Doris V Sutherland‘s inaugural article for Women Write About Comics is about Ulula the Werewolf Woman, an example of Italy’s sexy, violent and “gleefully pulpsh” fumetti comics. As you can guess, an illustrated assessment of a pulpy werewolf sex comic isn’t safe for work – there are some images of sex, violence, and sexual violence, so click with care, and make sure your screen isn’t mirrored to the Apple TV in the conference room.
Despite having spotted the first issue’s cover floating around Tumblr, I was unfamiliar with Ulula until I read Sutherland’s article. Now, having read her analysis, I’m not especially motivated to seek out any more of the series’s 36 issues than I’ve already seen. I can’t read Italian and I don’t have as deep an appreciation for pulp horror comics as my pal Joey, who was kind enough to share his knowledge on this very site three years ago.
However, what I did enjoy was Sutherland’s analysis, particularly on the subjects of femininity, beauty and the mutation of the werewolf’s portrayal in media over the years.
Today, we do not tend to associate werewolves with femininity, let alone physically attractive femininity. Cinematic werewolves have been portrayed as grotesque creatures from the genre’s beginning in The Werewolf of London (1935) and The Wolf Man (1941); this reached a height in the 1980s, when films such as An American Werewolf in London emphasised the visceral body-horror implications of the transformation from human to wolf. More recently, the likes of True Blood and Twilight have cast werewolves as earthy, conventionally masculine counterparts to refined and effete vampires.
But things were once very different. In the literature of nineteenth-century Britain, the favoured variety of werewolf was a beautiful—even ethereal—woman who acted as a temptress. This character type owes something to the widespread folktale motif of the animal bride, variations on which include swan maidens, frog princesses, and —yes— wolf women.
Sign me up for more of this! I’m a big fan of the modern Hollywood-informed portrayal of werewolves as slavering, bestial monsters, but I’m always ready to wash off the fake blood and learn more about the werewolf’s historical and cultural relevance in decades past – especially when the analysis addresses aesthetics, the subversion of conventional gender roles, or the fickle and contradictory tastes of the modern audience.
Sutherland concludes her piece by asking us to consider what Ulula The Werewolf Woman contributes to the world of fumetti (and, I would say, to literature in general).
…Is Ulula a contemptuous piece of exploitation, a harmless bit of derivative nonsense, or an enjoyably brash pulp adventure? Could we even make a case for it as being—at least in some respects—a progressive work, thanks to its gay portrayal and subversion of the male gaze?
My answer: “all of the above, and thank God for that!”