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Honoring Female Heroes of COVID Through Illustration

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Italy was one of the hardest-hit countries around the world during the COVID-19 crisis. It was a bumpy ride for the country, filled with lots of tragedy, loss and difficulty.

Cue Milo Manara, who is a highly experienced and reknowned Italian comic book artist. Generally accustomed to generating illustrations of the mythical variety, he was so inspired by all of the efforts and bravery displayed by his fellow Italians that he decided to refocus his creativity. Instead of otherworldly creatures and fantastical backgrounds, Manara started producing gorgeous portraits of front-line workers around the country.

Who Run the World?

Like many of those who were in quarantine, Manara found himself feeling useless and unable to motivate himself to get his standard amount of work done. Especially for those who work in a creative industry, it can be frustrating to find yourself stuck in this way. In his interview with the Washington Post, Manara stated, “Dread was all around. I couldn’t find the right spirit to sketch anything that felt serene.” Not knowing what to do or where to turn, Manara began paying closer attention to the current events of the time. Eventually, he realized that the way out of his rut was to draw inspiration from the heroic doctors, nurses and other essential workers stepping up every day.

Not only did he feature the people who are saving the day, but he also specifically chose to illustrate the women who were hard at work to keep us all afloat. Manara is no stranger to the female form. He built his career drawing beautiful female characters almost exclusively and says, “I felt it was time to celebrate other virtues, like courage, selflessness and altruism.”

Finding Common Ground

Before the coronavirus crisis hit, we likely would not have thought of doctors and grocery store workers as similarly essential. Everything these days has shifted, though, and Manara took notice. All of the women he depicted are taking personal risks every day to keep working and help those in their communities.

One of his goals through publicizing these illustrations was to make sure that people working in all levels of employment don’t go unnoticed and get all the appreciation they deserve. His drawings include several medical staff, grocery store cashiers, cleaning ladies, police officers, truck drivers and more.

Universal Recognition

His artwork was directed primarily towards others living out this crisis in Italy, but the drawings have spread far wider due to their universal nature. Inspiring stories are much needed these days, that’s for sure. And while Manara did not expect the outpouring of appreciation, he welcomed it, saying, “people from different countries have come to appreciate this solidarity.”

The warm reception that his work has been receiving has only further motivated Manara to keep going. He says that after he began doing these drawings, “the will came back to me.” So once he was back on track, he spent his days working in his studio doing his standard comic book work. When the workday finished, he kept on going and often worked late into the night on the topical new series that he wanted to put out into the world.

A Symbolic Addition

Manara has focused on featuring all types of essential employees but one illustration in the series is a little bit different. Requested by an Italian newspaper La Repubblica he created a drawing depicting the Pied Piper from the Brothers Grimm fable doing his best to tempt a young person into going outdoors. In this drawing, he was aiming to depict the temptation we must all resist in these quarantined times. Powerful!

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