Introduction

5e12d06da0170ac1d188c7.L._V150996643_SX200_

The art of creating comic books and the craft of making films are very much dependent on range of trades to complete a finished work.  Creating a comic book, like making a motion picture, is ultimately about telling a story.  The nature of the comic book and motion picture industry puts a certain amount of pressure on an author of a work to see his or her vision though to the end of production.  Comic books like the motion picture medium require many roles to complete a project.   Simply look at the title pages on any comic book and you see credits for a writer, penciler, inker, colorist, letterer, editor and editor and chief.  The same can be understood as you watch the credits roll at the end of a movie.  There are many roles to play in the final production of such works.  But there are a few authors in the profession of comic books and in film making that have made a point to control the process by establishing close visionary relationships with collaborators in this process.

Will Eisner, considered a founding father of comic art had noted.   “The comic book form has suffered greatly because the discipline has been broken into an assembly line process.    The best work is done by one author”.

Frank Miller, a student of Will Eisner, has taken this idea to heart in his own professional work in the comic book industry.  Miller like Eisner is at his best both an author and an artist.   This has allowed him to explore his own vision of what the comic book medium can produce.   Utilizing the franchised characters in the big two publishers, Marvel and DC, Miller was able to establish a popular fan base and eventually transform the medium.   Collaborating with ground breaking artists in the field allowed Miller to explore and expand the traditional art of comic book story telling.  Very few artists in the field are able to comment on pop culture, social morality and politics as Miller has.   When he found the industry  codes to confining to his vision, he had the distinction to move to the independent publishers to explore new ground breaking work.  As an artist Frank Miller is always looking in new directions for storytelling  and by its very nature film making has become his most recent pursuit.   As film director Miller will face many challenges in defining his own authorship throughout the process.  His success will be found in continuing his close collaboration efforts with artists in the field that can share his vision and produce a signature work.

Exhibited Titles:

Eisner / Miller:  a one on one interview  by Charles Brownstein (Dark Horse Books) (2005)

Amazing Heroes #69 (Fantagraphics) (1982)

Amazing Heroes #99 (Fantagraphics) (1982)

Amazing Heroes  #102 (Fantagraphics) (1982)

Batman: Black and White #2 (DC Comics) (1995)

Captain America #241 (Marvel Comics) (1968)

Captain America #255 (Marvel Comics) (1968)

Comics Interview #2 (1983)

Incredible Hulk #268 (Marvel Comics) (1962)

Marvel Fanfare #18 (Marvel Comics) (1982)

Marvel Team-Up #100 (Marvel Comics) (1972)

Power Man and Iron Fist #74 (Marvel Comics) (1972)

Spectacular Spider-Man  #60 (Marvel Comics) (1976)

Spider-Woman #32 (Marvel Comics) (1978)

Star Trek  #5 (Marvel Comics) (1980)

Advertisements

Daredevil

dd

Daredevil #158 May 1979 was Frank Miller’s first work on a commercial series with Marvel comics.  It was as the time a low selling title and was given to the new talent in the industry.

Frank Miller originally co-authored Daredevil with Roger McKenzie.   Later Miller took over writing chores and the title took off in sales.   One of the features attributed to this rise in readership was the introduction of a strong female character Elektra in Daredevil #168.   Aside from the established character of Wonder Woman most female roles in comics were illustrated as mother figures or sexual objects.  Elektra had a unique appeal as being both sexual and heroic.  Something not really explored before in the comic medium.

Frank Miller collaborated very closely with some key artists over time to create a signature style.  Klaus Jansen inked most of Frank Miller’s layouts in during his run on Daredevil.  The heavy black lines of ink Klaus Jansen used to embellish Frank Millers ground breaking layouts became a signature of his work throughout his career.

Another artist Frank Miller collaborated with on the Daredevil series was David Mazzuchelli.  The Born Again story arc in Daredevil #227 – 233 written by Miller, pushes the main characters to the point of breaking down then finding resolution and redemption.  This tension is exaggerated by Mazzuchelli’s sinuous inks.  As the pressure builds in the story, the characters physically take on an abstraction of emotion.  An interesting example involves a page of panels that display a rich background of dialog and actions, as the tension builds for the central character the next panel noise seems to drop off to silence and the focus is drawn in to close up facial expression in reaction what is going on off screen.  The cinematic elements are clearly displayed in this sequence of panels in the comic book.

Exhibited Titles:

Daredevil # 178-191, 227-233 (Marvel Comics) (1964)

Ronin

ronin_1_09

Frank Miller along with Chris Claremont penciled and co-authored the 4 issue limited series Wolverine (1982) for Marvel Comics.    This spinoff of the popular character Wolverine from the Uncanny X-Men title allowed Frank Miller to explore his interest in foreign comics.  In this case Manga representing Feudal Japan, and the discipline of the Ronin or masterless  Samurai.

Ronin was Frank Miller’s first author owned creation for DC Comics.  It ran as a six issue mini-series for DC Comics (1983).  It was his first artistic collaborative effort with Lynn Varley who inked and colored this work.  This mini-series was printed on a higher quality prestige format paper allowing the artist to express the details of line ink and painterly coloring in a way not previously explored.

“Almost everything about the Ronin will be different from my previous work.  I’m exploring brand new ground.  That sort of concept is the very thing that turns me on and gets me very involved, but the overall look of Ronin is much less stark and much more textural.  Because of the way it’s being printed and the way it’s being covered.  I’ve developed a different way to render it.  A different way to approach it.  This is getting the finest production that you can get.  Consequently  everything from writing to the art to the coloring has to be changed radically to accommodate it.  It’s as if I’m doing bw tv movies and all of a sudden I’m doing full color films. “  -Frank Miller  Comics Feature #25  (1983).

In this comic book the color has as much of an expressive meaning as the language throughout the work.   Further, dialog and wording are major elements in controlling pace.  Breakdowns and page layouts are profound departures from Miller’s previous work.  Double page horizontal panels, vertical panels, one panel over a double page layout are just a few of the techniques that Miller uses to punctuate his signature style.

Exhibited Titles:

Lone Wolf and Cub # 1-6 (First Comics) (1987)

Ronin  # 1-6 (DC Comics) (1984)

Wolverine  #1-4 (Marvel Comics) (1982)

Batman Year One

batman-figure002

Batman # 404-407 (1940) is considered by many the inspiration for director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005).  DC Comics Batman four issue “Year One” story arc signaled a reboot on the Batman and the rest of DC continuity.  Sparked by an editorial decision to put what many readers had considered the old and uninspired DC universe through a literal cross comic-book  Crisis on Infinite Earths #1-12 (1985),  the Batman was brought back to his basic origins and story line.  Collaborating once again with David Mazzuchelli as artist, and colorist Richmond Lewis,  the book has a nostalgic tone.   Along with the art deco cityscape and the shadowy color palate the story follows the intersecting narratives of Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon’s early years.  Mazzuchelli exaggerates the tension in lines of ink as abstractions of the emotionally charged narrative.  Mazzuchelli’s interpretation of Miller’s writing is a rich commentary on how comic book art has matured to a serious art form.

Exhibited Titles:

Batman# 404-407   (DC Comics) (1940)

Batman: Year One by: Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli   (Warner/DC Comics Hardcover) (1998)

Elektra

elektra-lives-again-frank-miller-lynn-varley-1990

Elektra Lives Again (1990) was a graphic novel published by Epic, a mature audience subsidiary of Marvel Comics.   This work was written and drawn by Frank Miller and colored by Lynn Varley.  This graphic novel doesn’t really resurrect the mysterious character Elektra for some wild new team-up adventure, rather it awakens her spirit in Matt Murdock’s (Daredevil’s) dreams.    This is a very hallucinary tale of haunting dreams.  Defying what is real or not in Matt Murdock’s past.  Miller’s meticulous draftsmanship is perfectly complimented by Lynn Varley’s washed out grey and blood red water coloring.  Miller notes:

“Working with Lynn Varley,  particularly on the Elektra book,  my lines are so vastly amplified and reinterpreted that the book is much more defined as a horror story than it would have  been.  Lynn gave the art in Elektra Lives Again its lightning, its temp, its tone.  I’m touching up the script to take advantage of her work. “ – Comics Interview #82  (1983).

Elektra Assassin (1986) was co-authored with artist  Bill Sienkiewicz .  Up until this Limited Series, Frank Miller had collaborated with artists that gave his books a signature style or look.  This work, along with the graphic novel Daredevil: Love and War (1986), was the first time Miller collaborated with an artist and allowed him the freedom to interpret his authorship in a radically new artistic direction.  This level of trust would take the art of the book into an abstract almost surreal direction.    Sienkiewicz explored the exaggerated presence of characters.  Frank Millers use of multiple narrative voices as a mechanism to introduce characters by impression or action is as if he was directing a movie.   Elektra Assassin is an expressive painted art comic book.  Radical at the time, it allowed the artist Bill Sienkiewicz to freely run with Miller’s over the top Elektra story line of corrupt politics, double agents and ninja assassins.

Exhibited Titles:

Daredevil : Love and War by: Frank Miller Bill Sienkiewicz (Marvel Comics Graphic Novel) (1986)

Elektra Lives Again  by: Frank Miller (Epic Comics Hardcover) (1991)

Elektra Assassin # 1-8 (Epic Comics) (1986)

The Dark Knight

frankmiller-dkr-love-01

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) tells the story of a 55 year  old Batman who  has come back to fight crime in violent urban future.  The four issue limited series from DC comics was printed in the “prestige format” square bound on heavy stock paper rather than news print.   This format perfectly represented Miller’s pencils,  Klaus Janson‘s use of heavy  ink lines that defined dramatic positive and negative space, as well as Lynn Varley’s dark and rich color palate.   Miller organizes great chunks of running narration throughout the book emitting from television screens in panel layouts.  These talking head segments appear to inform the reader with real time news and events yet at the same time advance the storyline with subtle commentary.   Miller’s work can be described as highly cinematic with the ability to juxtapose simultaneous events within the context of one frame in an overall layout on the comic book page.  Batman : the Dark Knight Returns remains one of the most popular works of the author  and demonstrates his long term commitment to collaboration with artists that illustrate his signature style.

Batman:  The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001) had been a standing offer from DC since the success of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.  Published again in the prestige format Miller once again took the helm to write, draw, ink and work with long time collaborator Lynn Varley as colorist.   Miller and initially approached this project as satirical, reinterpreting various characters by the nature of their powers and how they affect their personal lives. Working with these trademark characters owned by DC is a way of playing with pop culture.  Exploring relationships, interests, politics, etc., were considered a humorous parody of what the readers expected from these characters.  However, there is also a contradictory nature in this book which can be attributed to the September 11 attacks in 2001.  Living in New York City at the time of writing this book FM recalls,

“And then 9/11 happened, and I had just run a flying Bat mobile into a skyscraper and blowup downtown metropolis.”  “Well I couldn’t keep going without addressing it.  So I had to stop the story and make it take a darker tone.    Somehow, I found that in a certain way, dramatically, the darker you get the funnier you get, because after a while you have to laugh”. – Comics Journal Library Frank Miller Interviews #6 (2003).

Exhibited Titles:

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1-4 (DC Comics) (1986)

Batman:  The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1-3(DC Comics) (2001)

Comics Interview #31 (1983)

RoboCop 2

Frank_Miller_RoboCop_1

After the success of The Dark Knight Series at DC Comics Frank Miller was looking for a creative change in direction.  It was clear that over time Hollywood was becoming more and more interested in the comic book medium for source material on screen.  When the producer of RoboCop 2 , Jon Davidson called Miller it was clear he had recently seen his work on The Dark Knight and wanted that cynical view of violence and nature in this story.   Frank Miller was initially interested in the project and the similarity of RoboCop and the character of Frankenstein.    Though frustrated by the amount of re-writes, Miller was invited to work on set as the production was filming to make changes to the screenplay.    As Miller notes “The Screenplay is the most scrutinized piece of writing I’ve ever done.”  The millions of dollars at stake require a collaborative effort from director, writer and actor.  There must be a comfort in collaboration to make a work successful.  Ultimately the final script penned by Miller vaguely resembled his first draft of the work and upon release was a critical flop at the box office.  Miller was not happy with this outcome and criticized the studio as interfering with his vision of the script.

William Christensen the publisher of Avatar Press had eventually acquired the lost screenplay of Frank Miller’s RoboCop 2.  Miller agreed to have this work published and collaborated with Steven Grant to write the comic book adaption and Juan Jose Ryp to illustrate the book.  Frank Miller did the cover art for the nine issue series running from July 2003 to March 2004.

Exhibited Titles:

Frank Miller RoboCop # 1-9 (Avatar Press) (2003)

Comics Interview #82 (1983)

RoboCop 2 directed by: Irvin Kershner (MGM Home Video DVD) (2004)