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What's Frank Miller up to Now?
A Decade of Sin City
By Shawna Ervin-Gore, Dark Horse Comics
Nine years ago, Frank Miller was a highly respected young comics creator. Hed written and drawn some of the most celebrated contemporary comics titles, and had enjoyed an enormous amount of cross-media popularity, considering how insular the field of comics creating tends to be. And still, hed never done any work on a comic book that was solely his own.
Miller had been working professionally on comics since 1976, when at the age of 19 he moved to New York City from his hometown in Vermont to be closer to the publishers he hoped to work for. Within eight years, Miller had revamped a flagging superhero titleMarvels Daredeviland was bringing literary respect to a genre of comics that was almost entirely boiled down to imitation. And a few years later, with the haunting and titanic Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Miller unwittingly revitalized the superhero genre and launched himself toward creative superstardomor at least the comics industrys own version of it.
Miller had established respect for his contribution to the industry fairly early in his career, but it wasnt until the early 1990s that the comics industry opened enough to allow Frank Miller to publish a comic book that he created, crafted, and owned. That book was Sin City. Sin City first debuted as a serial in Dark Horse Presents and grew from the wellspring of Millers passionate desire to create a comic book with two distinct qualitiesit wouldnt be a superhero comic, and it had to be a crime comic.
Enter Marv and Goldie. And a psychotic killer. And a crime-drenched town. And a corrupted Diocese. Sin City is a town like no other, but most places resemble it in one way or another. Thugs live everywhere and women sell their bodies all the time, but if everyday life is a storm, Sin City exists in the eye of a hurricane.
Since its inception, Sin City has contended in a comics market thats been superhero turf for half a century, and the series has won critical acclaim, tons of industry awards, and the hungry following of a large crossover audiencefans of both so-called alternative comics and mainstream superguy comics swear by Millers abilities and integrity.
That said, Sin City has also been a kick in the pants for Miller to write. Nine years and almost as many trade paperbacks and finished series later, hes still got too many stories in his head and enough enthusiasm to free them on a regular basis. And, thanks in part to a career kept healthy by numerous other projects, hes been able consistently to produce high quality work that makes lots of people, including himself, very happy.
"When I started Sin City, Ive got to admit . . . Im a fantasy guy," Miller explained. "And early on I made the determination that all the women would be drop-dead gorgeous and all the cars would be vintage. These were two things that were important, because that makes it fun to draw, and it makes this the fantasy I want it to be."
Miller makes no apologies for the amount of personal pleasure he derives from his work, and while hes been credited with opening the world of comics to new genres, he doesnt necessarily want that sort of adulation as much as hed like to inspire other creators to create comics that fall outside the superhero genre that often stifles the potential impact of the medium.
"Its funny because I consider myself to be someone whos creatively fairly conservative, in that my idea of going out on my own is to do crime comics or historical stories," he observed. "And thats considered bold in our field.
"Our industry, like the entire world, is trapped with language that doesnt make sense. For instance, people refer to mainstream comics. Now, look at mainstream television, mainstream novels, mainstream anything, and its not stuck on one genre of a bunch of guys in tights hitting each other."
And considering how established comic books have become in the public mind as a viable form of entertainment (practically everyone in American society has read at least one in his or her lifetime), Miller is amazed by the almost impaired rate at which comics and the entire industry has developed.
"Its shocking, in a way, that so much time has passed and so little variety has evolved. Since the mid-fifties, its been nothing but guys in tights . . .and eventually there was the bold innovation of very large-breasted women hitting each other.
"And the comic book mentality has to change," Miller emphasized. "I mean, our centerpiece in our industry shouldnt be Superman or Spider-Man. It oughtta be Bone.
That is the most mainstream comic out there. It draws on cultural sources that are universal, its beautifully crafted, someone of any age could read it. Fringe stuff to me is Spider-Man. Just say the wordSpider-Man. I mean, its silly. I grew up on it, and I love it, but its silly."
If anything is to change the course of the comics industrys fate, it will take a concerted effort on the parts of both individual creators and comics publishers to achieve that.
"Jack Kirby, whenever anybody would say, I love your work and heres the Captain America story I did, he would reply, if you love my work, make up your own damn character. Hed always say that. Its like Hectors body being dragged around Troy. How many times are they gonna do it?"
While many of the iconic superheroes that dominate the comics market have been around in one form or another for twenty, forty, and in some cases, over fifty years, Sin City is a series that has earned a strong, core following in a much shorter time. Just shy of its decade anniversary, Frank Miller is still approaching Sin City with an intensity and love that is remarkable.
"It was 1990 when I started Sin City, which is the first thing I wrote, drew, and owned," said Miller. "Its been an absolute blast."