Unretouchable by Sofia Szamosi. Image: Graphic Universe.

EXCLUSIVE PREVIEW: Learning The Behind-The-Scenes of Magazine Photo-Editing in ‘Unretouchable’

As someone who makes traditional and digital zines —some of which are now housed in over two dozen universities and libraries across the country—artist Sofia Szamosi is not new to book-making. After all, she’s bound many of her own by hand. However, on September 13, Graphic Universe will publish her debut mass-printed graphic novel Unretouchable . Ahead of the release, The Mary Sue is proud to share an exclusive sneak preview of this book.

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Unretouchable by Sofia Szamosi. Image: Graphic Universe.
(Graphic Universe)

The story follows a recently graduated high school student, Olive, taking an internship at a prestigious fashion magazine in NYC ahead of her first semester at art school. There she learns everything that happens to an image after the photo shoot. While she understands photos are edited (after all, she does it herself online), things start to get uncomfortable as she learns about the worst parts of the industry.

Though Szamosi is writing for a younger audience, she doesn’t hold back on any of the aspects common or otherwise that aren’t so great about image manipulation in regards to fashion and body image. After all, Gen Z (roughly 10 to 25) grew up almost entirely online and with a lower barrier to touch-up images. As someone who barely qualifies as a millennial and grew up at a time when not everyone had a phone in middle school (though I was certainly among the last of my age group), I remember the transition of filter use as an “aesthetic” flare to turning into something to make someone look younger, thinner, or with clearer skin.


Though Olive’s story is very similar to Szamosi‘s internship ten years before and ten years younger, this is not a graphic memoir. Where Olive lands the internship via her mother, Szamosi found her experience through a friend “who was sick of hearing me complain about bartending.” This friend’s boyfriend was a photo retoucher and connected Szamosi with a position at a similar place where Olive ends up.

While the specifics of our experiences may have been different, the questions the internship and resulting soul searching raised were the same: How are we being marketed to? And how are we
marketing ourselves? What does real connection look like today? What power do images have?
And how can we be more conscious creators and consumers of images?

Unretouchable preivew. Image: Graphic Universe.
Unretouchable preivew. Image: Graphic Universe.
Unretouchable preivew. Image: Graphic Universe.
Unretouchable preivew. Image: Graphic Universe.
Unretouchable preivew. Image: Graphic Universe.

Alongside the preview, I also asked some questions via email to Szamosi via email. So, as a fellow artist, I, of course, asked about her favorite part to illustrate. She said:

I loved illustrating the whole thing, but I especially enjoyed illustrating all the NYC street scenes. I moved to NYC from the Bay Area when I was seven, and it has always felt like home. I loved drawing all its little details and defects, the stuff that makes life interesting. I also had fun drawing and coming up with names for all the fake social media apps – Friendi, Chit Chat, Chataholics, Blab, Groogle… just to name a few!

Unretouchable by Sofia Szamosi releases September 13 and is available for pre-order now. Follow Szamosi on Twitter and Instagram for updates on her second book, which will be a graphic memoir.

(featured image: Graphic Universe)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.