The Manara Library Volume 1: Indian Summer and Other StoriesA comic review article by: Zack Davisson
Indian Summer and Other Stories is an amazing comic book. A nuanced and sophisticated story, it merges the romance of Zane Grey’s mythical Westerns with the bleak Gothic darkness of Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter. This book collects two stories, Indian Summer, first published in 1983, and The Paper Man from 1982.
Although their names are not as familiar to American audiences, Indian Summer is a collaboration between two titans of European comics. Writer Hugo Pratt is an acknowledged genius. His comic Ballad of the Salt Sea, often better-known by the title of its main character Corto Maltese, is masterpiece of Watchmen caliber that ranked #62 on the French "Greatest Books of the Century" list beating out On the Road and Catcher in the Rye. Artist Milo Manara is best known for his erotic comics like Click and Butterscotch, but he is also one of the finest artists comics has ever produced, whose luscious landscapes and beautiful women are unsurpassed.
Frank Miller says in his introduction to this volume that "Milo Manara must live in a beautiful world." And this is true, visually, but the story of Indian Summer is very ugly indeed. The scene begins with an idyllic, summer day near an ocean with sparkling blue water, and a blond puritan girl standing on the shore. The peace is short lived, as beauty leads to rape, rape leads to revenge, and eventually a bloody war.
A young man tries to save the poor blonde girl, but comes too late and can only avenger her. He takes her home to his family, a clan of outcasts that live outside the main fortress settlement. The clan is overseen by a beautiful matriarch with a scarlet letter branded into her face. Knowing that the Indians will come for the brothers who slew their chief’s nephew to avenge the rape, the unwelcome clan moves inside the fortress walls and into the domain of the righteous Pilgrim Black. Like the sternest of preachers, Pilgrim Black is quick to unleash shouts of hellfire and damnation, but only to cover up his own unholy lusts. Before the Indian attack is over, many old secrets are uncovered, wrongs revenged, and old debts paid. And the true story of the letter-branded woman and her children is at last told.
Manara shows he is a master of the comics art in Indian Summer. The first ten pages are silent, and the first sound is the crack of a gunshot felling one of the Indians. He plays on both the intimate scale and the large, dealing equally fluently with facial expressions and body language as with massed battle scenes and hundreds of Indians in a line firing flaming arrows. And of course, this is Milo Manara; his women are ethereally beautiful and sexual creatures. Indian Summer is nowhere near on the level of Click, but there are enough scenes to qualify the story as a perverse kind of erotica. Although most of the sex scenes are of rape and incest, adding to the harsh nature of the story. Beautiful ugliness.
But don’t let that put you off. Author Hugo Pratt does not resort to cheap tricks to sell his story, and the story is far, far from exploitation. All of the characters in Indian Summer are multi-faceted and complete, with each act developing them further. Both sides of the conflict, or all three sides I should properly say, are given equal sympathy and attention. If there is a true villain in this story, it is the hypocrisy of the Church and priests who rape a woman then cast her out of a congregation as fallen, or a society who tortures a woman to death for the crime of standing up for herself and demanding rights.
The other story in this collection Paper Man, is much less harsh but equally good. This story Manara both wrote and drew, and it is the simple story of a cowboy who falls in love with an Indian, in spite of himself. Full of a cast of ridiculous characters, like an old English soldier still fighting the American revolution, or a devout priest who turns into a raging maniac whenever he gets wet, Paper Man is a simple yet charming yet melancholy story that is so perfect I am surprised it hasn’t been snapped up by Hollywood as the basis of a romantic Western.
I really can’t say enough about how good Indian Summer and Other Stories is. I picked this up on a whim, hoping to see some good Manara art, and I ended up reading a masterpiece.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.