Mirka Andolfo has witnessed life imitate her art.
In her Italian erotic fantasy Unnatural, originally published in Europe as Contro Natura, Andolfo illustrates and writes of a world where the government controls whom people love, going so far as to select a mate of the same race if one is still single at the age of 25. Within the first few pages of Unnatural’s debut issue, Andolfo depicts government propaganda slogans that declare what is “legit” and “right” about the “traditional family.” Mere months after completing those pages, the Italian government fell under controversy for a social campaign that closely echoed the posters in Unnatural, with the Health Ministry declaring September 22nd “fertility day”—the messaging stated “Beauty has no age limit. Fertility does.” The campaign was quickly recalled.
“Italy is a country still deeply linked to Catholicism,” says Andolfo. “And that's still evident. But I hope they never enforce the policies used by the government in Unnatural.”
It’s strange, and certainly unnerving, for any real-life government to reflect the one depicted in any comic, let alone Unnatural. Andolfo’s world features anthropomorphic animals. Her protagonist, Leslie, is a “pig girl,” and Leslie’s best friend, Trish, is a “mouse girl.” This world’s government also interferes drastically in its citizens’ personal lives, adding another degree of separation from reality that hopefully remains intact. But Andolfo suspects that most readers can relate to the world she has created.
“I always thought that, except for the anthropomorphic animals and the dystopic situation, it had to be a ‘normal’ world, like ours,” Andolfo explains. “Leslie is an absolutely normal woman with a normal routine. She is not a superhero; she is a woman with weaknesses and emotions, and she likes sushi and music.”
Leslie’s dilemma stems from passionate reoccurring dreams involving a wolf. For a pig to lust after a wolf, even subconsciously, is to commit a serious crime. All the while, a menacing hooded figure lurks in Leslie’s periphery, adding to her anxiety. But the porcine romantic isn’t alone in her struggle. Another close friend, an affable ram named Derek, has fallen in love with a pig boy. He wants Leslie to wed his boyfriend since they’re both 25, and his interspecies relationship is a double whammy in the government’s severely homophobic eyes.
“The government is only worried about the continuation of the species, so all the interspecies relationships are a forbidden crime against the community,” Andolfo explains. “The only thing worse is homosexuality. That's twice as perverse because homosexual people are two times as ‘unnatural,’ according to the government.”
Despite the government’s preoccupation with segregated breeding, Unnatural will not explore what happens when hybrid species are born because Andolfo feels strongly that not every relationship needs a child as a capstone.
“I liked showing that love can exist without necessarily aiming at that purpose: giving birth to children. The fundamental thing in a couple is to love each other, and for me, this is the most important thing. Children and marriage are things that come later if the couple desires them and if they can. Sometimes it seems to me that in society, specific standards are required to define a couple as a ‘real’ couple, and I find that profoundly wrong.”
On the note of “real” characters, using animal species as a proxy for racism came about organically as Andolfo began drawing. “Leslie is the first thing born for this project. When I work on my personal projects, the main character is always the first thing in my mind, the spark that ignites everything else,” she says. “When a character is born, and when I love to draw and speak about that character, the story comes together for him or her, and I start building the world as I imagine it. The fact that they are animals is just a visual detail—a fun way for me to draw this story.”
Andolfo took a completely different approach for Unnatural that strays far from her work at DC, notably in Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Harley Quinn, and DC Comics Bombshells.
“The most fun thing about my creator-owned comics is that I can create the story and add colors. I would love to color my DC comic books, but at the moment, the deadlines and the fact that I'm always working on different projects at the same time makes this impossible. In any case, I adore working both on my personal, creator-owned projects and on other writers' stuff, and I think I would feel incomplete without one of those activities.”
As much as Andolfo fully owns the story within Unnatural, its growing international popularity warrants frequent collaboration with translators. The comic has already been localized in Polish, Spanish, German, French, and, as of this week, English. Whether reading Unnatural in Italian or any other language, it’s impossible to miss the heart of the dystopian slice-of-life parable that Andolfo has created. Her characters are easily relatable and drawn with such pure expressions that it would be near impossible to misinterpret their intentions. Like most art that revolves around oppressed societies, Unnatural offers an apt reflection of present-day anxieties and conflicts, and its outcome will likely serve as a roadmap that real life will either imitate or reject.
Unnatural #1 by Mirka Andolfo is Available Now