If you read comics or watch comic book movies, you’ve probably seen the work of Frank Miller – even if you’ve never heard his name before.
Who is Frank Miller? How did he become so important in the world of comics? Let’s take a closer look at the fascinating man behind popular comics like Sin City, The Dark Knight Returns, and Daredevil: Born Again.
Who is Frank Miller?
Miller is mainly known for his work as a comic book writer. However, he’s also done work as an inker, novelist, film director, screenwriter, and producer.
In short, Miller has worked in nearly every facet of the comic book industry. From creating characters to directing films, he’s been influential in bringing the comic book world into the mainstream in pop culture.
His work isn’t just popular – it tends to be instantly recognizable, too. Miller is known for bringing elements of film noir into his work, producing dark, gritty portrayals of popular characters like Batman.
He also brings in styles from Japanese manga comics, blending American storytelling traditions with the creativity more often seen in manga.
Rise to Fame
Miller came from a big family in small-town Vermont. A childhood spent exploring the outdoors mixed with exposure to the popular art of the time shaped his worldview.
Detective fiction made into film noir was among that art. Miller loved mysteries by authors like Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep). It’s no small wonder that Miller’s work is replete with brooding, mysterious men and beautiful, complicated women.
In high school, Miller was in charge of the school newspaper. There, he got his first experiences with expressing his views to the public on paper.
Miller moved to New York City as a young man in 1976. Armed only with his portfolio of original comic art, he had a hard time finding work. His determination to make it as an artist brought him into contact with Neal Adams, a Batman artist who Miller admired.
Adams criticized Miller’s work samples harshly, but Miller kept coming back for more. After honing his craft using Adams’ advice, he finally earned acceptance in the industry.
His first gig was doing penciling for Daredevil. However, Miller quickly was hired to write the comics, too. This made him something special in the industry: few comic artists are also writers.
Frank Miller: Comics
Miller quickly outgrew his inauspicious beginnings to become a major influencer in the comic book world.
Daredevil by Frank Miller was fresh, edgy, and a pleasure to read. When the ‘80s rolled around, sales of the series were booming thanks to Miller. Many readers have never seen anything like Miller’s edgy, innovative work.
Before long, he received an invitation that all writers covet: pitching a new series. He came up with Ronin. The story mixed samurai mythology with science fiction to create a graphic novel that’s still popular today.
In Daredevil, Ronin, and later works like Sin City, Miller’s experiences in gritty ‘70s and ‘80s NYC shine through. His dark, edgy tone comes not just from film noir, but from real life. The crime Miller was exposed to in NYC eventually led him to move to the west coast, but it never stopped influencing his work.
Frank Miller: Batman
Of all characters that Frank Miller had a hand in redefining, Batman is likely the one most associated with him. Although Batman had existed long before Miller started working on comics, Miller’s spin on the character made this one of his most important projects.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was Miller’s first major debut with the character. Fans had never seen a Batman like this before. The superhero was now a bitter, middle-aged man. He was still tough enough to take on the world, but without the youthful idealism.
People who thought of Batman as a cheesy character reconsidered when confronted with Miller’s version. The Dark Knight Returns brought new life to the comic book world, and the public started accepting comic books as an art form, not just for kids.
Frank Miller: Books
In addition to his work on comics, Miller also wrote a number of graphic novels. These allowed him to dive deeper into his storytelling abilities.
Sin City is one of his most famous graphic novel collections. This wildly successful series is where Miller’s film noir influences are most obvious. Sin City’s fictional Western landscape, populated by brawny men and beautiful dames, forces readers to question the difference between right and wrong.
Miller also wrote the immensely popular 300 series, which fictionalized and dramatized the Battle of Thermopylae. Both Sin City and 300 adaptations became successful movies.
Frank Miller: Art
Miller left a lasting legacy as both a writer and an artist.
Just as with his storytelling, his art also brought a film-noir element to comic books. He even drew Sin City in black-and-white to highlight the shadowy, high-contrast visuals.
But although Miller’s art is gritty, it doesn’t have much realism. He has publicly stated that he doesn’t believe superhero comics are meant to be realistic: they are fantasies that should allow readers to suspend disbelief.
Today, Miller’s art has influenced the work of countless other artists. His original artwork is highly valued, and his characters become popular action figures and collectibles.
Frank Miller’s Legacy
Although Miller is still alive, he is already a legend in the world of comic books.
His newest work has not been as popular as earlier projects like Sin City and The Dark Knight, but Miller has already made his lasting impression on fans and artists around the world.
Fans of today’s huge comic industry can thank Frank Miller for turning comics into serious art. The next time you head to the theater for the latest Marvel flick, or read a gritty reboot of a popular character, make sure to give credit where it’s due. Without him, the public might still believe comics are just for kids.
Featured Image: CC BY 2.0 by pinguino k via Wikimedia Commons.