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Frank Cho & Milo Manara Prove They’ve Learned Nothing at “Art and Women” Panel

Stop it. Just ... stop. You're both powerful men and you're both pretty, okay?

milo manara spider-woman

***Warning for NSFW content below.***

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There’s an old joke: a patient is seeing a doctor and says “Doc, my arm hurts every time I move it like this.” To which the doctor replies, “So, don’t move it like this.” For two people who seem to hate what happens when people get offended by their work, artists Milo Manara and Frank Cho sure do seem to be making a new career for themselves entirely built on that. Gentlemen, if you’re tired of backlash, maybe consider lightening up on the behavior that’s causing it, lest you reveal yourselves as the attention-grabbers you are. (Wait, too late.)

There’s a comics convention called Lucca Comics and Games 2016 happening in Italy right now, at which Cho hosted a panel earlier today where they discussed their careers and work called “Frank Cho, Milo Manara And Women – A Dialogue Between Two Masters.”


At the end of the panel, Manara presented Cho with the gift of a very NSFW drawing of Spider-Woman, according to a post on Cho’s Facebook, apparently “in appreciation for fighting censorship”:

Just to be clear, yes, that is Spider-Woman’s labia.

Cho walked off doing Wonder Woman variants because he was upset that series writer Greg Rucka had specific ideas about how he’d like Wonder Woman portrayed on comic book covers, and Cho apparently believes that despite the fact that he’s a work-for-hire artist, the only person he’ll take notes from is an editor who won’t challenge him in any way. He really, really needed to express himself by drawing Wonder Woman’s underwear sticking out. Now, Manara is publicly giving Cho this gross piece of artwork (not even “artsy” or “erotic”—just, basically giving Spider-Woman camel-toe) as a very clear “f*** you” to anyone who would challenge them and their ability to objectify women whenever they want.

They are both acting like petulant children. As if the backlash against their artwork in certain contexts is deeply wounding them. As if they didn’t just have a panel all to themselves at a comics convention. As if someone trying to rein in their portrayals of female characters on covers that lots of people will see—because yes, despite the constant argument that “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it!”, the problem is that the variants are still visible in stores—is stifling their artistic expression. (So, the only way you can express yourself artistically is by being able to draw labia? Or Wonder Woman’s underwear peeking out? Or asses in the air? That seems like a pretty limited artistic vocabulary to me.) As if Marvel or DC pulling one of their covers is tantamount to oppression.

You know what’s tantamount to oppression? An entire industry designed to treat and portray you like a second-class citizen. That‘s oppression.

First, let me say outright that this has nothing to do with the fact that either one of them enjoys drawing female characters in an erotic fashion. I actually enjoy erotica, and while I don’t think Manara’s art is particularly my taste generally, I fully respect the right of any artist to draw sexy pin-ups. By all means, make prints and sell them at conventions. Sell them on your website. They are free to draw whatever they like and sell it to whoever will hire them or buy it.

When comics fans complain about a particular variant cover, it’s less about the individual artist, and more about the company that lets certain sexist covers get through editorial for public consumption. And let’s be clear, when you’re only drawing female characters in sexual ways, that’s inherently sexist. You are objectifying the female form in a way you are not objectifying the male form. And sure, you could argue that “Hey, we’re straight men! We’re drawing what we like!” But it’s not like anyone’s hiring gay male or straight female artists to draw male characters in a sexualized fashion. The comics environment is clearly lopsided in favor of cis straight men–many of whom get upset when fans, and later the companies they work for, try to level the field a bit. God forbid they have their privilege taken away from them for a second.

Manara and Cho do not seem to understand that it’s not about them as artists; it’s about holding the companies they’re doing work for accountable for when it comes to what they present to their mainstream readership. And yet, these two seem to be taking the fight against sexism as a personal attack on their individual right to create. That’s very telling. Perhaps if they weren’t doing and saying hugely sexist things, they wouldn’t feel the need to take that fight so personally.

If they were ONLY worried about freedom of expression, they’d express themselves through their work and sell it/create it on their own as they have always been FREE TO DO. That would be exercising their free speech, even as the fans and the comics publishers exercise their free speech in not buying their work or hiring them to do certain covers. The fact that they are doing panels like this together, smugly and publicly responding to each other with art that’s offensive on purpose, and putting themselves forward as “champions of free speech” when no one has stopped them from making art, reeks of something else. Something hateful. Something determined to rub salt in a very deep wound.

And then, proving once again that criticism is not something he does well with, Cho pulls this:

This stopped being about free speech a long time ago. Right now, this is just about spite, plain and simple. There’s nothing remotely altruistic about the lengths to which they’ve gone not only to insist on their right not only to draw what they want, but to express their entitlement to getting published and having their work seen. What they don’t understand is that no one owes them adulation. No one owes them a pat on the head for their work. No one owes them publication.

The problem here is increasingly not about the work, and instead about their attitude toward criticism over the work. An attitude that isn’t the cause, but is a symptom of the much larger problem of sexism in the comics industry.

(via Donna Dickens and Jill Pantozzi on Twitter, image via Marvel Comics)

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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.

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