Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Milo Manara, and the story is L’odissea di Bergman/L’odyssée de Giuseppe Bergman (Bergman’s Odyssey), which was published in 2004 (I can’t find where it originally appeared, but it was published in both France and Italy). These scans are from The Manara Library volume 5, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated June 2013. Enjoy! (For the last time – at least with regard to Manara – I have to place a Not Safe For Work warning here.)
Manara continues to work, of course, but I’m finishing with this work from 2004 because the only thing I own from this point on is Pandora’s Eyes, which is not Manara’s best work. If the last few Manara Library volumes were already out, I might have chosen something else, but maybe not, as Bergman’s Odyssey is another example of Manara doing a lot of interesting, versatile work, so maybe I would have used it anyway!
Manara sets this story on a boat in the middle of a foggy ocean, and he uses lines a lot to show the murkiness in the air. Instead of using shapes to create clouds, he simple draws horizontal and occasional wavy lines to create the fog, which works quite well and also allows the Greek ship to blend in very well. He uses one curved vertical line in Panel 1 to show the prow of the boat, but the slightly thicker horizontal lines that make the Greek ship more solid aren’t separated too much from the more hazy lines around it. In Panel 3, he uses spotty black chunks to create the Greek warriors, something he’ll come back to.
As the book features a lot of elements from Greek writing (I know, shocking), Manara tends to use thicker lines to create a “wine-dark” sea and to make the art look more “Classical Greek,” for lack of a better term. We’ve already seen how he uses black shapes separated by white spaces to create a foamy surf, and we see more of it here. He blacks out the sky in Panel 1 and uses white paint to create streaks of rain. Despite the finer lines for the figures, he uses the same kind of technique on the “Skipper’s” pants that he does in the sky, with the black broken up by white streaks to create a tight, leathery feel to them (don’t worry why she’s wearing them so low – it’s a Manara comic!). Interestingly enough, while some of the women in this story are typical “Manara females,” the Skipper is often drawn with a bit more definition to her features, even though she gets as naked as any other Manara woman. Maybe his choice to give her short, spiky hair made him consider her face a bit more. I don’t know. Notice in Panel 4, Manara is using those thick horizontal lines again, this time to make the water murky and even oily as the shark swims through it. The background reminds me of Munch’s “Scream.” I wonder if Manara thought that, too.
Manara goes even more basic, with even thicker lines showing that this is a narrated story rather than something the characters are experiencing directly. His details are still wonderful, as we get the nicely drawn ship in Panels 1 and 4 and the marvelous Greek soldiers in Panel 2, but the water in Panel 1 is even more thickly lined than in the previous example, while the waves in Panel 4 are also heavier than we saw above. Even the explosion of the goatskin is rough and simplistic, with Manara just using simple jagged lines to depict it. The Greeks in Panel 2 are very nicely done – Manara uses “negative” images of them, with the hatching done in white over black masses to make them more “unreal,” as they’re in a story being told and also they’re from another era, so Manara separates them from the present with this trick. It plays up the “alien-ness” of the Greeks, which becomes more a part of the story as they begin to interact with the modern world more.
Here’s some more nice work by Manara, as he again uses thick lines to make the cliffs look more imposing and bleak, while he forgoes his finer lines to make Scylla look rough and terrifying. I’m not sure if Manara used a drawing of the monster as a model, but it looks more like a woodcut than a lot of Manara’s drawings. We don’t always get a lot of bloody violence in Manara’s work, but Panel 4 is nicely done, as the soldiers look appropriately frightened that Scylla is eating them, and Manara uses the blood and motion lines well to show the confusion on board. Even though we don’t see the Skipper’s face (she’s wearing a Greek helmet that transports its wearer to ancient days), the way Manara poses her is very nice, as she’s scared but also puzzled as to why she’s being spared. Manara’s work with body language has always been good, and it works even when the view is from farther back.
Manara continues to use rougher lines, as we get the beautifully worked rocks in Panel 1, the lush feathers on the sirens, and the tough armor on Ulysses in Panel 4. Instead of using fine hatching on Ulysses, Manara gives him more textured musculature while making his armor duller and more leathery than shiny – we tend to think of the Greeks as wearing bronze, and perhaps here Manara is implying that, but perhaps he’s pointing out that Ulysses might be just wearing a leather breastplate because he’s not at war. Beats me. Manara is still very good at the more delicate stuff, as he uses nice speckling on the sirens in Panel 1 to make their tails look more scaly. He also, as usual, knows how bodies move, as the women are naked and beautiful, yes, but their bodies move like bodies would move. It’s one reason why the Spider-Woman cover is so weird, because Manara obviously knows how bodies move.
Manara gives us more of the “negative” images of the Greeks, with the white paint carving exquisite designs in their armor and headdresses. In Panel 4, Manara adds a bit more white, and we get to see one Greek soldier’s face as they enter the battle. In the foreground of Panel 4, we get the marvelously ornate shields, which Manara creates using bold blacks against the white background, which makes them stand out against the mostly black background. By using the “negative” images in Panel 4, Manara is able to create a thicket of spears, which makes them more imposing and terrifying. Notice, too, that Manara doesn’t just use Greeks in this sequence, as soldiers from all over time and space show up in Panel 1, and Manara does a very nice job drawing them all in with very nice details. Manara, I would assume, found photographs of soldiers and possibly light boxed them onto the page, but like all good artists, he integrated them very well into the scene.
The cliché of waves turning into stampeding horses has probably been around as long as literature, but Manara really goes nuts with it on this page, as he uses the curvy, swirling lines he’s been using for waves for years and blends them very well to create the wall of horses, while above and below them he still draws the waves in the same way he’s been doing for the entire story – with thick, almost wooden lines to show how dark and imposing the water is. At the top of the page we get a horrifying image of Poseidon, the crest of his helmet created from water, while Manara gives him crazed, wide-open eyes and a gaping maw, which he lines with the same urgency that he uses on the water, linking the god even more with his domain. The design of the page is nice, too, as Manara links Poseidon and the boat with the diagonal line that balances the diagonal line created by the narrative box and the lower right corner, which is where our eyes naturally flow. It also creates a “Z,” which is how we usually read pages, allowing us to take in the entire page before we reach the battered boat in the lower left. We get a very good sense of the tremendous amount of water that will engulf Bergman and the Skipper, and Manara creates a great sense of terror that they’re not going to survive (they do, however).
As we can see, if you weren’t familiar with Manara except for his Marvel covers and maybe the Sandman graphic novel or his X-Women book, there’s a lot more to him than drawing naked women. It makes the poor drawing of Spider-Woman that much more vexing (the tone of the drawing is a different topic entirely – I’m just talking about the fact that it’s kind of a lousy drawing). He keeps working (although I’m not sure what he’s done in the past few years besides covers), and I’ll keep looking out for his work.
Tomorrow: You know, it’s been too long since I featured an Image founder here! So strap in and get ready for yet another divisive artist! Those are always fun, aren’t they? Find more Image founders in the archives!
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