The Dark Writer Returns
May 10, 2018 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Guardian interview with comic book artist and writer Frank Miller, on coming back from a dark place.

Holy Terror was "bloodthirsty beyond belief." "I'm not capable of that book again."

Neal Adams, Miller's mentor, on their last conversation: "Adams says he told his protege he was going to die. 'I told him he was white trash, and I’d be surprised if he makes it for six months, because he’s taken his life and ruined it, and he said, "Well, I’d like to show you I’m not that way," and I said, "If you recover, I’ll see you in six months, maybe a year."'"
posted by WCityMike (44 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
So, massive fan of Miller, especially his mid 80s work, and for what it's worth I'm not particularly buying this. Sure he was a drunk for years, and was an openly shitty person during it, but is he less of a shitty person now? I suspect he's actually just as shitty but wants to sell sell some supergirl YA books or whatever, and frankly there are people better at it that can do those with no history of shittiness.

I'm also kind of wondering if he's still dating a Haliburton, as he was when he was making some of his worse comments, and what influence that has been on him.
posted by Artw at 4:06 PM on May 10, 2018 [21 favorites]

Just how low do you have to sink that you start taking life advice from Neal Adams?
posted by 1970s Antihero at 4:12 PM on May 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

His comments do not have the specificity and self-reflection of someone who is sincerely sorry for having been shitty, but rather the nonspecific hand waving of someone who's just tired of being told they are being shitty.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:12 PM on May 10, 2018 [27 favorites]

His dislike of Trump seems pretty honest and heartfelt, but it's perfectly possible for that to be true and to still be an utterly shitty person.
posted by Artw at 4:14 PM on May 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

A lot of guys just get more bozotic as they age. Dave Sim, James P Hogan, Orson Scott Card. Miller. I always wonder which kind of disease it is: one where they have always been trash inside but the filters break down, or if they just get high on their own supply too much and never come beck down.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:15 PM on May 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

Miller is certainly one of comics' finest artists, but he's a very limited writer. I imagine this is because he isn't a very mature person. Why would he be, when he became fantastically successful drawing wish fulfillment stories right out of high school? That's not a path to growing up. Consequently, he knows fuck all about life as it is lived by most people. It shows.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:19 PM on May 10, 2018 [16 favorites]

His writing is sometimes criticised as unsubtle – his villains tend to be terribly bad and his heroes tremendously good

um, The Dark Knight is the actual introductory revisionist text in which one is directed to consider Batman as fascist, unless I completely misunderstand many things about comics. Sure, it was implicit in prior authors' interpretations of the character. What was unsettling later, and ultimately alienating with regard to underwear perverts from my point of view, was realizing that Miller still regarded his fascist Batman as a good guy.
posted by mwhybark at 4:24 PM on May 10, 2018 [24 favorites]

The other thing that happened to him, other than booze and getting involved with neocons, is he and Lynn Varley got divorced. She'd been with him through his strongest creative period and I wonder how much her influence kept him on the rails.
posted by Artw at 4:24 PM on May 10, 2018 [11 favorites]

Back in the day, Howard Chaykin was the comics auteur positioned to go full leather fascist between American Flagg! (correctly understood as satire and a direct influence on Dark Knight) and Blackhawk. I've always been amused that one of his earliest works was an adaptation of and collaboration with Chip Delany.

(WTF? A Spielberg Blackhawk movie?)
posted by mwhybark at 4:36 PM on May 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

I suspect he's actually just as shitty but wants to sell sell some supergirl YA books or whatever, and frankly there are people better at it that can do those with no history of shittiness.

To be honest, I don't think Miller's capable of that kind of two-faced cunning. He's a lower-his-head-and-charge kind of creator, and a lot of men in their '50s were (and are) swindled by the right wing propaganda machine in the aughts.

Redemption is a thing and Xerxes better knock my block off, that guy has one hell of a story. I'd much rather he do a sequel, tho, call it "The Sacred Band" where Sparta got its block knocked off good and proper by a Democracy not interested in imperial ambition like the Athenians were.

This is good news, while its at it, maybe the Brain Eater can give back Dave Sim, too?

(It can keep Victoria Jackson.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:01 PM on May 10, 2018

Howard Chaykin‘s latest did not go down well at all - his whole trans fetishisn/phobia thing (present even back in Flagg) is pretty awful in a modern light and his whole “edgy” deal doesn’t really work anymore - I think he had some pretty unfortunate reactions to criticism of his work online that were pretty Frank-like.
posted by Artw at 5:02 PM on May 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Hooray for someone who climbed out of the abyss!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:12 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Chaykin's trans fetish/phobia? Y'all haven't read Grant Morrison's The Filth, have you?
posted by runcibleshaw at 5:29 PM on May 10, 2018

Morrison certainly has some stuff going on all over.
posted by Artw at 5:32 PM on May 10, 2018

Receipts: Chaykin's trans fetishism/phobia, during Pride Month no less, with bonus cover art of the violent lynching of a Pakistani man
posted by nicebookrack at 5:45 PM on May 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Morrison certainly has some stuff going on all over.

Claremont and Byrne gave us the Hellfire Club. I know a few who remember fondly Sebastian Shaw's habit of not buttoning his shirt while wearing tight pants.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:47 PM on May 10, 2018

Chaykin's '80s porn comic, Black Kiss, is all about transwomen. Like, that and vampires. That's what it's about. His work may be transphobic, but it seems to be coming from a place of prurient interest in trans people; I don't really think Morrison's is, although he may simply have had to tone it down while working with a big publisher, as he has most of his career. I'm not saying this to excuse Morrison -- certainly some stuff in The Filth reads very transphobic now -- but I don't think what the creators were doing had that much in common.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:50 PM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Morrison's got some kind of bowiesque/alchemical/shamanic interest in gender fluidity going on, between Rebus, Lord Fanny, various RL personas he's had going on at times. So it's a persistant interest. People other than me are probably more qualified to comment on if any of it comes off as clumsy or inappropriate.
posted by Artw at 5:57 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Morrison published The Filth in 2002, while Chaykin published this (TW/NSFW) in the Year of Our Lord 2017.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:03 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am, TBH, not entirely sure how this has become a competition.
posted by Artw at 6:05 PM on May 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

This is my fault and I apologize. I definitely read The Filth as Morrison just dumping all the "bad thoughts" in his head onto the page. I haven't read much Chaykin, and I do think that Morrison is much more thoughtful about those sorts of issues, especially in the last decade or so.
posted by runcibleshaw at 6:11 PM on May 10, 2018

Chaykin is lost. Miller, thankfully, is not. Neil Adams, man. I got to sort of see him in the lunatic crush of the RI Comic Con... he was holding court, wise and witty, and spry is not the word, he's one of those septuagenarians who run marathons as an everyday way of keeping keen.

I do not like the term "white trash", but, again, septuagenarian. He managed to smack the Brain Eater out of Frank Miller. Slack shall be given.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:25 PM on May 10, 2018

Nope. Frank Miller is still off the boat.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:42 PM on May 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

> Hooray for someone who climbed out of the abyss!

There's more than one abyss.
posted by ardgedee at 7:14 PM on May 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

I was on set when they were filming 300 in Montreal. One day I was sitting just off set (a green screen setup), watching the feed on some monitors with several other folks. I was sitting next to a fellow wearing a hat, and for about two hours discussed the movie compared to the graphic novel. It was an interesting conversation, this guy seemed to be very knowledgeable.

We were never formally introduced, later that day I asked someone who he was. "Frank Miller", they said. He had come for a couple of weeks to watch the filming.

All in all, a nice guy to have a conversation with.
posted by HuronBob at 7:17 PM on May 10, 2018 [12 favorites]

I'm withholding judgement, but I am viewing with skepticism. Even during his height, when he was doing things like bringing out the Martha Washington comics, which while fucked up, were rather progressive (the most sympathy that the misogynistic racist antagonist gets is Martha (a Black woman) agreeing to watch him commit suicide, so he's not alone when he dies), he was also writing Sin City, which while technically and artistically excellent and reminiscent of much of film noir, is blatantly misogynist and messed up about sex in general (it, along with Batman Year One gave rise to the Whores Whores Whores comic). That is to say, it's not completely surprising to me that he went off the deep end into right wing batshittery. Whether he managed to come back from that, is to be seen, but even when he wasn't there, he was still problematic, to say the least.
posted by Hactar at 8:26 PM on May 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Miller is a little twerp who idolizes brutes. For me, it kind of worked with noir (Sin City), while his Batman was a fascist horror. I guess it's good that he regrets something.

Besides his politics, it's hard to forgive him for grimdark. For awhile it seemed preferable to (say) the 60s Batman, but it's just as silly and a whole lot less fun.
posted by zompist at 8:35 PM on May 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

I'm more than a little dubious that it was all about the booze (or even a combination of that and being in a relationship with a neocon) that took Frank Miller down the dark path. You can, in fact, see traces of modern Miller in TDKR, and follow his obsession with hard men through Sin City and 300. And he was rewarded well for that journey, right up until Holy Terror, when he finally got around to publishing it after he'd had to scrape the Batman serial numbers off of it.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to when he supposedly took this sabbatical that the writer of this piece keeps referring to; just about any time that Miller hasn't been publishing something, he's been working on a movie, and the writer seems quick to dismiss "a halting return to comics in 2015, when he worked on a Batman graphic novel", by which he probably means The Dark Knight III: The Master Race, which no one seems to have asked for. I think that it's likely that he started shedding fans after Holy Terror.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:43 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why do we feel the need for these guys to redeem themselves? Personally, I never need to see another comic by Frank Miller or Neal Adams. Sure they may have done good work in the past, but their glories are long faded. It's time for new faces trying new things.

I've posted in the past about my intense dislike of Miller, and no matter what personal redemption arc he embarks on now, it won't change the fact he made it uncomfortable for me to be a female comic reader due to his horrible treatment of female characters. He did it time and time and time again, and to make matters worse, he was lauded for his efforts. Now is not the time for him.

As for Neal, I barely know what to say. A few years back when Batman Odyssey first hit the shelves, I was so excited to see a new, fresh, Adams take on Batman. Then I started hearing more about it and reading the reviews and looking at preview pages. It was evident that Adams of yore was not the Adams of this century, and certainly not the Adams for me anymore, and I'll admit I was disappointed, but such is life. People change, abilities improve or decline, political viewpoints shift, and you either have to accept the new realities or live in the past. So I moved on. Now, that's not to say I didn't pay a tiny bit of attention whenever I heard of new projects by Adams, but nothing I've heard about them have convinced me that they're worth my attention or my dollars.

Just recently I stopped by a local comics shop to pick up an issue of Action #1000, and I had a chat with the owner about what's new, what I haven't heard of, etc. and an issue of Deadman caught my eye, and I asked the shop owner about it, because it wasn't on my radar. The shop owner seemed reluctant to even speak about it, and started with an apology that it was Neal Adams. He didn't need to say much more than that, although he did, and I gratefully put the comic down, saving myself the cover price of the purchase. Years ago, I would have never imagined passing up a new offering of Neal's Deadman, but again, times change, and I think it's time we recognize that time has passed both Adams and Miller by.
posted by sardonyx at 8:48 PM on May 10, 2018 [10 favorites]

The Neil Adams Batman: Odyssey series is astonishingly bizarre and incoherent.
posted by straight at 9:17 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why do we feel the need for these guys to redeem themselves?

Mostly, it's the aging core of fanboys who are both catered to by the Big Two in its compulsive, repeated regression to mostly-Silver-Age-inspired versions of their characters and are hugely resistant to both comics characters and comics fandom becoming more diverse (and especially more female), who want an excuse to read their comics again. Especially WRT Miller, lots of these guys bent over backwards to justify picking up The Dark Knight Strikes Back and All-Star Batman and Robin as some sort of super-clever subversion of the tropes that they turned up to 11. As for Adams... well, I think that even the group that I described above mostly know him through the artists influenced by him who were hot in the late seventies and eighties, John Byrne and Bill Sienkiewicz. Miller probably still has some juice thanks to the movie adaptations of his work; Adams probably pissed away his last real chance at relevance with Batman: Odyssey, and is trying to latch onto Miller.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:39 PM on May 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

No. Appeal for clemency denied. He’s had multiple chances at comebacks and he blew them all to become yet another alt-right white male abuser, someone who actually is personally partially responsible for the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in this country during the 00s. “Oh I was drunk” is an unacceptably weak excuse and doesn’t even begin to address the cultural impact and damage of “300”. There are Even Miller at his best is someone the comic industry doesn’t need any more of; at his worst he’s an active racist/fascist propagandist. There is absolutely no reason that Frank Miller should be taken out of the trashcan he’s hurled himself into and I’m glad metafilter doesn’t seem to be having it.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:38 PM on May 10, 2018 [12 favorites]

I’m disgusted of course that this article is framing Frank Miller, a 61-year-old man, as a wayward child. Is there really no age at which men are considered to be full adults who are responsible for themselves and their decisions? How old is this guy Neal Adams who thinks of Miller as a son? Is this not grossly beyond the life phase when it becomes your responsibility to take care of your parents, rather than the other way around? The amount of responsibility Adams is taking for Frank Miller being a functioning human being is really sad:

Adams wishes he’d told Miller that life wasn’t just work. “We just talked about work. And if you don’t teach family or good health to somebody, then suddenly you turn around and go, ‘Oh, my God. We didn’t have that conversation.’ And you feel like shit, because Frank didn’t. And now he’s having to learn it.”

Unless I’m missing some big pieces of this story, isn’t a situation like Dave Sim and his lifelong struggles with schizophrenia, this is someone who has felt entitled to other people catering to him for literally his entire life, an old man in ill health in his 60s who is being talked about like he was somebody’s 20something-year-old son who dropped out of college and is returning after a brief bender phase. there is a way to talk about elderly reprobates finding a healthier way to exist in the world but this article doesn’t want to admit that Miller is a grown man and has been for a very long time. There’s something really grotesque about all of this.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 11:01 PM on May 10, 2018 [21 favorites]

I want a Frank Miller plugin for my comics reader app so I can convert comics with great stories but questionable artistic choices.
posted by craniac at 6:45 AM on May 11, 2018

I was excited for The Dark Knight Strikes Back. And then I read the first issue. And I was done.

As far as I can tell, the best thing that Frank Miller did since DKR was his cameo in the Ben Affleck Daredevil movie (he played a guy who was killed by having a lot of pencils thrown into his throat; he lies on the floor and plays dead, which is exactly as much as I want to hear out of him now.)
posted by mephron at 7:14 AM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty skeptical of any kind of redemption, but: I just submitted a master's thesis that was specifically about independent autobiographical comics by women, and even within that targeted space I was amazed at how impossible I found it to do any kind of long-term formal analysis of the progress of comics over the past few decades without bringing Frank Miller into it. I actively didn't want to, but it's like he (and Art Spiegelman) were out there actively trying to elbow their way in.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:24 AM on May 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Does he have any regrets? “I don’t want to go back and start erasing books I did,” he replies. “I don’t want to wipe out chapters of my own biography. But I’m not capable of that book again.”

The topic of redemption seems pretty irrelevant, here; he isn't even pretending to be sorry for the harm he did, or even acknowledging that there was any. He's just saying that he's left that phase of his life behind, which is something quite different.
posted by Aravis76 at 7:27 AM on May 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Holy Terror appears to be still in print and for sale, for instance.
posted by Artw at 8:13 AM on May 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I believe that redemption is a real thing, and that we can redeem ourselves for our bad choices. But that actually requires some sort of effort. Redemption requires remorse and a genuine attempt to make restitution. Miller spent years whipping up hatred and hysteria, there's no reason to think that he experiences any sort of remorse at all, and he's done sweet FA to make restitution to the innumerable people he has harmed with his hatred.

Being sufficiently sober to not say something egregiously terrible every single time you speak is not a step on the road to redemption, even if it's preferable to the alternative.
posted by howfar at 9:47 AM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

“Don't lock me up for those brutal murders! I'm not capable of them again! The victims are all dead, for one thing...”
posted by howfar at 9:48 AM on May 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

As far as I can tell, the best thing that Frank Miller did since DKR was his cameo in the Ben Affleck Daredevil movie

Daredevil: Born Again, Batman Year One, and Elektra: Assassin were all shortly after DKR* and I consider Elektra: Assassin his turning point. The story's incoherent but the depiction of the politician with exactly two faces -- optimistic grin and frown of stern resolve, literally the same two images cut and pasted over and over -- remains for me a high point in effective use of the medium (and that may well have been 100% Sienkiewicz -- I don't know.)

* well, the Daredevil was published from 2/86 to 8/86 and DKR was 3/86 to 6/86, so it concluded after DKR. I fact-check myself so you don't have to.
posted by Zed at 11:31 AM on May 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’m a big fan of Martha Washington but, uh, I may be maintaining that by never going back and reading it.
posted by Artw at 12:41 PM on May 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sienkiewicz is almost definitely repsonsible; I remember an interview with Miller that said he wound up writing the book Marvel Method (scripting over finished art) because the pages he got back were so far removed from what he'd expected.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:03 PM on May 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

The only thing I like about Miller is that he made everybody in his film adaptation of The Spirit Jewish except maybe Samuel L. Jackson, although it wasn't explicit that he wasn't Jewish.

I think Will Eisner would have appreciated that too, even if he would have been heartbroken from every bad decision Miller made with the film, which was every other decision.
posted by maxsparber at 2:53 PM on May 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

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