I am a huge fan of Milo Manara and his erotic works. So much so one of my XConfessions shorts is based on and named after his works “The Art of Spanking”. So to read the numerous articles shaming his drawing of Spider-Woman on the front cover of a Marvel comic as sexist, was a little upsetting. But not only this, it also brought a much bigger and relevant issue back to my attention: sexism within superhero comics.
First lets take a look at Manara’s drawing. The point in focus is Spider-Womans position, which Manara explains on Fumetto Logica as depicting a woman who “after climbing the wall of a skyscraper, is crawling on the roof… advancing at the pasture low.” On the one hand this image is very similar to that of the one used of Spider-Man on the front of his comic which causes no issue. But others see her as seemingly “presenting” herself to the city with many linking it to a very similar Manara drawing in his Italian erotic comic Click!. However, with Manara admitting he drew his inspiration from the pre-existing images of the character, I highly doubt the later to be true.
With Manara taking an image from an already sexist franchise, it was inevitable he would portray a problem present in all superhero comics: depictions of over-sexualised female characters. Spider-Woman is encased in red “paint” depicting her as “nude” according to Manara, which he says is an attribute to all superhero’s, male and female. I would argue that not only are many of her attributes similar to those of fashion magazine and adverts, but also of mainstream female porn performers: big red lips, perfect caboose, long flowing hair and tiny waist. This would seem the intention with comics having initially been geared towards adolescent boys. But I don’t feel this is to be completely true with 50% of Manara’s fans and 47% of comic readers being made up of women.
But with all superhero’s drawn with their bodies ‘in view’, is it possible to argue that this is the point? To over-exaggerate “super” versions of normal human beings? Like a caricature painting or cartoon, they all have enhanced features. In the case of comics, I think women are being depicted in many ways as symbols of independence and power, with numerous female characters playing leading roles in the comics and films. Plus the Wonder Woman film is being headed by a great female director Michelle MacLaren. With comics and the films having a large female following, could this not be liberating for them as well even if they are depicted as perfect beings?
But on the flip side, are the females still depicted as a lesser-counterpart of the men for the most part? Take a look at the poster for the Avenger promo art: only Scarlett Johansons Black Widow has her bottom facing us. So it was great when I stumbled across artist Kevin Bolks redrawn version with the male characters in her protruding leather bum look. Maybe this is nitpicking, but it makes a point.
In reality I think that there is still a long way to go to really tackle the sexism in superhero comics, but it seems that things might be moving forward in the films being adapted from them. With Manara, it’s really a question of whether he was the right person to be used for the drawing… probably not considering he is know for his erotic comics and draws in “celebration of the body.” So in this case we may need to look at the sexism of the person who commissioned him. But you can’t deny the ability of Manara’s works to evoke thought, so if you want to get a real feel for his talent, head over to XConfessions and watch a short inspired by his works, “The Art of Spanking”.