Year of the Artist, Day 257: Milo Manara, Part 1 - <i>Lo Scimmiotto</i>

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 Lo Scimmiotto ("The Young Ape"), which was published in Alterlinus magazine in 1976-1977. These scans are from The Manara Library volume 3, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated August 2012. Enjoy! (And yes, there's some nekkidness below the cut. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!)

I was always planning on featuring Milo Manara, and after the big Spider-Women controversy, I was going to show him more recently, but I wanted to wait until the sixth and final volume of Dark Horse's The Manara Library came out. It was supposed to come out today, which is the tenth of September (yes, I'm still not very far ahead of the game, but I'm trying!), but apparently it's been delayed a bit, so I decided to just deal with it and do what I can with Manara. I don't own his very earliest work from the late 1960s and the early 1970s, so I figured it would be fine to skip right to 1976, when he drew Lo Scimmiotto. It's very neat work. (As it turns out, Manara turned 69 two days ago, so the timing for these posts is better than I thought!)

Don't worry about what's going on in this story. It's pretty kooky, but like so much else I'm looking at this year, the story is meaningless because it's all about the artwork! Manara was already 30 when he began working on this story, so it's not surprising that he was this good, but as we go along, you'll notice that it's much rougher than his later work. He uses a lot more hatching on the figures (well, the male figures), as we can see with the roughness of the Jade Emperor in Panel 2 and then, of course, his grotesque hairy body in Panel 6. Manara always uses motion lines, so that's not an indication of youth or inexperience - he just tends to enjoy them. His attention to detail is always amazing, as we see especially in the clothing that the emperor and the others wear, and while Manara's "base" style is rather realistic, he's certainly able to exaggerate, as the beheadings, especially the second one, are the tiniest bit goofy (more because the dude in the second one talks quite a bit even though it appears his head is already off). In Panel 6, we get that gorgeous background, which Manara pencils in roughly, using thick lines to make the leaves look fuller and bushier. Panel 5, where the second beheading takes place, is interesting. The woman is naked, but notice that Manara is very aware of the way a body would move when a person needs more power to chop through bone. Her body is contorted to the left as she swings the sword with her right, and while we don't see her left foot in the smoke, her right foot is pointed at the ground, balancing her as she brings the sword down. This is Manara paying very close attention to how bodies move, even in a wacky context like this.

Manara has always had a wry sense of humor, even if it's occasionally somewhat obvious. The bridge is a consumerist nightmare, but Manara does a really nice job integrating the words into the artwork (can someone let me know if it was in English in the original?). He takes his time with the riot of images, to the point where the sewage disposal is, in fact, a giant bunghole. Underneath the bridge, he again uses rough pencils to create a haunting landscape, which seems part of a different world than the bridge. The story takes place in a timeless present, so in Panel 2, we get the stereotypical Fu Manchu-esque merchant with very modern horn-rimmed glasses. In Panel 4, we once again get that beautiful brushwork in the background to create a misty mountainous scene as the Ape escapes the capitalist craziness behind him.

So this is an amazing page, isn't it? Notice the rough hatching all throughout this page, which makes everything look like it's carved from stone (which it is) and makes it look real, more importantly, even in the midst of this crazy fantastical stuff. Manara doesn't cut any corners - he makes sure that his place looks old and even a bit decrepit, as the railings are not pristine and it appears there's an old lava flow covering some of the steps in the middle ground. He draws dwellings up the cliffs and remembers to create pathways to all of them, while on the right side, the use of rough lines with a little bit less hatching makes the buildings look more wooden than stone. In the foreground, of course, we get the monks, and Manara uses dense line work to age them tremendously, but he knows to use enough white to make them look harrowing, not pathetic. It's really nice work.

Here's another panel that shows Manara's sense of humor and his versatility. He again uses thick lines for the pollution enfolding the buildings in the background, while doing some interesting things like using the thick black lines on that hut on the beach to simulate thatching, which is nifty. In the foreground, he places several characters, with various pregnant women being guarded by some kind of Asian monster. Again, he uses thick hatching on the naked pregnant woman, which is a definite contrast from his later work, where his women are much smoother. Behind the fence we see almost an Aragonés character - I'm not entirely sure what that character is doing, but it's just another indication of Manara's goofiness. He's able to shift easily from silliness to seriousness, which makes the more odd comics he works on even more surreal.

Once again, we see how well Manara lays a page out and incorporates all sorts of strange elements into the whole. We get the background, with the imposing cliffs and the beautiful buildings, with that speckled pencil work that turns everything into hard stone, while down at the bottom, he places a bunch of "drugs" in Katmandu, with several interesting fonts making the names of the drugs stand out. Meanwhile, at the top, the Ape fights the Demon of Speculation in a galactic setting. Manara twists the two figures around quite a bit, but it's interesting that he tries to show them fighting in what is essentially zero-gravity. It's a bit weird, but it works. The layout is neat, as it allows us to circle around the central image, which reminds us of those Chinese landscape paintings. While that remains static, the Ape's fight revolves around it until we get to the bottom right of the page. it's pretty keen.

The layout of this page is tremendous - Manara puts the Ape in the center, with the golden-banded staff forming a "V" as it surrounds him, while he holds it across the page, blocking our view. With Manara's work so steeped in nudity, I wonder how much of the "V" is supposed to remind us of a female/male anatomical dichotomy - notice that the "Dragon-King" chides him for mocking the "homosexuality cultivated with such care by the immortals," but Manara seems to toy with this statement in the very design, as both female and male anatomy melds into androgyny a bit on this page. Manara can't have been ignorant of the "V" shape, the staff, or even putting the Ape at the bottom of the "V" like that. This comic, like a lot of Manara's work, is a bit fluid when it comes to sexual politics, and this page seems to imply that the Ape is not as manly as he appears. Whatever Manara was thinking, the work is still tremendous, with that black inky mass surrounding the staff making this a bit more disturbingly gooey, while even the word balloons at the bottom of the page are snaky and fluid, making this entire page somewhat sensual. It's a bit weirder than we might think on first glance.

The large word balloon in the lower right obscure the Ape far too much in this panel, but other than that, it shows how well Manara understands perspective. In the upper left, a waterfall tumbles toward the Ape's domain, and while we can look at this straight on, the fact that Manara "begins" the panel "up" there and then comes "down" almost makes us move our head upward and then downward - that's how good the perspective is. In the background, we get the bacchanalia, crowned by what don't look like chrysanthemums but which I infer to be because of the Asian setting, all leading us toward the Ape and the young lady talking to him. We're still "below" the scene, but it does appear that Manara twists the perspective a bit to make the waterfall look like it's rising more spectacularly while keeping the Ape and the woman on a more level plane. I don't know, but it does look a bit off, somehow. Maybe it's just me. Anyway, the fact that the woman dangles her foot into the panel below gives us the feeling that the Ape's banquet table is on the edge of a cliff, which is an interesting idea. It's not, but it's a neat trick by Manara.

Manara, obviously, is having some fun with the "scullery maids" here, as they have ridiculous legs, tiny waists, and giant breasts, but they're Betty Boop-esque cartoon characters, as he leaves them noseless and very much caricatures of geisha, while the Ape has been turned into a crusty old-timer instead of the young, vibrant character he once was. You'll notice that the scullery maids are drawn very simplistically, with bold lines and no hatching, while in Panel 3, Manara dapples the peach delicately and he continues to use thick lines on the Ape. Even in Panel 6, when the Ape turns the maids into trees, Manara changes how he draws them, with thicker but more subtle lines, showing their transformation. Manara uses these different techniques to show different tones in the story, and he does it quite well.

Manara continued to get better, as we'll see in the coming days. I honestly don't know what I'm going to show over the next few days - I'll figure it out, though! Don't forget about the archives, either!

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