Manara Speaks

I don't have much to say about the ongoing conversation regarding Milo Manara's Spider-Woman variant cover, except that it's been very interesting to watch it play out. I did, though, want to point to an interview that Manara did with an Italian magazine called Fumettologica (the English grammar of the translation isn't great, but let's not get caught up in that). In it, he's candid, and he certainly doesn't do himself any favors, at times seeming to be a walking, talking male gaze. But I do think that there are ideas in the interview worth deep and serious thinking. For example:
I understand the controversy over the fact that the use of women bodies is a sensitive issue. And I couldn't agree more on the fact that the female body should not be used in advertising, for example, to sell ... silicone sealant. The thing that I do not agree is not so much the fact that these images are erotic, but the fact that they are banal. Everyone is capable of assign a beautiful image to any product: it is clear that you transfer to your product the beauty of that image. A trick so trivial that I find cloying. But when it comes to draw a character in red tights, whose line of work is skyscraper crawling, I see no scandal in the fact of drawing her in a seductive way. Because I imagine that's how she is.
Again, he's very clear that he was drawing in the superhero-as-sexual-fantasy mode, and that he doesn't see anything wrong with that. He actually seems genuinely confused, since superhero comics are largely tied up with the politics and aesthetics of the nude body:
That's the way Superheroes are: they are naked, covered in whatever color of paint. Superman is naked painted blue, Spider-Man is naked painted red and blue, and Spider-Woman is painted red. But that's part of the "trick", so to speak, that publishers use to create these forms of superheroes nude - of which I do not find anything wrong - but without real nudity. When we see them later in the stories, going beyond the cover, these are characters whose bodies are "in view."
He's right, but there's a disparity that he's implicitly accepting here; men's bodies are athletic and virile, while women's are seductive and erotic. It's a disparity that's prevalent. I like Manara's artwork, and I don't even think that this cover is particularly egregious, certainly not compared either to some of his other variants or to the stuff that gets published inside comics every week. At the very least, the art and the artist are honest about their intentions. If the variant cover in questions seems like a minor case, though, all that means is that there is something rotten in the state of superhero comics. Untangling and then rewiring the relationship between the erotic and the aesthetics of the "nude" superhero body is a small step towards renewal.