Frank Miller

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Frank Miller (born January 27, 1957) is an American writer, artist and film director best known for his film noir-style comic book stories. He is one of the most widely-recognized and popular creators in comics, and is one of the most influential comics creators of his generation.

Contents

Life and career

Early career

Miller was born in Olney, Maryland and raised in Montpelier, Vermont. Miller was a comic fan from an early age. Setting out to become an artist, he eventually received his first published work in Twilight Zone literature The Twilight Zone for Gold Key Comics in 1978. This was followed by various pencilling work for anthology titles from DC Comics and his first work at Marvel Comics in Barsoom John Carter: Warlord of Mars #18. It was at Marvel that Miller would settle in as a regular fill in and cover artist, working on a variety of titles. One of these jobs was drawing Spectacular Spider-Man #27 and 28. These issues featured Daredevil as a supporting character. At this time Daredevil was a minor character with his own poor selling title; however, Miller saw something in the character he liked and asked then Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter if he could work on Daredevil's regular title. Shooter agreed and made the decision to make Miller the new penciller on the title.

Daredevil and the early 1980s

DD #168 First appearance of Elektra
DD #168 First appearance of Elektra

Miller's first issue of Daredevil (#158) was the last part of an ongoing story written by Roger McKenzie. Although still conforming to traditional comic book styles, Miller infused this first issue with his own film noir style which proved to be a success. After this issue Miller became one of Marvel's fastest rising stars and also started plotting additional stories with McKenzie. Miller's art was highly detailed but still retained his noir style as his run progressed. Learning from Neal Adams, Miller would sit for hours sketching the roofs of New York in an attempt to give his Daredevil art an authentic feel not commonly seen in superhero comics at the time. Miller was so successful with the title that Marvel began publishing the Daredevil comic monthly (as opposed to its previous bi-monthly publication period). From issue 168 in 1981, Miller took over full duties as writer and penciller with Klaus Janson providing inks in the issues. This issue saw the first appearance of Elektra.

With his creation of Elektra, Miller's work on Daredevil became characterised by darker themes and stories heavily influenced by Japanese manga strips. This peaked when in issue 181 he had the assassin Bullseye kill Elektra. Although deaths of supporting characters were commonplace in comics at the time, a death of a major character like Elektra was not. Miller made it clear with the next few issues that he intended Elektra to remain dead but nonetheless she was revived during his time as writer. Miller finished his Daredevil run with issue 191; in his time he had transformed a secondary Marvel character into one of the most popular and best-selling characters Marvel published. Due to Daredevil's popularity, Miller became one of the most sought after artists in the industry.

During this time, Miller and writer Chris Claremont had produced a four part Wolverine mini series in 1982, spinning off from the popular X-Men title. Miller used this title to expand on Wolverine's character while featuring more of his manga-influenced art. The series was a critical success and further cemented Miller's place as a major artist. Miller also found time to draw a short Batman Christmas story for a DC Comics Christmas special. This was his first encounter with a character with which, like Daredevil, he would become closely associated.

Miller rounded out this time with The Elektra Saga (a four-part mini-series largely consisting of material previously published in his Daredevil run, telling of the life and death of Elektra), and Ronin for DC Comics, his first creator-owned title. Ronin was a six-issue mini series first published by DC from 1983 to 1984. With Ronin, Miller not only refined his own art and storytelling techniques, but also helped change how creator rights were viewed, and proved that comics in new formats could be commercially viable. Ronin was also his most clearly manga-influenced title, drawing mainly from the black and white Lone Wolf and Cub series. After Ronin, Miller was relatively reclusive in 1985; his only published work was a single issue of Daredevil (issue 219), inspired by the film High Plains Drifter.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and the late 1980s

Cover to Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, issue #1 (Feb 1986)
Cover to Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, issue #1 (Feb 1986)

In 1986 DC Comics released the first issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (commonly shortened to DKR), a four-issue mini-series printed in the new prestige format, and written and drawn by Miller, with colors by Lynn Varley and inks by Klaus Janson.

The story tells how Batman retired after the death of the second Robin, and at age 55 returns to fight crime in a future where crime and violence have taken over. Meant as a possible finale for Batman, Miller created a tough, gritty portrayal of the Dark Knight. Released the same year as Watchmen, it showed a new form of more 'adult-oriented' storytelling to a mainstream audience, as well as diehard comics fans. Receiving massive amounts of media publicity, Miller found that he had not only redefined Batman in comics, but had managed to remove the campy image many had of the character from the 1960s television series.

DKR influenced the comic book industry by heralding a new wave of darker, more 'realistic' characters in comics, and along with Batman: The Killing Joke, it was also a major influence on Tim Burton's Batman in 1989. The trade paperback proved to be a huge seller for DC and remains in print 20 years after first being published. In addition, this comic finally helped to sever the formerly benign relationship between the two most recognizable DC Comics superheroes, Batman and Superman.

1986 also saw Miller return to Daredevil with artist David Mazzucchelli, creating a story arc that, like DKR, redefined and reinvigorated its main character. In Daredevil: Born Again, we learn about the Daredevil's Catholic background, and witness the destruction (and "rebirth") of alter ego Matt Murdock at the hands of archnemesis the Kingpin. (The Daredevil run actually precedes DKR by several months, and, in fact, began in late-1985.)

Miller and artist Bill Sienkiewicz produced the graphic novel Daredevil: Love and War in 1986. Featuring the character of the Kingpin, it indirectly bridges Miller's first run on Daredevil and Born Again by explaining the change in the Kingpin's attitude toward Daredevil. Miller and Sienkiewicz also produced the eight issue miniseries Elektra: Assassin for Epic Comics. Set outside regular Marvel continuity, it featured a wild tale of cyborgs and ninjas, while expanding further on Elektra's background. Both of these projects were well received critically, Elektra: Assassin was praised for its bold storytelling, but neither had the influence or reached as many readers as Dark Knight Returns or Born Again.

Miller's final major story in this period was in Batman issues 404-407 in 1987, another collaboration with Mazzuchelli. Titled Batman: Year One, this was Miller's version of the origin of Batman in which he retconned many details and adapted the story to fit his Dark Knight continuity. Proving to be hugely popular, this was as influential as Miller's previous work and a trade paperback released in 1988 remains in print and is one of DC's best selling books.

Miller had also drawn the covers for the first twelve issues of First Comics English language reprints of Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's Lone Wolf and Cub. This helped bring Japanese manga to a wider western audience.

During this time Miller (along with Marv Wolfman, Alan Moore and Howard Chaykin) had been in dispute with DC Comics over a proposed ratings system for comics. Disagreeing with what he saw as censorship, Miller refused to do any further work for DC and he would take his future projects to the independent publisher Dark Horse Comics. From then on Miller would be a major supporter of creator rights and be a major voice against censorship in comics.

Sin City and the 1990s

After leaving DC, Miller intended to only release his work via Dark Horse, however he had one final project for Epic Comics. Elektra Lives Again was a fully-painted graphic novel written and drawn by Miller and colored by longtime partner Varley. Telling the story of the resurrection of Elektra from the dead and Daredevil's quest to find her, it was the first example of a new style in Miller's art, as well as showing Miller's willingness to experiment with new storytelling techniques.

1990 saw Miller and artist Geof Darrow start work on Hard Boiled, a three-issue mini-series which suffered from long delays between issues. That aside, the title was a mix of violence and satire which was praised for Darrow's highly detailed art and Miller's writing. At the same time Miller and artist Dave Gibbons produced Give Me Liberty, a four-issue mini-series for Dark Horse. Another mixture of action and political satire, the title sold well and firmly cemented Miller's reputation as a writer of more 'adult' comic books. Give Me Liberty was followed by several follow up series and specials, all of which were written by Miller and drawn by Gibbons.

Miller also wrote the script for RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3. Neither were critically well received. After RoboCop 3, Miller stated that he would never allow Hollywood to make movie adaptations of his comics, being disgusted with the constant studio interference with his scriptwriting. Miller would come into contact with the fictional cyborg once more, writing the critically-acclaimed, best-selling limited series, RoboCop vs. The Terminator, with art by Walter Simonson. In 2003, Miller's screenplay for RoboCop 2 was eventually adapted by Steven Grant for Avatar Press's Pulsaar imprint, which now owns the rights to create comics based on RoboCop. Illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp, the series is called Frank Miller's RoboCop and contains plot elements that were divided between RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3.

In 1991 Miller started work on his first Sin City story. Serialized in Dark Horse Presents issues 51 to 62, this was Miller's first completely solo work as he wrote and drew the story in black and white to emphasize its film noir origins. Proving to be another success, the story was released in a trade paperback. This first Sin City "yarn" was re-released in 2005 under the name The Hard Goodbye. Sin City proved to be Miller's main project for much of the remainder of the decade as Miller told more Sin City stories within this noir world of his creation, in the process helping to revitalize the crime comics genre. Sin City proved artistically auspicious for Miller and again brought his work to a wider audience outside of comics.

Daredevil: Man Without Fear was a mini-series published by Marvel Comics in 1993 based on an earlier film script. In this Miller and artist John Romita Jr told Daredevil's origins differently than in the comics. Miller also returned to superheroes by writing issue #11 of Todd McFarlane's Spawn, as well as the Spawn/Batman crossover for Image Comics.

In 1995, Miller and Darrow collaborated again on Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot — a homage to Godzilla movies, Astro Boy and patriotic American films from World War II. The series was published as a two-part mini-series from Dark Horse Comics. In 1999 it became an animated series on Fox Kids. During this period, Miller became one of the founding members of the comic imprint Legend, under which many of his Sin City works were released, via Dark Horse. Also, it was during the 1990s that Miller did cover art for many titles in the Comics Greatest World/Dark Horse Heroes line.

Written and illustrated by Frank Miller with painted colors by Lynn Varley, 300 was a 1998 graphic novel series (later collected into a single hardcover issue) a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae and the events leading up to it from the perspective of Leonidas of Sparta. 300 was particularly inspired by the 1962 film The 300 Spartans, a movie that Miller watched as a young boy.

2000 onwards

Miller started the new millennium off with the long awaited sequel to Batman: The Dark Knight Returns for DC Comics after Miller had put aside past differences with DC. Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again was initially released as a three issue series. Miller has also returned to writing Batman in 2005, taking on the writing duties of All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, a series set outside of the normal DC continuity and drawn by Jim Lee. Miller has been vocally opposed to recent comic art attempting to give the cosmetic appearance of what some say is more realism. In an interview on the documentary Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman, Miller said, "People are attempting to bring a superficial reality to superheroes which is rather stupid. They work best as the flamboyant fantasies they are. I mean, these are characters that are broad and big. I don't need to see sweat patches under Superman's arms. I want to see him fly."

Miller's stance against movie adaptations was to change after Robert Rodriguez made a short film from one of Miller's Sin City short stories. Rodriguez showed this short film to Miller who was so pleased with the result that he approved a full-length film, Sin City. This would be Miller's second experience with the movie world, after becoming disenchanted years earlier with his experiences with RoboCop 2 and 3. The movie was released in the US on April 1, 2005, using Miller's original comics panels as storyboards. Miller and Rodriguez are credited as co-directors, which Rodriguez insisted upon (and had allegedly promised to Miller). Directors Guild of America rules permit only one person or "legit" directorial team (such as the Wachowski brothers) being listed as the director of a film. As a result, Rodriguez elected to resign from the Guild. The film's success brought renewed attention to Miller and to Sin City. Another of his works was adapted into a film with 2007's highly successful 300.

In 2006, Miller announced that his next Batman book would be called Holy Terror, Batman!. In the story, Batman defends Gotham City against attacks by real-life terrorist group Al-Qaeda. Miller proudly announced the title of his next Batman book, which he will write, draw and ink. Holy Terror, Batman! is no joke. And Miller doesn't hold back on the true purpose of the book, calling it "a piece of propaganda," where 'Batman kicks Al Qaeda's ass."

At the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con, it was announced that Miller would direct a film version of Will Eisner's The Spirit.

Critical reactions

Frank Miller has received much praise for his work on icons Daredevil and Batman as well as some of his own works, such as 300 and Sin City.

Alan Moore praised Miller's Daredevil in the article "The Art of Being Frank" in The Daredevils #1 but spoofed him in #8 ("Grit!"), and has criticized Miller for always featuring "tough guys" in his comics.

The The Dark Knight Returns received much praise although Miller himself has stated that when he did the book, he got calls from many comic creators telling him that he had ruined their character.

In recent years, much of Miller's work, particularly regarding Batman has been the subject of controversy. The Dark Knight Strikes Back was received with much less critical acclaim than its predecessor. Concerning All Star Batman, William Gatevackes writing in PopMatters found of the first three issues: too slow a pace, lengthy irrelevant subplots, and underdeveloped negative characters, ALL-STAR BATMAN & ROBIN #1-3 William Gatevackes, PopMatters, while Maurice Broaddus found episode one uneven.. Subsequent reviews have criticized Miller's portrayal of Batman in this title.

Influences

Miller has stated that his influences include the philosophical writings of Ayn Rand, and the philosophical-political writing of James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson.

His cartoonist influences include Alex Toth, Frank Frazetta, Joe Kubert, Dick Sprang, Jack Kirby, Jordi Bernet, Jim Steranko, Johnny Craig, Milton Caniff, Wally Wood, Hugo Pratt, Frank Robbins, Will Eisner, William Gaines, and Barry Windsor-Smith.

Outside of the comic and political circuit, his influences include art historian Kenneth Clark, and the animations by Fleischer Studios.

Cameo appearances

Frank Miller has appeared in four films in small roles, dying in every one.

  • In the 1990 film RoboCop 2, he plays "Frank, the chemist" and dies in an explosion in the drug lab.
  • In the 1994 film Jugular Wine: A Vampire Odyssey, he is killed by vampires in front of Stan Lee, who compares his killers to "angels."
  • In the 2003 Daredevil movie, he appears as a corpse with a pen in his head, thrown by Bullseye, who steals his motorcycle. The credits list Frank Miller as "Man with Pen in Head".
  • In the 2005 Sin City film he plays the priest killed by Marv in the confessional.

Frank Miller also appeared in an episode of the television series Moonlighting as a customer at a box office.

Bibliography

As writer

Daredevil for Marvel Comics

  • Daredevil #168–182 (1981–82) (also art) (collected in Daredevil Visionaries – Frank Miller Vol.2 trade paperback ISBN 0-7851-0771-1)
  • Daredevil Visionaries - Frank Miller Vol.3 trade paperback collects:
    • Daredevil #183–191 (1982–83) (also art)
    • "Elektra" short story from Bizarre Adventures Magazine #28 (1981)
    • What If...? #28 (1981) (co-writer: Mike W Barr) (also art)
    • What If...? #35 (1982) (also art)
  • Marvel Team-Up Annual #4 (1981) (art by Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito)
(the only time Miller ever wrote Spider-Man, teaming him up with Daredevil, Moon Knight, Power Man and Iron Fist against The Kingpin and The Purple Man.)

Batman for DC Comics

Sin City for Dark Horse Comics (Writer and artist)

Martha Washington for Dark Horse Comics (Art by co-creator Dave Gibbons)

  • Give Me Liberty (1990) (4 issues) (also trade paperback )
  • Martha Washington Goes to War (1994) (5 issues) (also trade paperback )
  • Happy Birthday, Martha Washington (1995) (one-shot)
  • Martha Washington Stranded in Space (1995) (one-shot) (features The Big Guy)
  • Martha Washington Saves the World (1997) (3 issues) (also trade paperback )
  • Martha Washington Dies (2007) (coming July 2007)

Others

For film

300 was adapted shot for shot in to a feature film in 2007. The 2003 film version of Daredevil predominantly use the tone and stories written and established by Frank Miller. Miller did not have any direct creative input into either of these films.

As artist only

  • Twilight Zone #84, 85 (1978) ("Royal Feast" and "Endless Cloud") (Gold Key Comics)
  • "Deliver Me From D-Day" short story in Weird War Tales #64 (1978) (co-art: Wyatt Gwyon) (writer: Wyatt Gwyon) (DC Comics)
  • "The Greatest Story Never Told" short story (wr: Paul Kupperberg) and "The Day After Doomsday" short story (wr: Roger McKenzie) both in Weird War Tales #68 (1978) (DC Comics)
  • "The Edge of History" short story in Unknown Soldier #219 (1978) (co-art: Danny Bulanadi) (writer: Elliot S. Maggin) (DC Comics)
  • John Carter, Warlord of Mars #18 (1978) (writer: Chris Claremont) (Marvel Comics)
  • Complete Frank Miller Spider-Man (trade paperback) collects:
    • Spectacular Spider-Man #27–28 (1979) (includes first time drawing Daredevil) (writer: Bill Mantlo) (Marvel Comics)
    • several covers
  • Daredevil #158-161, 163-167 (1978-1980)
  • Super Star Holiday Special (1980) (first Batman story) (writer: Denny O'Neill
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