Review: 'Manara Library Volume Three,' 'Manara Erotica Volume One'

Manara Library Volume 3: Trip to Tulum and Other Stories

By Milo Manara, Frederico Fellini, Silverio Pisu

Dark Horse, $59.99

There's something so beautiful and lyrical about Milo Manara's art, it doesn't really need a good story for me to be mesmerized by his work. Which is a good thing, because this volume of the Manara Library doesn't have any good stories.

OK, that's an exaggeration. There are actually a couple of short stories that work on a literary level, although not a very sophisticated one. "The Wall" (4 pages), about a woman who dances to a tune from a musician on a mural, has a nice O. Henry twist. "Marie Claire" (7 pages), about a woman who releases a djinn of sorts from an old bureau, is reminiscent of "Little Nemo in Slumberland." "Commercial" (8 pages), allows a character from the movie Fellini's Casanova playing on television to express his disdain for his story being interrupted by commercials, which is amusing. "Salome" (6 pages) made this Bible story creepier than I've ever seen it. There are a couple more shorts -- a 2-page ode to John Lennon going to heaven comes to mind -- that are pleasant if lightweight.

But the longer stories are seriously flawed, and would be justly forgotten if Manara hadn't drawn them. Any of his collaborations with Fellini, for example, are "surreal" to the point of self-indulgent incoherence. There's a lengthy story called "The Ape" that I think was trying to make a point about religion, but I could be giving more credit than is due -- it was a hot mess about an ape king in some sort of heaven playing tricks on more established gods and/or trying to advance his own divine position. Perhaps it works on the level of metaphor, but if so I'm not smart enough -- or European enough -- to get it.

But, OK, enough complaints. Did I mention Manara's art is breathtaking? It truly is, and if you're into Manara women, he serves up plenty, mostly unclothed. The weakest artwork is on "The Ape," which seems to suffer from muddy reproduction or heavy inking, or possibly it's an attempt at an R. Crumb homage (seriously) that fights with Manara's light, Moebius-esque rendering.

Regardless, it's Manara, so I want it on my shelf. I just need to remember when I read it again someday to just look at the pictures.

Manara Erotica Volume 1: Click! And Other Stories

By Milo Manara

Dark Horse, $59.99

Let's get this out of the way: This is pornography. If you have a problem with pornography, don't read this review or buy this book.

With that out of the way, I have to say this is the most beautiful pornography I've ever seen. Manara is truly talented at drawing beautiful women, clothed or unclothed, from virtually any angle. No, scratch that: from literally any angle, even some I've never seen or even imagined. His command of anatomy and rendering borders on photo-realistic, and his facial expressions -- especially arousal/orgasm,which almost nobody does well -- has astonishing range and verisimilitude. 

Now the bad news. For one thing, many of his women suffer from the Betty & Veronica syndrome, where the only difference between them is hair color. (The men are much more varied.) Also, straight missionary sex isn't the most common form here -- Manara seems to favor anal sex and unwilling sex more often than I'm comfortable with. 

But, as I say, it's pornography, so I'm not expecting flowers and rainbows. And for art this beautiful -- even when the girls have their clothes on -- I'll overlook a lot.

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