THE COMIC REVIEWER STATES: This is an Adult-Themed graphic novel, and this review also contains ADULT themes. If you are under-age on in your country, you must leave this page immediately. Or you should ask your parent or legal guardian if they approve you reading this material. DO NOT PROCEED WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT.
Artist(s): Milo Manara,
US Publisher: Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing (June 1994)
When the English settlers arrive in America, they bring their mores, their values, their prejudices and their troubles with them. Only to find that the neighboring natives are already dealing with their prejudices, mores and values of their own.
So back to addressing the European Comic genre, what a better representative could’ve I picked than Milo Manara.
This Italian author has been doing comics for the better part of 40 years, albeit what really gave him an international name and got attention of the comic book industry was his amazing and masterful erotic art.
His renown is such that recently Marvel did something quite daring and brought Milo Manara into their universe, in a one shot book, called X-Women.
Chris Claremont paired with the master, to come up with a story that would allow Manara to showcase his skills while rendering the ladies of the X-men.
The idea was awesome, except that someone forgot to tell Claremont that when you are a writer and you are paired with such a master you better bring your “A” game and shine or no one will even know you were part of this project. Now, on Chris’ defense, he has already proven his mantle as a comic scribe time and time again, and in an interview he even joked that when you are paired with an artistic Icon such as Manara, you just write a couple of things and stand back and let him do his thing, although that may leave many of us still shaking our heads at the missed opportunity here.
On the other hand, take note of what happened when Milo Manara decided to take on this project with Master Scribe Hugo Pratt. The stars aligned, the planets did the same, the prophecies where favorable, the oracles smiled upon the comic world, and Indian Summer happen.
Although for the English speaking world this graphic novel was titled Indian Summer, the original title is Tutto ricominciò con un’estate Indiana and the literal translation would be “Everything began with an Indian Summer”.
This hints at the type of narrative we will be reading here. A recollection, a melancholic recapping of events from long ago.
The main reason why I consider this work so important in the history of comics is that, besides the amazing artwork (which I’ll address more in detail soon) we find a strange and perfect blend of chemistry between the artist and the writer.
Hugo Pratt was a consummated artist on his own right, the creator of the legendary comic figure Corto Maltes, and a man as varied and well rounded in his personal life as he was in the stories he told.
Indian Summer is the type of graphic novel that every time I read it I discover something new, some nuance on the story, some depth I hadn’t dwelt on before, and this we owe it to masterful storytelling. The type of storytelling I always advice young writers to strive for, but stay away from trying to emulate before they are ready and they have paid their dues, because it is not easy, it is not popular, and sometimes, to do it well, it takes a lifetime to achieve.
This type of storytelling is so much about what is not said as much as about the power of the words in the paper.
Manara lets his characters tell the story and this characters sometimes say more by saying nothing at all.
And Manara lives up to the task that Hugo Pratt sets on him, and contributes his own moments of unspoken beauty and graphic storytelling, while at the same time, ascertaining with surgical precision what to render, and how, with what intensity and how to set the pace.
This is what I mean about the confluence of events that create Graphic Novel Magic.
In order to create characters and let them roam free like Hugo did in this novel, you have to have crafted and all the background story, all the personalities have to have been shapped beforehand, all the possible interactions with the other characters have to be predicted, so then you can choose what to write and what to just show and let it happen without you narrating it verbally.
Like I said, it is something script-writers and story tellers should strive for, but should be very very careful when thinking they are ready to try and do.
What is the background story of Reverend Black? What made him the way he is? What is his psychological makeup, what events made him this way?
The witch in the woods… what brought her here? Who envied her so in the town, that forced her to leave?
What made the garrison Captain such a bitter and sad man?
All these answers were addressed prior the writing of the script and Hugo Pratt was familiar with all of them. I’ve read of them in other graphic novels he produced before, works ranging from Sergeant Kirk or Ann of the Jungle to Corto Maltese and The Scorpions of the Desert , and in all these creations he did elaborated on the reasons and motivations behind all these characters. In his prior work you can read about why a person acts the way he/she does, what brought her to be a certain way, what makes them tick. In Indian Summer, he just brought together for one last time and let them be.
Now, if you are a budding writer, you may want to jump there and do something like that. You should. You should want to. It is a commendable goal, and you should strive towards it, but you should practice how to get there. I’ll ask of you the same question I’ll ask of Hugo Pratt: Where is the body of work that will speak for you?
I am able to refer to the great Master’s prior pieces, and read them again and say “Yes, here is the brooding Jeremiah, and here is the determined Abner Lewis, and here is the derided and abused Lewis matriarch”
Where are the previous characters you have created that will attest that what you are doing is a masterpiece and not the budding experiments of an unsure artists who is earning his/her stripes?
I apply the same rule of thumb when evaluating an artists prowesses. I don’t mind an artists being very stylized, but if he wants me to jump on board and root for hinm/her, the artist has to prove he/she has range.
Like Picasso. If you were to show me ONLY the cubist stuff that Picasso did, I would say “Nice” but inside I wouldn’t deem it “Museum Worthy Nice”. But then you show me his beginnings, how his style evolved from realist to impressionism, to experimentation on other styles, and striving (through repetition) for excellence in each, and it is then that I get to appreciate fully this artist in his amazing Cubism, his abstraction and everything he touched. I need artistic context to appreciate the full extent of his skill.
The main thing that sets Indian Summer apart from a lot of other masterpieces in storytelling, is that the story tells itself, mostly. And the art lets the story flow, with the proper cadences of lyricism, and the right staccato of violence and drama.
The merging of these two elements to this degree happen very seldom in Graphic Story Telling.
In the art department everyone can appreciate the clean lines and the plasticity in the renderings of Manara, a staple that made him internationally famous. In this particular piece Manara paid special attention to the landscape, the environment and the backgrounds, and at times he seemed to relish putting special emphasis in drawing detailed meadows of grass that seem to flow in the wind, or migrating birds that fill panels conveying movement and piece. That is proper, since in this virginal landscape that is America at the end of the 16th century a new and violent anomaly has been introduced: The European Settler.
Native Americans are shown in slim and agile physical shape, while their reasoning portrays them as wise and in tune with nature, integrating perfectly well in the landscape. The real horror in the book comes from characters representing the religious powers, who with their acerbic fanatism corrupt the balances that exist, both in nature as well as in the social strata that kept the Natives and the Settlers in good terms.
Contacts with the Indians brings to the Lewis family a type of prosperity that they had not achieve at the hands of the settlers: The
It is the blonde indian (nicknamed Dutch?) that is shown enjoying the initial rape, and it is the darker (purer?) indian who seems to show more remorse.
But the indians have no problem acepting outsiders who embrace their ways, as demonstrated by this indian called Dutch, while the settlers demonstrate a prejudice that trascends the color of their skin.
Notoriously absent are the sound effect in this novel. You can count four (4) gunshots that get represented with a CRACK sound, but the fights, the smacks, the punches, and all the other noises are absent in this book. I wondered for a long time if there was some meaning behind choosing those four gunshots to be the only onomatopoeias on record in the whole book.
This novel is one of the richest onions whose meanings you will never cease to peel no matter how much you try.
One thing I will say about the format in which to buy it, try to go for the most luxurious you can afford. The reason is that some of the most recent hardcover editions I’ve seen come packed with extra art concepts, and creation tidbits that other editions ignore, and in this case it is totally worth it.
So, on my Critics rating, Indian Summer gets
9 1/2 STARS
PS. I was recently made aware that that Dark Horse plans to publish the Manara Library soon. Can’t wait!!
Another interesting article