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 Revoir les étoiles (To See Once More the Stars), which was published in À Suivre magazine in 1997. These scans are from The Manara Library volume 5, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated June 2013. Enjoy! (Once again, I have to hit you with a Not Safe For Work warning. HERE IT IS!!!!)
By 1997, Manara had become even more famous and had perfected a lot of stylistic tics in his art, which some people began to push back against. In The Urban Adventures of Giuseppe Bergman, Book 1, which we’ll look at here, we can see some of those tics, especially when it comes to female faces. Let’s dive right in!
In Panel 1, we see a pretty classic “Manara face,” as the Girl (she’s never named) has thin eyes and eyebrows, an almost nonexistent nose, and full lips. Look at how different she is from Giuseppe Bergman in Panel 2, who has actual facial features and whom Manara draws with a bit of personality. I can argue that because the Girl lives her life based on famous paintings (as we’ll see) that Manara is making a point about the relative blankness of her face, but so many of his women look like this that I’m not sure how convincing I’ll be. Manara, I assume, painted this with watercolors, which gives it a weird, diaphanous feeling, and also allows him to mimic airbrushing, as we see in Panel 3 with the brilliant sheen on the Girl’s butt. She wears those pants for a while, and in some panels, her ass is almost painfully glowing. It’s quite strange. Dark Horse printed this on glossy paper, and I assume the original was also printed on that kind of paper (otherwise, why would Dark Horse choose it?), and that, naturally, creates some of the shininess. But Manara really helps it along!
Here’s more of the “Manara face,” with special emphasis on the Girl’s lips. Manara is mocking Bergman here a bit, and the Girl is talking about the painting “Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs,” so he’s definitely making a point, but he still doesn’t give the Girl much of a nose, finishing the page by simply drawing two small dots as nostrils, and that’s it. Those lips, though, are full and lush, with Manara using some hatching and lots of shades to make them plumper and more sensual, especially when she puts her finger next to her mouth (Manara knows his Freud!). In Panel 7, Manara makes the Girl more pornographic, as she narrows her eyes, places her tongue on her lips, and pinches her nipple. He’s showing how odd our attitudes toward nudity in “real” life is (“real” life defined by Bergman’s reaction to her nudity) as opposed to famous (and old) paintings, but it’s true that he makes the Girl much more of a sexual fantasy than the women in the painting are. One thing you’ll notice about that panel is how Manara shows the Girl pinching the nipple, as she moves her breast up, leaving her left one where it is. Manara, as usual, understands how the body moves, and that makes this drawing even more realistic and therefore unnerving.
I don’t have much to say about this page except that Manara’s work is staggering – the use of watercolors adds a dreamy quality to the city, which, considering it’s composed of landmarks from around the world, isn’t surprising. Even in the deep background, where we get nondescript skyscrapers, Manara does a nice job with the shading to show where the light is coming from. He doesn’t take any pages off!
Even when she’s naked, the Girl’s ass is shiny, because Manara bathes her in light to contrast her with the old men staring at her as she enters the water. Manara still knows how light works, though, as he shades the small of her back, her spine, shoulder blades, showing where her body is indented just a little. The backgrounds on this page are stunning, though. Manara uses a riot of lines at the top to create the plant life, and he uses speckles on the stone work to age it a bit. In the pool, he uses wavy lines and more mixed watercolors to create the illusion of water, which is tremendous. In Panel 2, the trees behind the men are painted with some thick lines to imply bark, which is another nice effect. Manara doesn’t show any contempt for the old man ogling the Girl, but he does throw them into shadow, with their white-rimmed bodies almost reflecting the Girl’s natural light. It’s an interesting optical illusion, once again showing how luminous the Girl is as she strides through the world.
Manara here turns the Girl into the woman in Botticelli’s paintings, as she doesn’t want to get raped by the bikers, so they chase her much like the knight pursued the woman in the painting. It’s yet another interesting indictment of society’s confusing relationship with nudity, as we tend not to question why women in classical paintings are so often naked, but the Girl in the more modern context looks out of place. On the other hand, the horror of what’s happening to her is more immediate than the horror of the woman in the painting, which might stem from the fact that Manara has the benefit of centuries of artistic development behind him and understands perspective and shading more than Botticelli did, so the chase of the Girl looks more “realistic” than those in Botticelli’s paintings. Beats me. This story is fascinating because Manara doesn’t let us off the hook, so we’re complicit in reducing the Girl to a sexual object even as we reject the bikers and the knight, who want to dominate her sexually. By drawing her naked so often and even by drawing her in such positions rather than in “bad naked” situations (even here, where she’s being menaced, Manara draws her beautifully), he makes the reader feel uncomfortable, which is of course the point. It’s one reason why Manara, for all that people accuse him of being a “porn artist,” is far more subtle than those people might expect.
This is another gorgeous panel that just leaps out at you when you’re reading this story, as the Girl ends up on an island with ruins on it. Manara does everything right here – on the left side, we get the giant black hole of the door leading us inside, with the stairs leading down to the Girl so we don’t miss her. Several lines, in fact, point at her – the stairs, the beach, the water, even the white rocks above her thought balloon. Manara balances the panel well, too, with the black door on the left and the black trees on the right encircling the white rocks in the center. He’s still using watercolors, so we get the marbled cliff surrounding the door and the gray paint in the water interrupted by the white on the right side, showing where the rocks end. In the background, we get beautiful clouds, streaking across the sky. It’s a beautiful image all around.
Bergman believes that a painting killed the Girl, so art might bring her back to life. Interestingly enough, Manara has stopped showing her as a sex object and is now shading her face a little bit, which might be morbid (“she’s only human when she’s dead”) but also shows that he has thought about how he will depict the Girl. Manara, as usual, shows that he gets how people move, as he manages to make the “dead” Girl a limp rag doll in Bergman’s arms (she’s “dead” here, but Bergman’s plan does work, as she comes back to life). Manara also shows, once again, how versatile he is, as the graffiti is in all kinds of styles, from more abstract watercolors to solid line work when he draws good ol’ Corto Maltese in Panel 3 to the cartoony drawings in Panel 4. I keep thinking that the final drawing of the conductor is a tribute to Jules Feiffer, but I’m not sure. Manara still shows that he knows what he’s doing, even when the conductor is standing in front of a “fart orchestra” – the shading on the women is nicely done, and the two faces we see are wry and pleased with themselves. It’s impressive seeing how well Manara switches from his “Manara style” to all sorts of other kinds of styles.
In the new century, Manara continued to do some interesting stuff and some experimentation, and we’ll see some of that tomorrow. I was going to show his story in Sandman: Endless Nights, but that’s actually one of the less interesting stories he’s drawn in the past 15 years or so (art-wise, that is – you can praise or bash Gaiman’s writing all you want). So, it’s not that story. Sorry! But maybe there will be more nudity … wait, what am I saying? It’s Manara – of course there will be nudity! If you want to see more nudity, you perverts, you can probably find some in the archives!
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