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 Viaggio a Tulun* (Trip to Tulum), which was published in Corto Maltese magazine in 1989. These scans are from The Manara Library volume 3, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated August 2012. Enjoy! (And, in case you’re curious, there’s some Not Safe For Work nudity under the cut. Stay away, prudes!)
* Apparently, the misspelling was deliberate, although I have no idea why.)
Whenever I do these posts, I try to stick to as close to the original publication as possible. I know that’s not always possible, as I don’t own a lot of original publications from prior to the 1980s, but I think it’s important to see how the publishers wanted to present the art to the public. Yes, since I’m writing mostly about pencilers, I’d love it if I could see the absolutely original art in every single one of these instances, even before the inking, but that’s not possible. One reason I haven’t shown some work from my Showcase volumes is because they’re not in color, and the comics were originally published in color. You can argue that it’s better to see them in black-and-white, and that’s certainly a fair point, and I might cave and show some work from those volumes (I’m having a hard time finding 1960s Kubert work, so I might have to use my Enemy Ace Showcase volume for that), but I’d really like to show the art as close to the way it was published as possible, even if later versions cleaned it up and made it “better.” The reason I’m pointing this out is because I really wanted to show Trip to Tulum, but it was originally published in color. I don’t know why Dark Horse decided to go black and white in this volume, because they show other of Manara’s works in color, but they did, and so this isn’t exactly how it was originally published. Maybe it’s “better” – I don’t know. But I wanted to show Manara’s work from the late 1980s/early 1990s, and this is much more interesting, visually, than El Gaucho, which came out in 1991. So I’m showing it! There!
Trip to Tulum was written by Federico Fellini, and it began as a movie that collapsed but was resurrected when Manara, who had long admired Fellini, convinced him to turn it into a comic. Fellini shows up in the comic, as we’ll see below, but he also “casts” Marcello Mastroianni as himself, a famous director, which is why we get the scene here (Mastroianni as “Mr. Snaporaz” is in the hat in Panel 2, and you can see him a bit when he exits the car in Panel 4). Manara, as usual, is very “modern,” as the people are dressed like it’s 1989, while they’re driving cars that are very much of that era. The car carrying Mastroianni and Vincenzo (the portly dude) is a classic, of course, but it’s not too out of place. Manara is always very good at showing crowds and chaos, but I wanted to focus on Panel 2, where we see the inside of the car. He uses blacks with touches of white very well to create the four figures, making it clear even in the darkness of the car that the woman (her name’s Sibyl) is wearing a veil, for instance. The man in the passenger seat looks sinister just by the way Manara darkens his face yet gives him that small, gleaming eye. It’s not like he is sinister, but the way Manara draws him is a bit creepy. With just a small use of negative space, Manara creates a tone, which is pretty keen.
I know that at some point, I’ll just shut up and post page after page of artwork so everyone can say “Wow,” but come on, this is a pretty cool page, isn’t it? Some things stand out about it, though. First, the way Manara divides the page is clever, as the exterior works without the barrier of the walkway, but with it, we get a vibe of “upper class/lower class” that is mirrored inside the hotel (which I’ll get back to). The scene at the top is ethereal, with Manara using lots of indeterminate blacks and white ink to create a starry night and a fairyland urban scene, while below the walkway, we get a much more grounded scene, as Manara uses solid lines and less shading to show the buildings in stark relief. The buildings still look like upper crust kind of places, but they’re definitely “below” the more fantastical scene “above,” and I wonder if that’s deliberate. Notice, too, that while everyone at the party is “high class,” on the walkway we see just the guests, while the workers are walking down the steps to the lower level. Even though there are “high class” people on the lower level, there’s a feeling of being “lower,” which is why the wait staff is heading that way. I also wonder if the vine that breaks through the floor at Sibyl’s feet and then stretches up the column is indicative of a rot in the upper class, especially as it stands behind the group of plutocrats on the upper floor. Even though Manara makes the vine as clean and crisp as the rest of the page, the way it twists and turns imply cracks in the column, taking it apart from the inside. All of this stuff is deliberate, I think, because why else would Fellini and Manara put these things on the page?
The interior of “Babel Tower” is magnificent, of course, and it’s amazing how Manara incorporates Mayan/Aztec/Toltec culture into the sleek ultra-modern design. He doesn’t take any space off, filling it with wonderful carvings, making sure to darken the tops of the two structures as they get less light. Look at how he does the line work even on the balconies of the floors, and even though the top of the tower seems a bit weird, perspective-wise, the page is still absolutely stunning.
Yes, yes, nekkidness all over, but look at how Manara draws the figures. Vincenzo is a fat dude, and Manara doesn’t hide any aspect of that. Helen is beautiful, of course, but like other Manara women, she certainly doesn’t look like a Barbie doll, as her curves are logical and her breasts fit her frame well. Mastroianni is fit but not too buff, while the other dude – whose name escapes me – is thin and hairy, which the other two men are not. There’s a nice disparity of forms here. Manara does a good job with the waiter running toward them, hopping around impotently, and in Panel 3, we get good movement from the characters as the unnamed dude gets stung (by a lion fish, but that’s not terrible important). Manara does wonderful work with the water, using precise lines for the foam, circles, and thicker lines deeper in the water to create the darker colors. It’s all in the lines, as he doesn’t use many black chunks, and it’s very nicely done.
Don’t worry about what’s going on here – Sibyl turns into a harpy and attacks Mastroianni and the others, who have been turned into kites. I SAID DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT! Manara again uses his crisp line as a “base” from which he can add odder stuff, so we get precise lines on Sibyl’s body and the forms of the men. On the men, he adds a smattering of dots and then bigger circles which extend beyond the borders of their bodies onto the forms of the kites and their tails. For Sibyl, he uses thicker and rougher lines on her wings, which shows that they’ve been destroyed and she’s falling to her death. Even with a weird page like this, Manara does a nice job with the terror on Sibyl’s face as she falls – sure, she tried to kill the others, but she’s still not happy about dying like this! This is the first time we’ve seen a clear female face in this post (even though it’s upside-down), and you’ll notice that we haven’t quite reached full “Manara face” yet – we’ll get to it, though!
This is the last page of the story, and it’s just a really nice Manara drawing. It incorporates a lot of other things we’ve seen him do – the white dots in the sky, the swirly water – and shows some other nice stuff, like the use of the black with white lines to create the shadowed mass of the plane rising from the water. As usual with Manara, he understands how people move and how natural forces work, as the three characters at the bottom of the page – Vincenzo, Helen, and Fellini – seem to actually be affected by the plane leaping out of the water so close to them. It’s very nicely done.
As Manara moved into the 1990s, we can see that he began to … I certainly don’t want to say “get lazy,” because a lot of his work was wildly inventive, but he definitely began to exhibit some tics that would make people think less of him, especially with regard to the way he drew women. We’ll check something out tomorrow that feeds into that, whether you agree that it’s problematic or not. So come on back and see what’s what. And make sure to dive into the archives!
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