Nick Gazin's Comic Book Love-in #59

It's hard to say what these are, exactly. Porn? Manipulative good art that starts off trying to make you horny and then makes you feel ashamed?

Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey,

How are you? I am fine. Here are some things that I saw this week that I thought were interesting or pretty.

Here are a bunch of pretty and intense images I found on a Japanese tumblr, and this was the only text in English: "Illustration (for an unpublished book) Showing the Condition Inside the Battleship Matsushima During the Battle of the Yellow Sea / Kimura Kokichi, Unknown."

While Googling my dad's name I found out that James Gurney, the illustrator who created the Dinotopia books made a nice ink sketch of him around 1980 while my dad did his mind-reading act in Central Park

If you pre-order the new Spiderman videogame from Amazon it will let you play as Stan Lee, the guy who takes credit for Spiderman's creation.

Also, have you ever seen the original design for Spiderman that Jack Kirby made before Steve Ditko was put on the book as the artist and uncredited writer?

And also, have you seen this photo of Jack Kirby's workspace that's been floating around? This is the reality of comics.

Look at this leaked image from the upcoming Judge Dredd movie. Looks cool to me. I love Judge Dredd. I didn't hate the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd but it failed to capture the feeling of the original Judge Dredd, a grim post-apocalyptic hopelessness where the hero's frown is so intense it looks like an upside down "U" and our heroes look like menacing fascists. Of course neither Judge Dredd movie could ever measure up to Judge Dread performing “Little Boy Blue” with topless dancers:

Also look at this drink cooler that's supposed to look like Joey from New Kids on the Block. Horrifying. 

Enough news, time to talk about a book. 

Milo Manara 
Dark Horse

Milo Manara is an Italian cartoonist whose style is similar to Moebius's except that instead of falling in love with sci-fi and fantasy he's obsessed with sexy ladies. Moebius drew sexy ladies too and Manara sometimes draws fantasy and sci-fi things. They both have uber-clean European line art sensibilities and are masters of comics. Dark Horse's last Manara offering Was Manara Library 1, which collected Indian Summer and The Paper Man. Both were kinda sexy comics but they didn't measure up to the content of this book, which collects the four Click books as well as Rendezvous in B-Flat and The Last Tragic Day of Gori Bau & The Callipygian Sister.

In the Click series, Claudia Christiani is an uptight, high-society bitch who becomes super horny whenever a specific remote control is turned on. It can make her mildly turned on, though when it's up all the way it basically drives her insane and seems frightening and makes her want to kill herself.

All the men in the Click books are just total creeps and a lot of the ladies are too. There are a lot of porno comics out there, and although there's a lot of fucking in Click there are also all these odd moments and long sequences in which nothing sexual happens at all, so it's hard to say what these are, exactly. Well-crafted porn? Manipulative good art that's kind of about porn or starts off trying to make you horny and then immediately contrasts that with making you feel ashamed for being so easily manipulated?

Rendezvous in B-Flat is about a woman whose husband is a corrupt politician who ends up deeply in debt to loan sharks. Every day at 6 PM no matter where she is, the same man shows up and rapes her as an incentive for her shitty husband to pay back the gangsters. The rape scenes are pretty rough and no fun to look at. As the comic goes on it becomes clear that all men are scum out to victimize her. 

The final comic is something about having sex and going to hell. 

Anyway, this book is great. I'm not going to try to defend the way the female characters are treated in this volume. Not all of Manara's comics involve women being treated so badly but all the comics in this book seem to be about that. 

I wanted to interview Milo Manara about these books but he's busy, old, and I don't think speaks English, so I interviewed Diana Schutz, who edited Dark Horse's Manara books instead. Diana Schutz is kind of a legend in comics. She's been editing them for decades now and you should read her Wikipedia. Anyway, I asked her some questions about these books and she answered.

VICE: How did Dark Horse end up publishing Manara’s work? What led to the decision to do The Manara Library instead of specific volumes?
Diana Schutz:
This went the way most licensing deals go: The foreign rights holder—in this case, Panini in Italy—approached Dark Horse about us contracting for the English-language rights to Manara’s work. Panini had just published a 21-volume series entitled Manara: Le Opere (literally, Manara: The Works), a hardcover collection of most of Manara’s comics and illustrations. Panini wanted Dark Horse to purchase English-language publication rights to those volumes.

The contract took quite a while to negotiate, as I recall. It seemed unlikely that American comics readers would go for twenty-one volumes of Manara, whose work has really only sporadically been seen in the U.S. since (the long-defunct) Catalan first published several of the maestro’s graphic novels back in the mid-80s—which, by the way, were my introduction to Manara. Anyway, the Panini books were also filled with a lot of single illustrations, which, though beautiful, aren’t comics. I was more interested in the comics work.

Turns out there were well over two thousand pages of comics available, which did not constitute everything that Manara had ever drawn. In fact, there are some pretty famous works of his that he doesn’t own the rights to and that were not included in the original deal—like Indian Summer, for instance, which was written by Hugo Pratt and had to be negotiated through Casterman in France, because I was adamant that we had to have it, and El Gaucho, too. Anyway, the rights stuff can get incredibly complicated—and European copyright laws are different than ours—so, yeah, the contract took a while.

Recently, however—and you get to announce this, Nick—we signed with the French publishing house Glénat to add I Borgia to our Manara Library, which will now run to (at least) seven volumes. I Borgia, translated as The Borgias, was first published as four volumes of 48 pages each, the first of which saw print in 2004 in Europe. It’s contemporary work written by Chilean film director Alejandro Jodorowsky and sumptuously hand-painted by Manara—just magnificently beautiful work!

Dark Horse has been putting out hard-covered, dust-jacketed reprint volumes that cost $50 for the last few years. Fantagraphics has also been doing some great hardcover reprint volumes but their prices stay roughly around $30. Is bringing the price down an option or is it necessary to cover the cost of licensing the work and getting it ready for print?
I guess I have to say the latter, right? First, I should tell you that editors don’t actually have much say when it comes to pricing. In its earliest days, when a project is being considered for publication, editors can suggest a retail price. During the preliminary budgeting phase, the powers-that-be crunch numbers associated with projected costs and estimated sales, a process that results in the final retail price of the project—which, in this case, turned out to be a little higher than what I might have preferred, but these are expensive books to produce. Right from the start, we wanted to present Milo’s work in upscale packaging…. It just seems to me that Manara’s comics have too often been presented in lurid, or cheap, packaging that plays up the sexuality of his work at the expense of its incredible artistry. I wanted to focus on the artistry and reflect that in the entire package itself. I wanted something that looked damn high-class.

What can you tell me about the translation of these comics? 
When it comes to literature being published in any language other than the one in which it was originally written, the book lives or dies with the quality of its translation, and yet most readers—and even many publishers—don’t seem to realize that fact at all! In the case of comics, you can have the most pristine artwork imaginable, like Manara’s, but if the words read like a third-grader wrote them, then the story is destroyed. And comics, of course, are all about story, about words and pictures working in tandem to produce a narrative.

Traditional English-language book publishers tend to hire translators whose first language is English and who can really write in English, but who are fluent in another language. So, for instance, great writers like Saul Bellow or Ezra Pound have also translated the works of other great, foreign authors into English. This doesn’t mean that the work is any easier. It’s not; literary translation is hard. It’s not just about finding the right words; it’s about voice and tone and linguistic and cultural differences, and preserving the meaning and spirit of the original without falling into the stiffness of literal translation or going too far off into your own narrative.

Consolidating the job of comics translation into the hands of one person—someone who understands the medium as well as the foreign language—is clearly the best approach. Unfortunately, those people are really, really hard to find. I am so lucky to have Kim Thompson translating all 2,000-some pages of our Manara volumes. Not only does Kim thoroughly understand the comics medium, having edited comics for 30 years, but he speaks (I believe) five different languages and has extensive experience translating Euro comics. And because I speak French, read Spanish, and have now studied enough Italian to understand Manara’s work in its original language, I can legitimately provide the kinds of checks and balances on this project that an editor should. But without those language skills, Kim could get away with murder and I’d never even know!

Manara was first published in the U.S. in the mid-80s—which is when I first read his work—and now that I have the original Italian work to compare to, I’m pretty appalled by many of those early translations, some of which deviate so far from the original, you’d think those publishers were on a different planet. The translations just have no correspondence whatsoever to the original scripts!

Have you met Milo Manara or had any dealings with him?
I met Milo Manara for the first time in the summer of 2010, not too long after we’d signed the deal to publish his work. It was, I believe, his first time ever at Comic-Con in San Diego; he was there to promote his X-Women one-shot with Chris Claremont. Chris is an old friend of mine—a former boyfriend, actually, from about a thousand years ago—and Chris introduced us at the Eisner awards ceremony. The next day, Milo and I met for a prearranged lunch to discuss plans for Dark Horse’s English-language editions, though lunch wound up being more of a social gathering than anything else: Milo was there with his wife and with his foreign rights rep, Sara Mattioli from Panini; I brought Dave Marshall, my consulting editor on the series, and Frank Miller, who really wanted to meet Milo. So, the talk tended to be more social than business. In fact, poor Sara was forced to translate everything from Italian to English and back again so that we could all communicate… until I asked Milo if he spoke French. He does. I do, too. That made conversation much easier!

I was really impressed by Milo. Panini had requested that I join him for his spotlight panel at the show, and then, when he did a signing at the Dark Horse booth, I spent time with him there, too. What I found was a charming person: very thoughtful, especially about his work; very respectful of other artists and of people generally. His scheduled one-hour signing at our booth ran for almost three hours, just so that Milo could accommodate every single person in line with a pencil drawing. I don’t mean a quick marker sketch, either. You know, a guy in his position doesn’t have to do that sort of thing. I was truly awed by his generosity—not to mention his patience and endurance. 

What is your personal opinion of Manara’s work, particularly his adult stuff? I tried bringing it up to a friend of mine and she angrily dismissed him as being a guy who “makes comics in which women are humiliated.”
This is a good question, and personally I have struggled with some of the more hardcore visual elements of Milo’s work. But I think your friend is incorrect in her assessment. In fact, Milo worships women! His females are inexpressibly beautiful. By and large they’re strong characters, they’re directed, they’re focused, they stand up for what they believe in. In contrast to many of the males, who often seem to be victims of circumstance, weak, or at least bewildered, and sometimes downright creepy.

I think it’s also important to recognize that Manara began his artistic career at a time when the rules were changing, both in Italian society and in Italian comics. In the same way that 60s underground comix broke all existing taboos here, the fumetti neri (literally, “dark comics”) in which Manara got his start were equally outrageous in their presentation of liberated but frightening women—frightening, in the Italian macho tradition, because they were liberated. Did you know that divorce wasn’t even legal in Italy until 1974? Manara was, and perhaps still is, reacting to centuries of repression. Which, by the way, also fuels a real streak of satire that runs through the sex stories. A lot of them are hilarious!

Finally, I would say that what you call Manara’s “adult” work is certainly “pornographic,” if what we mean by that is “sexually explicit and intended to arouse sexual passion”—which is the definition given by my American Heritage dictionary. Some feminists believe that all pornography is demeaning to women; I’m pretty sure I disagree. And I definitely don’t see how that precludes Manara’s work being art—even capital-A “Art.” In fact, one might argue that all art must “arouse,” in some sense of the word. 

There’s no question that Manara’s work is both provocative and, often, politically incorrect. I think those are good things, actually. 

“Worshipping women” sounds like a way of explaining a serial killer’s actions kinda. I’m not trying to knock Manara, just something about the wording felt weird to me. I guess I also draw a lot of naked ladies and try to understand the nature of drawing women and how people who make art are often socially weird. Charles Schulz’s biography talked about how he would get crushes on “distant princesses.” Have you had anyone tell you they were upset that Dark Horse was representing Manara?
Uh… no. Other than your friend who “angrily dismissed him.” Look, anyone who spends every day in a room all by himself writing and drawing Stuff That Isn’t Real is almost by definition tapped into something that the rest of us—with our mundane, workaday schedules, our grinding commutes, and our ceaseless barrage of meaningless business communications—just can’t begin to understand. Is Milo socially inept? No, he’s a fucking genius. People like him live in a different world than the rest of us.

Anyway, when the first Erotica volume was bumped out of Diamond Previews, to be relegated to their Adults-Only order form—which, by the way, is only available online and is like the ghetto of retail order platforms—I decided we might as well get sexier with the cover art. It’s funny how attempted censorship only invites greater provocation. I mean, I’d been very careful to toe the line with our cover art choices, even on the Erotica volumes, but if they were going to censor us anyway, then why not go for broke? And Diamond’s restrictive policies actually sparked a new burst of creative energy on our part, resulting in new Erotica cover designs that are drop-dead gorgeous!

This isn’t to say that the material is for everyone; clearly it’s not. But I have an enormous amount of respect for the First Amendment, which, among other things, gives people the choice to vote with their dollar. However, when the Erotica books were forced out of the general sales catalogue because of an apparently inconsistent policy regarding content, consumers and retailers were prevented from even having that choice to begin with. 

I think that the internet has made porn so commonplace that it takes some of the titillation and shock away and that’s why we’re seeing so much porn-influenced art lately. Maybe people are also finding themselves more open to looking at and discussing sexy art without feeling dirty about it. How are the books selling so far, and do you think America is ready to look at Manara as more than jerkoff material?
Well, Manara’s work has been around since long before the internet, but perhaps you’re right that the internet has made for greater acceptance. I guess I see Manara, instead, as part of a long tradition in the arts—in painting and sculpture—of portraying beautiful naked women. Certainly, society’s standards of “beauty” vary through time and culture, and Manara’s drawings and the medium in which he’s chosen to work—comics—are a more contemporary reflection of those standards. But… have you ever been to Italy? The museums are full of paintings and sculptures of naked women! And naked men! When I saw Michelangelo’s David, I wasn’t thinking of blowjobs—I was transported by the sculpture’s magnificent, inexpressible beauty! That statue brought me to tears. It was a little embarrassing to be standing in the Accademia, quietly sobbing.

I think Frank Miller got it totally right, in his foreword to the first volume of The Manara Library, when he said that “Milo Manara must live in a beautiful world.” This is art on a grand scale, and Manara is truly an artist’s artist. And the books are selling very well—better, in fact, than we originally anticipated—so maybe American comics readers of a certain demographic are beginning to share my feelings.Maybe it’s because I’m an older female—in my later fifties—but I don’t see Manara’s work as “porn-influenced.” Some of it is pornographic, yes, but all of it is artistic. That’s certainly the appeal for me. 

You’re sort of a legend within the comics industry. You’ve been editing comics since the 80s black-and-white boom and you’re still doing it. How many other female comics editors were there floating around when you got started? Ann Nocenti?
In fact, Ann Nocenti gave me my very first job in comics publishing, in 1984, as her assistant editor during the heyday of Uncanny X-Men. I didn’t last too long at Marvel, but that had nothing to do with Annie, who was kind and smart, and whom I really admired. I just wasn’t ready, in my twenties, to work for a midtown Manhattan corporation, especially after living in Berkeley, California, and I found a much better fit immediately afterward at Comico, one of the early independent publishing companies. The independents, as opposed to what we then called the “Big Two,” generally had more women in significant roles. Cat Yronwode, of course, was editor in chief at Eclipse in those days; Deni Loubert was still married to Dave Sim and was Aardvark-Vanaheim’s publisher, back when they had a few different titles on their roster and not only Dave’s work. Louise Simonson, another terrific editor, had already left a successful career at Marvel, after having previously worked at Warren, to become a full-time writer. I’m pretty sure Karen Berger was an assistant editor at DC by the mid 80s. DC/Vertigo’s Shelly Bond, who would become Karen’s assistant in the early 90s, began her comics career as my assistant at Comico in the late 80s.

No, there really weren’t very many female comics editors in those days—witness the fact that I just named pretty much all of them! Thankfully, that situation has changed. 

Thanks for talking to me!


Here's the Moebius image of the week. 

Previously - Comic Book Love-in #58