The latest controversy in the comic world is that Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover, and it's absolutely something worth discussing. On the one hand, it was a bad idea to run a clearly sexual, male gaze-guided cover, on a comic with a female protagonist, that’s aimed at a female audience. On the other hand, this is exactly the sort of thing you hire Milo Manara for. He’s very good at erotic art and the cover isn't a bad piece of work by any means - it just doesn't belong on this comic.
If it were the cover for a book of erotic art, no one would be complaining. The problem here isn't the art itself, but the context, and that's the main issue to focus on. To paraphrase ComicsAlliance's Andrew Wheeler, you wouldn't put a spaceship on the cover of a crime story, so you shouldn't put an erotic artist on a mainstream superhero book.
So, in the interests of not flogging a horse that's already been reduced to a fine paste by the rest of the comics internet, let's move on from Spider-Woman and take a look at some comics that do get sex right. Julie Maroh's Blue is the Warmest Colour is obviously best known for inspiring the Palme d'Or winning film of the same title, but the comic is great too. It’s very different from the film, and quite a bit less explicit, but that doesn't mean it skimps on the sex.
The first time the two main characters sleep together is frank. It’s clear the creator didn’t feel the need to cover anything up, but it's not drawn to titillate - it's just two people who love each other having sex. There's plenty of naked women in the book, but there's a lot of non-sexual nudity in which the nakedness is just there. The view doesn't linger on it or ogle the characters; it's just one of the details of scenes which show two women in bed together.
It helps that Blue is written and drawn by a (gay) woman, so she's not going to give in to the stereotypical male-gaze orientated images that so often define the presentation of women in comics. No one gets objectified in this comic; the characters get treated with the respect they deserve, and the sex is a vital part of the story, as opposed to being just thrown in for the benefit of a presumed male audience. It's a great comic.
Let's face it, people like seeing attractive people on the printed page. There's nothing wrong with that, and there's no reason why a character can't be both sexy and a compelling character in their own right. The problem with so many superhero comics is that they objectify the women while idealising the men - the guys are attractive, sure, but they're straight male fantasies of men nonetheless. There's loads of cheesecake (pin-up-style drawings of women) in these books but precious little beefcake, and that's a problem.
And that's why it's great that Oglaf objectifies everyone. Practically every character is specifically designed to be sexy, so regardless of whether you like guys or girls, there's going to be something for you to enjoy. And as long as everyone gets treated the same way, creating characters who appeal to a particular gaze isn’t a problem – you just need to make sure you’ve taken the female gaze into account too.
You can't have an art form which denies sexuality, and comics are no exception. There are loads of great comics which handle sex extremely well - Blue is the Warmest Colour and Oglaf are just two of them. Spider-Woman wasn't the best place for a cheesecake pin-up cover, as good an artist as Milo Manara is. Luckily, there are loads of great sexy comics out there which handle their subject matter extremely well, and recognise the time and place for it too.