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Milo Manara: Gullivera

Thursday, June 23, 2016

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Milo Manara (Part 1)

There are few artists who are as divisive as the Italian artist Milo Manara. Renowned as an illustrator whose skill at drawing sensuous women and intensely arousing situations is unsurpassed, he has still managed to raise the ire of many, not least when he created a controversial variant cover for Marvel Comics' Spider-Woman #1 back in 2014. The resultant furor ensured that — whether you love him or loathe him — the one thing you can't do is ignore Manara.

Born in 1945, Manara was heavily influenced by classical Renaissance painters like Rafaello Sanzio and Paolo Veronese. As a boy, he even ran away from home to see an exhibition of work by the painter Giorgio di Chirico. Manara pursued studies in architecture and painting, but became intrigued by the emerging Italian underground comix in the mid-to-late Sixties, and the flourishing of emancipated female characters such as Jean-Claude Forest's Barbarella and Guy Peellaert's Jodelle


Manara made his comics debut in 1969 with Genius, a sexy noir comic book in the vein of the pulpy Kriminal and Satanik fumetti*. He worked for minor publications such as Jolanda of Almavia, a lurid historical fantasy strip, and the satirical magazine Telerompo, before he was hired by the children's magazine for boys Il Corriere dei Ragazzi to work with writer Mino Milani. He eventually transitioned to working directly with several top Franco-Belgian comics publishers, introducing his talents to a whole new set of readers.

Since then, Manara has produced over 30 graphic novels and art books — nearly all of which are now available in English. Manara's stories generally revolve around elegant, beautiful women caught up in unlikely and fantastical erotic scenarios, and his art style favors clean lines and lush watercolors. His adaptation of Jonathan Swift's famous political satire, Gulliver's Travels, titled Gullivera is no exception.

Swift's original 1726 novel is updated from the shipwrecked surgeon Lemuel to a modern nymphet student by the name of Gullivera. Despite the obvious sex change and more overtly erotic nature of the story, Manara surprisingly stays quite faithful to the original work, only omitting three of the many lands described. Even the sequence where the heroine "ingeniously" helps put out the Lilliputian palace fire is taken straight from the original book!


Originally published as Gulliveriana by Les Humanoïdes Associés in French in 1995, Gullivera was part of a movement of European creators tackling erotic comic adaptations, such as fellow countryman Vittorio Giardino's Little Ego (a saucy female variant on Windsor McCay's newspaper strip, Little Nemo).

Famous fans of Manara's include Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, and Brian Michael Bendis, who called Manara "one of the greatest artists this planet has ever seen" and rightly so. His notoriety is such that in Italy he even appeared alongside an animated version of one of his female creations advertising Italian mattresses! 

--Tim Pilcher

In part 2 we'll look at Manara's work on The Golden Ass and several of his other famous erotic comics.

*fumetti: Italian word for comics.

Tags: Across the Pond