anything deemed "unnatural." Meanwhile, its cover features said pig girl in a state of undress. Look quickly, and you almost miss the pig, so faint are the animal touches. See what I mean? Intriguing.
That aside, I didn’t know what to expect from this, first of a 12-part story originally published in writer/artist Mirka Andolfo’s native Italy. It is, however, pretty straightforward. Unnatural #1 is essentially an exploration of government interfering with sex and freedom. Andolfo has cited George Orwell’s novels as inspiration, which certainly shows. Indeed, a simplistic and reductive pitch for this book could be: Animal Farm meets 1984 with a dose of 2018 sexual politics.
The result, though, is a comic of the highest order. I loved Unnatural #1, from the artwork to the capital B Big ideas beneath it. This first issue is a joy, both entertaining and filled with smart questions. There’s a central metaphor here conjures images of governmental decisions on birth control, abortion, same-sex marriage...all of which are recent or ongoing.
This is, perhaps, part of why Unnatural works so well on an intellectual level. There has been tension between government and its constituents in this area likely back to the dawn of civilization, and Unnatural extrapolates what could happen if that tension tipped too far toward one side (in this story it’s a prurient interest in further reproduction among the same species).
Past the Big ideas, however, the book is well-done and engaging, devoting time to relatable character moments—a love of sushi, a disdain for rain, banter between roommates—while checking standard first issue boxes: world-building, character names, cliffhanger ending, etc. As for the art, Andolfo’s work is sexy, reductive as that sounds. It isolates notions of beauty—steely blue eyes, voluptuousness, confident smirks—and telegraphs them onto anthropomorphic figures, giving the animals desirability, if only for a moment. Andolfo has said she doesn’t like drawing humans, and her choice to go anthropomorphic may be simple as that, but I suspect blurring lust lines between species was a deliberate means of depicting inherently fuzzy lines of sexual attraction.
I only took issue with one panel in this book. A lot of comics do a wonderful job of subtly building a central conceit without explicitly stating it—before going ahead and stating it anyway. One famous example is The Walking Dead, with a full-page early on wherein protagonist Rick Grimes yells something like, Don’t you see? WE are the walking dead? There’s a similar panel in Unnatural, though not as grievous. Really, it’s a small compliant in an otherwise stellar comic.
Overall: This is a captivating book, at once smart, poignant, and stylish. Andolfo clearly has strong thoughts about the intersection of sex and government, but she also knows well that those thoughts are best served by first and foremost telling an entertaining story. As a result, Unnatural #1 is not to be missed. 9.5/10
Unnatural #1 comes out July 4, 2018.
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.