Legendary Italian artist Milo Manara has a niece that works as a nurse, an essential worker. She’s in the trenches, right smack in the middle of one of Europe’s most worrying Coronavirus hotzones: Italy. Manara, inspired by the work his niece and every other essential worker takes on daily despite the risk of infection, has taken to pen, paper, and ink to recognize the degree of heroism each one represents in a series of illustrations dedicated to them.
Fans of Manara expect erotic and sensual explorations of female beauty, the politics of sex, and even the more deceitful aspects of sex as a means of control (see his work on The Borgias, co-created with Alejandro Jodorowsky). For his COVID-19 Heroes illustrations, Manara reins in the eroticism to focus entirely on showing his gratitude to the women who brave the virus to fulfill essential duties.
Manara started posting these illustrations on his Facebook and Instagram pages on March 15, starting with a piece called “It’s You Against Me, Now!” in which a nurse stares down a giant COVID-19 molecule. He captioned the post with a simple yet resounding “Grazie.”
The illustrations feel like an attempt at preserving the memory of these workers as a means to keep a visual record of the things women have put on the line to help keep the world turning. They still have the overall look and feel of the women Manara is famous for illustrating, but the purpose is to provide a visual profile that kind of speaks for itself at a mere glance. And it succeeds in every aspect.
Another valuable and important point Manara makes through this project relates to the very definition of ‘essential.’ We see nurses and teachers, but we also see vendors, women doing deliveries, supermarket cashiers, and crossing guards, all presented as equally important. It’s as if Manara’s urging us to recognize that all work is essential, regardless of its nature.
Milo Manara is currently 74 years of age, so he’s in one of the more vulnerable groups of people affected by the pandemic. According to a Heavy Metal article, he’s surviving by staying inside with the help of his daughter, who brings him groceries and supplies. In essence, this is Manara paying his debt back.
For the full gallery of Manara’s COVID-19 heroes, click here.