Is it possible to save humanity from itself? This is no easy question for Run Wild’s young protagonists, Ava and Flynn. The sister-brother duo are the sole survivors of a mysterious “virus” that turns people into animals in this fantastical tale from author K.I. Zachopoulos and illustrator Vincenzo Balzano (co-creators of The Cloud).

Set in a dystopian future, the story follows the main characters as they embark on a hero’s quest to find their mother and right the world’s wrongs. The world they face is a dangerous one, overrun by wild animals that house the remnants of human souls. Some are friends and some are foes, and the two must learn to quickly discern the difference if they are to save humankind and start anew.

From the first page onward, the memorable characters make this tale a compelling read. Ava’s dark, anxious brooding serves as a counterpart to her younger brother Flynn’s optimistic, life-affirming disposition. The kindness of their animal allies, such as the giant fox who guides and protects, is a striking contrast to the savagery of the long-gones: humans turned into animals who have since devolved into something else entirely. These soulless creatures are nothing more than base instinct and primitive need, hounding the protagonists as they struggle to avoid the same fate.

Setting also is a doorway into the story, with its foreboding forest and barren ruins of once-great cities. The only traces of civilization that remain in this vividly realized world lie within the aptly-named Median, a midpoint between extremes where animals who hold fast to their humanity dwell. This safe haven does not remain untouched, however, as certain events transform the city into an arena for the battle of good and evil to unfold.

As a major thematic idea within the story, the conflict between good and bad, dark and light, also forces Ava and Flynn to face some difficult questions about the duality of human nature and whether or not our darker sides make a brighter future worth pursuing (let alone possible). It is the siblings’ deep love and devotion to one another that forms a thread strong enough to withstand the story’s many twists and turns; a much-needed reminder that humans do have their redeeming qualities.

Throughout the story, illustrations play a pivotal role in telling the story as well as creating its dreamlike quality. In fact, images dominate each page with multi-layered renderings of wispy, skeletal figures that float on the page like forlorn ghosts. This is fitting in light of the virtual extinction of the human race. Such pale faces and gaunt bodies give the story a surrealistic style that may be especially appealing to fans of Tim Burton and his macabre approach to artistry.

Balzano also uses color to represent different settings thematically. Black, gray and an assortment of murky hues represent the wilderness as opposed to the typical shades of green and brown. This is a forest that suggests there is something unnatural about the natural world. The dark color palette then forms a sharp contrast to the penetrating reds and yellows of the destroyed cityscapes. Often, the only sources of pure light radiate from the main characters and their fox-turned-mentor—tiny beacons in an otherwise dark world that often engulfs them on the page.

Although sparse, the text works seamlessly with the images to provide the basic story line from which the visuals enrich and elaborate. Especially effective are the speech bubbles done in solid red, drawing the eye immediately to the primitive language of the long-gones, whose only concerns seem to be hunting, killing and feeding. The result is chilling.

The story leaves readers with much to reflect on, from broad ideas about human existence to more story-specific concerns about what lies ahead for the protagonists. Along the way, Zachopoulos sprinkles in plenty of philosophical musings, which makes this book most appropriate for mature teens and adults. Fans of fantasy and post-apocalyptic societies also should enjoy this breathtaking read.

Run Wild
by K.I. Zachopoulos
Art by Vincenzo Balzano
ISBN: 9781684150243
Boom! Studios, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

  • Johanna

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Johanna Nelson is a full-time graduate student pursuing her MLIS at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Through her studies, she discovered a love for the graphic novel format thanks to the likes of Raina Telgemeier and Art Spiegelman. While the two may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, both masterfully combine narrative and picture to create a compelling, rich story greater than the parts alone. As an aspiring school librarian, who will soon be on the path to teacher greatness through dual certification in education and library media specialization, Johanna also loves to explore the seemingly endless possibilities graphic novels hold when it comes to teaching and building literacy skills, helping English language learners, reaching out to reluctant readers and matching each and every kiddo with just the right book thanks to the wide range of subject matter available in this format. Prior to leading the “glamorous” life of a toiling student, Johanna served as features editor for a cheese and dairy trade newspaper that helped to cultivate her writing skills as well as her love for deliciously unique artisan cheeses – triple cream anyone? She also has held several library positions including page and library specialist in the children’s department of a public library. In her free time, she enjoys embracing her inner nerd through watching Jeopardy!, doing crossword and jigsaw puzzles, bird watching, hiking, sketching, and of course, reading whatever she can get her hands on.

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