Anyone who ever wondered what pornographic comics produced by Chris Ware would be like to read probably won’t ever get an answer closer to Italian cartoonist, Miguel Vila’s North American debut, Milky Way, seamlessly translated by Jaime Richards and delivered to readers in a solid, well-designed, 176 page, 7" x 10", full color hardcover. As would be expected in such a case, Milky Way is not, of course, a work of straight-up pornography, but rather it is – as it would be if penned by Ware – a complex work of meta-porn, a look at the context, function and effects of pornography at the same time as it is also pornography; it examines the motivations behind pornography consumption as well as those behind its production, and in the process links the two via "the male gaze", while situating them within a framework of class consciousness – all in consummately Wareian fashion.
All this talk of Chris Ware is not, however, in any way intended to downplay Vila’s own phenomenal talent as a comics creator; quite the contrary. His startlingly self-assured drawing, in which the flickering of fleeting emotions are captured in spot-on pen and ink renderings, in panel after panel of amazing comics characterizations, draw readers into his characters’ states of mind. These are then assembled in intricate constructions and sophisticated layouts – that lead from static establishing shots to detailed temporal breakdowns, and that employ parallel montage of multiple, simultaneous narrative visual streams that work together to construct a solid, if sordid, satire of contemporary sexual mores that contains within it a psychological exploration of the wider cultural context that supports them, and that will knock your socks off… But you may soon want to put them back on as there are many disturbing and uncomfortable scenes and situations which Vila's expert presentation bring very up close and personal. This entire work will, for some, likely fall under the classification of TMI; for those of a more voyeuristic bent, on the other hand, Milky Way could well be “the mother lode” (bringing a new assocation to this well worn term, as it has more notably done with the title); most readers will fall somewhere in between.
The plot centers on a very young couple, Marco and Stella, in which it soon develops that Marco has some issues that are interfering with its progress. These issues are hidden, even from himself, but nonetheless lead him on a journey that is not so much one of self-discovery as it is of self-destruction. Milky Way boldly goes where no comics have gone before in exploring the psychological underpinnings of (at least this particular) sexual desire, demonstrating in the process how life decisions can be – and are – unwittingly led by unconscious desires. Mommy-issues and, to a lesser extent, daddy-issues are confronted and explored (again, in more detail than some – perhaps most – readers will be comfortable with; but that’s really the idea here). One of the themes of this multilayered work, complete with its own motif, could be stated, “if you think you’re in the driver’s seat, think again."
None of the characters are spared from the piercing gaze of Vila’s critical eye, and though glimmers of sympathy leak through, to varying degrees, for each of the characters, the work’s conclusions demonstrate that Vila, despite sharing a level of artistic ability with Chris Ware, is ultimately lacking the generous humanism that is an essential characteristic of Ware’s work (although Vila may prefer see it more as a case of his refusal to embrace the American naiveté regarding the incorrigibility of the human animal that can be seen as implicit in Ware's work, viewing it as being at odds with his own embrace of the more fatalistic, old world view grounded in the Roman tradition; cf. Portrait of a Lady). But, of course, Vila is nearly thirty years younger than Ware, and so has plenty of time to mature as his career progresses, which we certainly hope it does, as he is possessed of an enormous artistic talent.