Milo Manara is an Italian comic artist who has been drawing comics for decades best known for what the middle class would call erotica and the rest of us call porn. Nothing wrong with porn and Manara draws it exceptionally well in works like Click!, but for me, his finest work is Indian Summer, a truly spectacular work of art, as well as soft porn. After 40 years in comics you’d have to be really, really, really bloody daft not to know what you’ll get with Manara who isn’t shy about what he draws.
So Marvel Comics decided to get Manara to draw one of the covers for their new Spider Woman comic and well, it looks like this.
This caused a kerfuffle and a half, mainly it seems from people who’d never heard of Manara and quickly labelled him a misogynistic pervert, but seeing as Manara isn’t a misogynist, and is clearly a bit of an old pervert, that was only partly true. The Mary Sue tried to critique Manara’s work, but unlike the rightful critiques of the terrible Teen Titans cover that ended up with some fans threatening women with rape, this was clearly not the problem of the artist, but whomever had thought ‘oh, you know what, let’s get Milo Manara to draw this because he’ll be subtle”. To be fair though, this is a pose several male characters have been in, but then again they never were drawn by the leading erotic artist working in comics over the last four decades.
Now the moment Manara was announced to draw a variant cover people’s Spidey Sense should have been tingling but clearly Marvel quite literally didn’t give a toss as they’ve got the publicity they wanted, and that people have given them. Yes, it’s a tad sexist, but Manara is unapologetic (as seen in this translated interview from Italy that the Beat reprint) which isn’t half surprising when you consider he really has been doing this for longer than most of the people criticising him have been alive.
Manara does raise some interesting points about how the Americans deal with sex, censorship and how erotic art (soft porn) is seen but his comment about ” I just want to make something seductive that provides five minutes of relaxation.’ which is probably a euphemism for wanking, though he does later say ”But I do not think a design like the one on the cover of Spider-Woman could have masturbatory consequences”, which is hard to believe to be honest. If it is, it’s refreshingly honest in a tale where few people are actually being honest here. There’s a sense of faux outrage at Manara which detracts from the real problem which is someone at Marvel thought there’d be a load of nice publicity from the fallout.
It’s the cynicism of Marvel’s decision here that drowns out some of the more self righteous criticisms of Manara’s work, which to be fair, is pretty awful in this cover. Marvel knew they’d create a furor and people are falling for it so that any intelligent debate is being drowned out. Should Marvel have got Manara to draw a cover? Yes, why not. Should he have drawn something so obviously right out of a jazz mag? Yes, why not. Should Marvel have guided him? Yes, they should. Are Marvel heartless cynics pandering to a load of one-handed readers? Yes they are. Is that wrong? In this context, yes, it probably is.
Where does it go from here? I dunno. There needs to be a debate but it’s going to get a bit sticky and messy, but while middle aged men with poor social skills run marketing departments (and having worked in marketing I can testify to this) in comic companies then this will go on, and on, and on…..