ADVANCED REVIEW: Unnatural #1 by Mirka Andolfo

Look carefully and you may miss the pig features, likely a deliberate blurring of perception by artist/writer Mirka Andolfo.

Look carefully and you may miss the pig features, likely a deliberate blurring of perception by artist/writer Mirka Andolfo.

By Zack QuaintanceUnnatural #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).

Unnatural #1  does a wonderful job using relatable character moments to deliver its complex questions and central metaphor.

Unnatural #1 does a wonderful job using relatable character moments to deliver its complex questions and central metaphor.

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.

REVIEW: Wasted Space #2 by Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman, Jason Wordie, & Jim Campbell

Wasted Space #2 cover by Marguerite Sauvage

Wasted Space #2 cover by Marguerite Sauvage

Michael Moreci and Hayden Sherman’s Wasted Space #2 brings more of its central protagonists’ backstories into focus, putting the duo at a bar, getting them drunk, and having them share tales of mutual prescience. One of these characters—Billy Bane—acts as a stand-in for the audience, voicing a question inherent to the first issue, namely how legit are the future-predicting/God-seeing powers that are in play here? He then posits that his abilities may be a product of his own insanity.

As a result, I’m not sure whether we learn if Billy’s powers are legit, not just yet, but I think the structural choice is a solid one for this second issue, one that lets readers know Moreci is aware of what they’re wondering and also that they can trust him to deliver a satisfying payoff eventually. So, I’m very much with all of that. Another choice I enjoyed in this issue was Moreci continuing to pose capital B Big, sweeping questions about humanity, specifically asking whether the species is doomed to forever war and jockey for position because that’s what it took to get us to the top of the evolutionary chain.

Without giving anything specific away, one of the plot developments here also seems to make a statement about political extremism, specifically about the merits of having a predictable and intact system versus moving toward anarchy by forcing norms and structure to die and crumble. It’s the best kind of surprise twist, at once thrilling and meaningful.

Hayden Sherman is establishing himself as one of the best sci-fi artists in comics.

Hayden Sherman is establishing himself as one of the best sci-fi artists in comics.

And this is all heady stuff, especially considering the thematic and philosophical weight introduced in the first book, which basically opened with a drug dealer arguing that the Greek mythological figure of Sisyphus—fated to forever push a boulder up a hill that just rolled back down again later—actually had a great life free of confusing distractions and filled with focus. Oh, and the first issue also took a David Foster Wallace-esque stance on escapism, painting it as the author did in his opus Infinite Jest as at once incredibly dangerous but also possibly mankind’s natural and necessary state.

There are a lot of massive ideas here, so many that this story falls a bit into a common trap of second issues, lacking action in parts as it dispenses exposition left out of the previous issue. Sherman and Wordie’s art, however, makes the flashbacks and contemplations visually engaging, so much so that Sherman again furthers his case as one of the premiere sci-fi artists in all of comics (shout out to his other ongoing book, Cold War), both in terms of his technology and cityscapes.

Overall: This issue sought to meet a huge bar set by its predecessor, which as I wrote in my Wasted Space #1 review did an incredible job balancing action and ideas. The second issue falls just short of the first, but it’s still fantastic, doing the difficult yet necessary work of familiarizing us with our leads. I will for sure get wasted again next month. 8.5/10

Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.