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SDCC: The Past, Present & Future of Frank Miller

Thursday at Comic-Con International in San Diego came to a close with Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Superman: Year One) speaking with The Hollywood Reporter's Borys Kit about his impressive body of work across multiple mediums.

Kit began by asking Miller about his first publisher Marvel work.

"He's talking about lettering," Miller said. "I wasn't paid, so I wouldn't really call it 'published.'"

Kit went on to discuss how Miller sent in a fan letter about how he was sick about the trope of helpless females in comics, and he asked him why he wrote that.

"Because that's what I thought," he replied. "They were rarely the action characters, and that seemed abundantly silly. I always wanted to tell more stories about heroines."

"There were some very strong women in my life," he continued. "It just seemed natural."

Kit then asked about Miller's 'origin story.'

"My father was a traveling salesman," Miller said. "He would come back from NYC with a pile of comics as a gift for me. So I just fell in love with them. They were considered at the time very safe reading material for children. Also, on Saturday mornings, there would be Superman cartoons. They were astonishingly good."

When asked if his parents encouraged him, Miller said, "My mother clearly shook her head. My father was in love with ambition, so he just said, 'My boy is going to NYC and I'm driving him there.'"

Regarding his transition into writing after starting as an artist, Miller said, "I came up with a story. I lobbied for it very hard, to draw and write Daredevil. I came up with my first story that introduced Elektra as a trial and it went over real well, so they just kept letting me do that."

Miller went on to say he faced no pushback when introducing Elektra, noting that he modeled his story after those by Will Eisner.

He also discussed meeting Neal Adams, who he cites as a huge influence on his career. "I was one of many people who was ushered into comics by Neal."

"We owe Neal Adams tremendously," he added.

Kit asked about mentorship today in comics next.

"This is a much easier field to enter than it ever has been before," he said. "Publishers open their arms at conventions."

Kit asked about Dark Knight Returns next, and who approached whom.

"Dick Giordano," Miller said, noting that Dick asked him if he had any ideas about Batman.

"I was 29 at the time and so are all the superheroes, so I was like, damned if I'm gonna be older than Batman," Miller said. "So I made him the impossibly old age of 50."

"This was a chance at creative freedom," he added. "To prove you have something to say that's yours. To convince enough people it's worthwhile. So I set about to come up with new kinds of comics. I wanted to show there was more than radioactive guys in tights."

Kit asked about how Frank's status changes his perspective.

"You take all the attention you're getting, good or bad, and you keep your eyes on what you really value and treasure," he said.

As for Miller's return to Marvel for Born Again, Miller said, "I got called to fill in on an issue of Daredevil that'd already been drawn. It was by this kid named Mazzucchelli, and he was good. It was about stripping Daredevil down and bringing him back to full strength."

I knew we were gonna work together again," he continued. "I had all these notes left over from DKR, and I realized it was another story. That become Year One."

Kit then asked about Miller's relationship with Jim Shooter.

"We talked and traveled together, and argued a lot," he said. "He was an important force in comics and he taught me a whole lot."

On the subject of Sin City, Miller said, "I started using old tools,  lot of brushwork. It was a long, artistic journey and it's one I enjoy revisiting."

Kit asked about Miller's Hollywood career next.

"They called me up," Miller said. "There was some offer and I needed to have an agent. Then, when they wanted me on Robocop, it happened that way. When it came to Sin City, Robert Rodriguez called me up and it was irresistible. The movie bombed, though. I screwed up. I can't complain a bit, I just wish it was a better movie."

As for his biggest takeaway, Miller said, "Know what you want to do and hold to it. You cannot be a blade of grass in the wind if it's your project. It's a matter of being persistent and consistent."

Kit brought up The Spirit next.

"More precious," he described it. "With Sin City, I felt the confidence of authorship. With The Spirit, I was so much in awe of Will Eisner. It was very different."

Kit asked about Miller's YA work next, given his history with more violent books.

"I'm a restless guy," he said. "For a while, it just felt like everything was getting so dark. When things are all going in one direction, I have a natural inclination to want to push in the other direction. When I first showed up in comics, there was still a comics code. It actually said you couldn't have the words 'horror' or 'terror' in the title. It was clearly an effort by the code to put the big guys out of business. The industry was like an adult who'd been a battered child -- still wincing from and an enemy that wasn't there anymore."

"A lot's been done about the gender issue," he added. "But it's still a lot of musclebound guys. There's a whole nother gender out there that isn't male."

Kit then asked about how comics can become more prominent, to which Miller said, "We have some advantages. Comics is a literary form. It can appeal to that quiet voice. It also tells stories that are quieter in general. Comics can also crawl inside characters heads and give you the character's thoughts. We just have to analyze what our strenghts are and play to them."

"There's no other form that utilizes drawing like comics do," he continued. "We have to savor that. Comics have an astonishing array of artists. The basic baseline level of draftsmanship in comics is high beyond belief."

Kit then "accused" Miller of killing the thought balloon to close things out, citing The Dark Knight Returns and Batman being the narrator, much to Miller's amusement.

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