THOUGHT BUBBLE 2019!
We’ve seen a number of comics and graphic novels dealing with the Chernobyl disaster over the years, including Francisco Sánchez and Natacha Busto’s Chernobyl: The Zone from Centrala and Emmanuel Lepage’s Springtine in Chernobyl from IDW. While those accounts of the effects of the 1986 nuclear disaster were from a very human perspective, Jacek Matysiak’s Radioactive Animals explores the devastating legacy of that event from an alternative standpoint, focusing on the local wildlife and their perception of that day and its repercussions.
Two fox cubs Jacob and Teo are visiting their grandfather in the contaminated woodland around the disaster area. The youngsters love listening to his stories and, on this occasion, are captivated by his tale of the day of the Chernobyl explosion and its immediate after-effects. As they settle down to listen, he tells them not just of that fateful moment but of the years after, and how animal and bird life in the area recovered and adapted to their new circumstances.
The immediate take from Radioactive Animals is Matysiak’s haunting use of colour and beautifully constructed pages. There’s an elegance to his art that has a striking clarity with his colour choices ensuring his cast of characters stand out within their environments and contrasts urban ruin with the natural world to powerful thematic effect. It’s a viewpoint on events that benefits from its alternative slant, reminding us of the human-made reality of the tragedy and also of the resilience of the creatures left behind.
Where there are small distractions it’s largely in terms of dialogue. Rather than feeling like anthropomorphised animals responding to their situation, Radioactive Animals reads more like a very human checklist of facts being narrated by a central character who just happens to be a fox, with a knowledge of data and specifics that does seem incongruous in delivery at points. Regardless, this would be an excellent starting point for a younger reader in introducing them to this pivotal point in modern history and understanding the sobering issues of that day. It’s also a gateway to Matysiak’s distinctive visual style that will have readers checking out his work online for more examples of that beautifully blended use of colour.
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Review by Andy Oliver