Miller, Frank

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Miller, Frank

Selected Writings

Comic book author, screenwriter, and film director

B orn January 27, 1957, in Olney, Maryland; son of Marjorie Brigham Miller (a retired nurse); married Lynn Varley (a comic colorist) (divorced).

Addresses: Contact—Dark Horse Comics, 10956 SE Main St., Milwaukie OR 97222; Troublemaker Studios, 4900 Old Manor Road, Austin, TX 78723.


B egan career with Marvel Comics, inking and writing for the character Daredevil, 1979early 1980s; worked on comic character Wolverine, 1982; created, inked and wrote Ronin for DC Comics, 1983-84; created Batman: The Dark Knight Returns series, 1986; followed with Batman: Year One, 1987; wrote screenplays for RoboCop 2, 1990, and RoboCop 3, 1993; created Sin City graphic novels, 1991-99; released Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, 2002; co-directed Sin City, 2005.

Member: Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Awards: Will Eisner Comic Industry Award (also called an Eisner Award) for best writer/artist, 1993; Eisner Award for best penciler/inker-B&W, 1993; Eisner Award for best graphic album (reprint), for Sin City, 1993; Eisner Award for best limited series, for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, 1995; Eisner Award for best short story, for Sin City: The Babe Wore Red, 1995; Eisner Award for best limited series, for Sin City: The Big Fat Kill, 1996; Eisner Award for best graphic album (reprint), for Sin City: That Yellow Bastard, 1998; Eisner Award for best limited series, for 300, 1999; Eisner Award for best writer/artist, for 300, 1999; Austin Film Critics Award for best animated film, for Sin City, 2006.


I n the 1970s, Frank Miller launched a comic-book revolution by adding literary depth and emotional power to comic’s costumed heroes. During the late 1970s and early ’80s, he thrilled readers with his take on Wolverine and Daredevil and created enduring characters such as the assassin Elektra. In 1986, Miller re-imaged Batman with his psychologically dark and morally complex storylines. In the 1990s, Miller became famous for his violent, yet stylish Sin City series of graphic novels, which took the comic-book medium to a new creative level. In 2005, Miller turned to movie-making, serving as co-director in a visually striking adaptation of his Sin City series. Afterward, he landed more movie projects, including a solo job writing and directing The Spirit, an adaptation of Will Eisner’s famed comic. Highly successful in the comics industry, Miller stands poised to make his mark in the movies as well.

Miller was born on January 27, 1957, in Olney, Maryland, but was raised in Montpelier, Vermont, in a family of four boys and three girls. He produced his first comic at the age of six and proudly trotted it into the kitchen, handing the stapled mess to his mother. “The paper was all folded over and I’d drawn all over it,” Miller told the London Daily Telegraph’s Will Lawrence. “That was my first hand-made comic. I held it up and told her that this was what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. I really was dedicated to creating comics from that age.”

Growing up, Miller spent his free time reading comics, including Batman, and watching the family’s black and white television. He was infatuated with TV’s fictional characters who could perform amazing feats. “In third grade, my friends and I formed a superhero club,” Miller told Susan Green in an article for the Rutland Herald. “We’d run around with our arms forward, as if flying.”

During adolescence, Miller felt restless and dreamed of escaping small-town life for a turn in the big city. A few years after graduating from high school, Miller moved to New York City, home to both Marvel and DC Comics. “It was all or nothing,” he told Green. “I felt, ‘I have to do this or I’ll die.’” With no formal training, Miller realized he had a lot to learn about drawing if he wanted to break into the comic-book world. To practice drawing human physiques, Miller bought muscle magazines to get a feel for how a hero’s body might look. He also began hanging out in the studio of comic artist Neal Adams. Adams had broken into the field in the 1960s, making his mark such comic superheroes as Green Lantern and the X-Men. As Miller struggled to get a foothold in the industry, he supported himself through carpentry jobs and intermittent checks from his mother. Occasionally, he was hired to do fill-in work on various comics.

Miller’s big break came in 1979 when Marvel Comics enlisted him to draw Daredevil, a comics super-hero who had emerged in the 1960s. Daredevil is unique among crime fighters: He is blind, having lost his sight in a childhood accident. Because Dare-devil was unable to see, his other senses evolved, and he gained the unique ability to perceive his surroundings with a “radar-sense.” Though many comic artists have worked on the character, Miller’s adaptations are the most celebrated. Miller started as a mere artist for the series then began writing the storylines. He revamped the series, introducing elements to mimic Hollywood’s dark and shadowy film noir crime flicks of the 1940s and ’50s. Miller also created Elektra, a ninja assassin with romantic ties to Daredevil. Elektra first appeared in “Dare-devil No. 168” in January of 1981.

In 1982, Miller collaborated with X-Men writer Chris Claremont to produce a four-issue series featuring the X-Man character Wolverine, a superhero with animal-like mutations and a supernatural ability to heal himself. Miller’s next big project involved the creation of his own series, Ronin, for DC Comics. In ancient Japan, a ronin was a samurai who had lost his master. In the series, a thirteenth-century ronin is transported to the twenty-first century, where lawlessness and depravity reign. Action-packed and filled with pulpy dialogue, Ronin debuted in 1984.

Next, Miller breathed new life into comics super-hero Batman, whose popularity had waned. Released in 1986, Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns series dealt with the latter portion of Batman’s career. Dark Knight featured a ruthless, quasi-mystical Batman more reminiscent of the original 1930s Batman who was gritty and psychologically dark. By the time Miller began writing Dark Knight, Batman was no longer seen as a shadowy figure in his own right—the 1960s Batman television series, starring Adam West and filled with campy humor, had given Batman a lighter persona.

Miller redefined the character and introduced more melodramatic storylines. This Batman is tortured, filled with as many flaws as his enemies. Miller also turned some of the characters into metaphors for commenting on the politics of the day. Miller followed with a Batman: Year One series, which revisited Batman’s childhood and delved into the beginning of Batman’s career as a crime-fighting vigilante. The series pushed the limit of what people thought was possible in the genre, proving comics could be used as real literary vehicles to entertain adults— not children.

Dark Knight drew a more mainstream audience than most comics. It was featured in Rolling Stone magazine and landed on the New York Times bestseller list. It became a new standard by which comics were judged and ushered in an era of darker, more realistic comic-book characters. Miller’s Dark Knight series also triggered a resurgence of interest in the character, prompting filmmaker Tim Burton to resurrect the crime fighter in his 1989 rendition of Bat-man, starring Michael Keaton as the caped crusader and Jack Nicholson as the Joker.

Miller’s success as a storyteller prompted Hollywood to come calling. In the late 1980s, he was asked to write the screenplay for the two live-action RoboCop sequels. In the end, Miller was unsatisfied with the process and disturbed with all the fina-gling over the writing. The experience soured his view of Hollywood. Speaking to Esquire, Miller put it this way, “What I learned there is that your screenplay is a fire hydrant with an awful lot of dogs lined up behind it.” After the RoboCop screen-writing venture, Miller returned to comics, beginning work on his bleak Sin City collection, published by Dark Horse Comics beginning in 1991.

Sin City is short for Basin City. Miller’s Sin City is a fictional crime-riddled metropolis inhabited by snaky, trench-coated villains and sexy, armed hookers. The men are hard-drinking barbarians and the women are stunning. Miller rendered the panels using only black ink, avoiding outlines and shading. As a result, some figures are reduced to black silhouettes, while others appear as white images against a panel of inky black. The highly acclaimed seven-volume series made Miller a cult comic hero.

In 2001, Miller returned to Batman, releasing Bat-man: The Dark Knight Strikes Again series, published as a graphic novel in 2002. This tale takes place in a dystopian future where Batman has retired and decides to return to his work to save the world from itself. Once again, Miller used satire in the storylines to comment on the political climate. In this series, the U.S. president is really a computer-generated puppet controlled by corporate interests.

As Miller quietly went about his work, moviemak-ers continually courted him, seeking rights to turn his legendary Sin City graphic novels into a movie. He turned down more than ten offers, fearing no one would be faithful to the material. In 2003, director Robert Rodriguez of Spy Kids fame tracked down Miller with another proposal to take Sin City to the big screen. Miller said no. A few weeks later, Rodriguez contacted Miller again and asked him to fly to Austin, Texas, where Rodriguez is based, to shoot a test. Rodriguez told Miller that if he did not like the outcome, at least he would have a fun Sin City DVD to take home. Miller arrived to find actor Josh Hartnett ready to go. “This was no damn test,” Miller told Newsweek’s Devin Gordon. “This was the first day of principal photography.”

Rodriguez baited Miller with another incentive—an offer to co-direct the film, which would give him creative input. Miller agreed to take on the task. The deal caused trouble for Rodriquez, putting him in violation of strict Directors Guild of America rules by offering a co-director credit to someone with no film experience. Undaunted, Rodriguez quit the Guild and went ahead with the film. As production got under way, Quentin Tarantino joined the fray and guest-directed one scene. The trio worked well together. “They all got along like little boys in the sandbox, playing with their Ninja Turtles and having a great time,” actress Brittany Murphy told Newsday’s Tom Beer.

Besides Murphy, who made her debut with 1995’s Clueless, the 2005 movie featured a star-studded cast that included Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, and Elijah Wood. For the actors, the experience was unique because instead of filming on a set, they had to run their scenes against a plain, green screen. The backdrops—consisting of bulky buildings and poorly lit interiors—were created digitally and then “inserted” behind the actors. As a result, the movie itself resembles a comic book more than a film. In fact, the frames match up nearly panel for panel with the original comic, as does the dialogue. Just like the original comic, the film is composed of bleak blacks and barren whites. Color is reserved for accents—blood-red lips or the green eyes of a damsel.

As with Miller’s original panels, the movie is ultra-violent. Writing in Newsweek, Gordon said the “movie seeks out the line between an R rating and an NC-17, then toe-tickles it for 135 minutes. It’s gory stuff, but it’s also a visually arresting blitzkrieg with action so bare-knuckled you’ll leave the theater spitting teeth.” Moviegoers flocked to theaters to see this comic-book-come-to-life. The movie, which cost $45 million to make, led the box office its opening weekend by taking in $28.1 million.

The movie mingles three of Miller’s seven Sin City volumes. One tale involves a thug named Marv, as played by Rourke, who goes on a killing rampage while looking for the people responsible for murdering a prostitute whose company he enjoyed. Another storyline involves a man named Dwight, played by Owen, who works to dispose of a cop who was killed in the prostitute’s quarters. In the third tale, a jaded cop, as played by Willis, tries to rescue a kidnapped girl from a psychopath.

The positive experience shifted Miller’s view of Hollywood, and he allowed director Zack Snyder to adapt his historically inspired graphic novel 300 for the big screen. Released in 2006, it grossed $70 million its first weekend. 300 is an epic tale that deals with the Spartans and a retelling of the Greek war. Miller had created the 300 series in the late 1990s. His ex-wife, comic colorist Lynn Varley, worked on the series with him. She also colored Ronin and Dark Knight Returns.

As for the future, Miller’s fans were eagerly awaiting another Dark Knight graphic novel. Miller began Holy Terror, Batman after 9/11—a book that pits Batman against Al Qaeda. As of the end of 2007, Miller had yet to finish it because film projects were taking up most of his time. As 2008 got under way, Miller was busy with his movie adaptation of The Spirit and talks of Sin City sequels were in the works. Much to his comic fans’ chagrin, Miller seems happy with the change of entertainment media. Speaking to Geoff Boucher of the Los Angeles Times, Miller noted his infatuation with the movie industry. “It’s gone from being an abusive relationship to a torrid affair,” he said. “And it is very satisfying.”

Selected Writings

Graphic novel collections

Sin City: The Hard Goodbye, Dark Horse Comics, 1993.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Dark Horse Comics, 1994.

Sin City: The Big Fat Kill, Dark Horse Comics, 1994.

Ronin, DC Comics, 1995.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Titan Books, Ltd., 1996.

Sin City: That Yellow Bastard, Dark Horse Comics, 1997.

Sin City: Family Values, Dark Horse Comics, 1997.

Sin City: Booze, Broads, and Bullets, Dark Horse Comics, 1998.

300, Dark Horse Comics, 1999.

Hell and Back: A Sin City Love Story, Dark Horse Comics, c. 2000.

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, DC Comics, 2002.

Daredevil/Elektra: Love and War, Marvel Entertainment Group, 2003.



Burlington Free Press, January 15, 2005, p. 1C.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), March 9, 2007, p. 31.

Guardian (London, England), May 27, 2005, p. 14.

Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2007, p. E1.

Newsday, March 23, 2005, p. C8. Newsweek, March 28, 2005, p. 52.

Rutland Herald (VT), May 1, 2005.

Times Argus (Montpelier-Barre, VT), April 4, 2005.


“Frank Miller: Sin City,” BBC, (October 1, 2007).

“Q&A with Frank Miller,” Esquire, (October 1, 2007).

—Lisa Frick

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Miller, Frank

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