Milo Manara: Sometimes Great Isn’t Good Enough

January 16th, 2013 by | Tags: ,

drawn by Milo Manara, yapped from Marvel Unveils Milo Manara “Uncanny Avengers” #2 Variant – Comic Book Resources)

Milo Manara is like Frank Cho, in that he’s very good at one specific thing and really good at a few other things, but he got so good at that first thing that the rest of the work sometimes suffers.

Frank Cho draws great busty women and decent thick women. That’s his thing, and I feel like only one of those dudes that draws Cavewoman — I think I’m thinking of Budd Root and early Devon Massey, and even that’s a reach — could go bar-for-bar with him in that very specific race. But Cho’s storytelling and focus has suffered as a result. The sexy girls seem like crutches, immaculately drawn though they may be, and nothing else in his stories has been clicking half as well as the girls do. That’s part of why Liberty Meadows works for me while his later work hasn’t — he could indulge the funny animal/dumb joke side of himself in addition to the carnival boobs, so there was something more to read the series for beyond “What unlikely-but-sexy pose is Cho going to draw a hot girl in this time?”

Manara’s similar. He’s fantastic at drawing a specific type of woman. His women possess a smoldering sexiness, one that’s probably best typified by Megan Fox these days. It isn’t entirely my bag, maybe because it isn’t as close to being in line with my tastes as Cho’s trunked out girls are, but I can still recognize how unbelievably talented he is sometimes. He tends to draw women who are (often literally) two panels away from being in full erotic ecstasy, with their head thrown back and hair blowing in the wind and mouth a perfect O.

It sounds familiar and lazy, but there’s an art to it. A lot of the empty cheesecake we complain about in cape comics is approach Manara’s throne, but it gets screwed up at the most basic level. Manara knows what he’s doing, and it shows.

But, as near as I can tell… that’s about all he does. I mean, he’s still an incredible draftsman, but like Cho, his women have a certain gravity. They feel like the real focus of the story to me at this point, like each story is a vehicle that exists just so that you can see Manara (or Cho) draw pretty girls.

Which is fine, on a certain level… X-Women was interesting, if neutered, and Cho’s Shanna was pretty okay, but again, felt neutered. But it gets old so fast. Their new work feels like echoes of their old work, but without the swing and passion that made the old work so interesting. You know that these guys can go in, but it just feels like a book that was created on autopilot.

It’s one thing to see something familiar done well, but seeing something done well in the exact same way over and over and over… it gets boring, no matter how solid it is. So you end up with things like this shot of the Scarlet Witch, which is drawn very well but uninteresting beyond the weirdness of one of the greatest porno artists ever drawing Marvel characters. When you expand it to include the rest of his covers, which are similarly vacant… I dunno. It ain’t working for me.

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20 comments to “Milo Manara: Sometimes Great Isn’t Good Enough”

  1. Through pain and trial, I’ve discovered that the best way to gauge Manara’s enthusiasm for a project is to check if he’s *trying* to draw the female characters as distinguishable from one another on any substantive level beyond hair and skin tone. He didn’t even do his own colors on X-Woman (the Euro release was b&w), and if you compare that to his French series, Borgia, which he was doing at the same time… it’s pretty obvious where his attention was.

  2. Nobody ever went broke drawing sexy ladies in comics.*

    *Unverified statement with no fact checking.

  3. I’d throw Los Bros Hernandez in the division, at least Jaime on the thick girls thing.

    Anyway…that’s a fair assessment of both Cho and Manara. I feel like Alex Ross is in the same camp, just not as a cheesecake guy: his stories are largely an excuse to see (and I almost wrote “watch”, but that’s kind of the problem, there’s little motion to watch) painterly realistic/majestic superheroes pose around.

    “Gravity” is a good term for that kind of thing.

  4. I understand what Manara does, and I suppose he does go whole-hog compared to a Greg Land tracing porn or whatever, but I just don’t see why it’s laudable or impressive. Calling X-Women “interesting” mystifies me, I found it to be an incredible waste of time after several reviewers had breathless praise for the artwork. If he’s good at drawing porn, let him draw porn. I’d say leave the franchise characters out of it, but Marvel probably knows what they’re doing when they put $4.99 on the cover of a book like that.

  5. Well said, and well said Spankminister too.

  6. @Spankminister: It’s not just about the nudity or an artist’s willingness to go full DVDA or whatever in their porno art. It’s about the craft. Manara is an incredible storyteller when he wants to be, which is why his drawing of a girl in open-mouthed ecstasy has value that Greg Land has never been able to match. Land is moving around colorforms on a page. Manara’s creating something that holds up to scrutiny and fulfills some desire that we have, whether prurient or action-oriented.

    It’s not about what he draws so much as how he draws it.

    @Josh: Right! I haven’t seen enough Love & Rockets to come down on one side or the other, but the little bit I have seen suggests that you’re right. And Ross is a great guy to point out, too. He’s definitely guilty of making stiff, boring comics with a lot of theoretically iconic panels.

  7. I don’t know if you’ve checked out the Dark Horse releases of The Manara Library, but it features some brilliant artwork by Manara. I suppose a lot of it comes from before he was known simply as the guy who draws erotica, and it’s too bad. There are a lot of gorgeous women in the stories, but Manara’s storytelling and sense of humor are wonderful. They’re really expensive (60 bucks a pop) and the writing doesn’t always come close to the art, but they show why Manara is considered so good, where something like that cover you show does … not.

  8. @Greg Burgas: Yep, I’ve got… two or three of those, and I think the first Erotica volume? I dig ’em, though they’re a bit pricey compared to how much I like them.

    ugh the fact that I can’t remember how many I own is so sad. I need to finish reading those books asap.

  9. @Jog: I’m glad you mentioned Borgia, cause I was about to do that myself. Borgia is right up there with Manara’s old stuff in my opinion.

  10. Someone needs to mention one of my personal (guilty) favorites – Adam Hughes. Fact is, Hughes can draw like a house on fire, and his storytelling is top-notch as well. But he’s so completely identified as “the cheesecake guy” now that it’s probably not even fair to accuse him of pandering – he makes a lot of money doing covers and pin-ups and video-game work, probably a lot more than he could ever make doing interiors (especially given his notoriously snail-like work pace).

    It doesn’t help that his only recent interior work was in a BEFORE WATCHMEN book, and that he seems to have switched over to digital for his interior work in a not completely flattering way. He seems to be developing a bad caste of Noto Disease – named for Phil, obviously – of well-drawn, gorgeous figures walking around vaguely undifferentiated pastel backgrounds in somewhat stilted poses. Such a shame.

  11. The Hernandez Bros shouldn’t be in this conversation. At all. Both Jaime and Gilbert are known for drawing curvy, sultry women but that ain’t the half of it. They are more known (and respected for) their storytelling chops, not to mention the fact that they draw women of all shapes, sizes and ages when the average cartoonist can’t draw anything beyond the 36-24-36 gal in her mid twenties.
    One thing not mentioned about Cho is that he is typically used as the “bait” in a bait and switch scheme. He’ll draw two, possibly three issues of a book with all sorts of fanfare and hoopla, then he’s quietly replaced by a plain jane artist who is reliable, and can meet deadlines.

  12. I saw a few pages from Cho’s latest for Marvel, and the main disappointment is that someone felt it necessary to put words on the page.

  13. @Joe H: His ’90s album The Golden Ass (now in the second Erotica collection) is also *really* nice-looking, and painterly in the Borgia vein. One of the very few times he’s ever seemed intent on making a male protagonist look at idealized as the women…

  14. Every time I realize you haven’t read L&R, I cry a little for you.

  15. Anyone who is considering buying X-Women should put that money toward a copy of The Apehttp://www.amazon.com/The-Ape-Milo-Manara/dp/0874160197 instead.

    RE: Cho and Adam Hughes – this will sound cruel but it bothers me when men like the two of them – men who aren’t tearing it up in the looks department – obsessively draw these insane, never-in-a-million-years-will-they-exist-much-less-date-you women.

    Manara is Italian, dresses well and seems like he could charm one of his creations; Frazetta and Dave Stevens were handsome devils; Crumb embraces imperfections (and has a giant member)…Cho and Hughes just seem to be torturing themselves.

  16. Manara’s storytelling chops are being really unappreciated in this comparison. Look, yeah X-women wasn’t up to snuff. But Manara has a solid several decades worth of work that is all of a quality that Cho isn’t touching.

    I mean if you absolutely just need proof that Manara has chops beyond the pretty ladies–the early Bergman stuff, that does that. But I think the work he’s done with Jodo and Pratt is also fantastic.

    Glad to see others dug Borgia. I think that’s a pretty good book, and Manara’s work on that is several leagues above what he did on x-women. If nothing else because of his work with water colors.

    I don’t think Cho has done any work as complicated or as well executed as Indian Summer.

  17. C’mon, y’all. i’m talking about Manara’s modern work, not his entire career. I thought I’d made it clear in the post, but I’ll have to be more clear next time.

    @Matthew Allison: That’s a ridiculous complaint.

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  19. @david brothers: You’re right. I have a tendency to get worked up over nonsense. I would imagine the majority of Good Girl artists weren’t model material, nor would they need to be for any reason.

    I just can’t help being mad when I see those two schlubs though – and it’s just them. I saw Joseph Michael Linsner at a con and wasn’t bothered in the least. Those two give me agita, however.

  20. If you’re talking about Manara’s modern work, wouldn’t Borgia be a better work to talk about than X-women?