Review by Frank Plowright
This third selection of Milo Manara’s erotic work is the most satisfying for anyone who wants a sampling rather than the full output. The collection spans 1985 to 2000, and incorporates two of Manara’s best in the first Butterscotch graphic novel and Gullivera, an erotic reworking of Gulliver’s Travels, which occupy slightly under half the pages. Also included are Butterscotch 2, Hidden Camera, and www., here renamed Three Girls on the Internet, plus a couple of short pieces.
Butterscotch is titled after the distinctive smell accompanying a repressed professor when using an invisibility lotion he’s invented. It’s the nearest Manara comes to largely inoffensive erotica, being playful, subtle, beautifully drawn, and lacking content either too explicit or generating controversy. Most of the sex scenes involve the invisible professor, supplying Manara with the challenge of illustrating his naive heroine Honey performing sexual acrobatics with no visible man. Honey returns in Hidden Camera, which is altogether more farcical, while also predicting modern day ‘reality’ TV. It’s a series of satires in which Honey rapidly loses her clothes in each, completed by a bizarre bacchanal in modern day Venice, beautifully drawn by Manara. The heroine of Gullivera is only named in the title, and she very much resembles Honey in both appearance and open-minded attitude. The plot’s often the weakest aspect of Manara’s erotica, and with the structure and almost all incidents supplied by Jonathan Swift’s work, as episodic as Manara can be, it makes for a stronger story.
New translations from Diana Schutz and Kim Thompson are especially welcome, Thompson using the dialogue to work out some inconsistencies in Manara’s plots. A sequence in Butterscotch 2, for instance, explains a night club with no bouncers, an omission the original translation ignored. That sequel falls well short of the original in terms of coherent plot, but Manara’s art is always wonderful. That further applies to Three Girls, which in effect is Manara producing figure studies of three naked women as he exploits early internet pornography sites in which pictures reloaded every thirty seconds. There is a plot, but without much to it, and perhaps that’s the point being made. In one of the shorter pieces previously unseen in English, Manara follows up on the three girls, but concentrating on an unsatisfied Wilma in an unusually introspective tale. That it’s titled ‘Piercing’, a topic otherwise unexplored by Manara, perhaps supplies an extra frisson.
The other strip not translated until now closes the collection, and the indicia notes reveal it was originally produced for an Italian news magazine. The thought of Newsweek publishing the English version boggles the mind. It takes the form of an increasingly provocative questionnaire about personal sexual preferences as Manara’s inevitably attractive protagonist is abducted to undergo a series of sexual tests.
A slight problem is that a couple of the strips have muddy reproduction in places, where the art suffers from a deterioration in quality, lacking the clarity that should be expected for a $60 list price. These are also black and white editions of strips presented in colour when first published. For the most part this colour was crudely applied, so is no great loss, and even when the original was a little more sympathetically rendered (Gullivera), it comes down to matter of personal preference. As does the appreciation of sex in all its forms, so others may consider the different material over the first two collections to be stronger.