Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Frank Miller Part 1: Dames, Dark Knights, Devils, and Heroes

Words: Christopher Irving
Pictures: Seth Kushner

         A dead cat greets me at the door to Frank Miller’s studio, a long-haired white feline standing majestically in his living room, flanked by a bookshelf populated with DVDs. 

I look away for a minute, and it is gone.

            Miller sits behind the drawing table in his studio, sporting his trademark black fedora and a black pinstripe blazer over a black t-shirt, his hawkish profile making him look like a modern-day Shadow. His studio is lined with metal display cases bearing everything from old comics memorabilia to souvenirs from his movies—Sin City, 300, and The Spirit. Leonidas’ shield lays on a worktable against the far wall, and Frank points my gaze to the top of one shelf, where Miho’s sword sits in its scabbard.

            Back at his desk, the lanky artist lights up a cigarette and invites me to shut the door and cut my recorder on. To refer to Frank Miller as just a cartoonist or personality would be an understatement: where most artists have one defining period in a long career, Miller has had about three or four, switching styles, and even approaches, in a ballsy and always successful way. Miller has not only redefined comic book genres by combining them in a pastiche-fashion with the hard-boiled world of the Mike Hammers and Sam Spades, but also redefined the general perception of comics through successful film adaptations of key works Sin City and 300.

Despite time living in both L.A. and Charlottesville, Virginia, Miller’s comic run rampant with New York City, creating an authorial vision of the city as a dichotic heavenly cesspool. Miller is the definitive New York cartoonist, following in the footsteps of his mentor Will Eisner.

“I’ve been in this studio since 2001,” Frank notes, leaning back in his swivel desk chair. “I managed to move here a few months before 9/11, and am very glad I did, because this is my city.”

When Frank Miller arrived back, it was just in time for the terrorist attacks of September 11. Terrorists forced passenger airplanes into both towers of the World Trade Center, changing the social and political landscape of America and the world. Miller’s response on the five-year anniversary was an essay, “This Old Piece of Cloth,” for NPR’s This I Believe program. Almost five years later than his piece is his latest response to terrorism (a villain largely ignored by mainstream superhero comics), as international terrorists are pushed to the forefront of his upcoming comic book Holy Terror.

“It’s going to be a very 21st century version of Superman punching out Hitler,” Miller notes. “Osama bin Laden is not mentioned, and I attribute one line, and it’s not as obvious as that. It’s definitely my story about a crusade on terror.”

Originally intended as a Batman story, Frank has recast it with his new character, The Fixer—one far more violent and brutal than The Dark Knight.
“I spoke with Paul Levitz about this, and it’s not a Batman story,” Frank elaborates. “It’s the closest cultural comparison would be Jack Ryan. He’s a much rougher player. At some point, you’ve got to say ‘Is this Batman or not?’
“[The Fixer] breaks somebody’s spine on purpose. It’s just that if I’m going to do Batman, I want it to be Batman. The Fixer has become his own character and is much rougher. He’s also going against up Al-Qaida. These people are insane. These people blow themselves up and are not the nicest people. They’re crazy.”

In the ‘40s, superheroes went up against the Nazis and the Japanese of World War II on a regular basis, while the ‘50s and ‘60s had them facing off against the perceived threat of Red China and Russia against a Cold War backdrop. This current “War on Terror” has lasted for a decade in a time where corporately-sponsored superheroes now stay out of politically controversial and potentially volatile wars.

Not so with Frank Miller, who has no illusions about finding a publisher:

“It will be either Dark Horse or another company.
“If all else fails, I’ll do it.”

            Frank Miller first came to New York City in 1976 from Vermont, armed with a portfolio Frankensteined together out of polyester, cardboard, and bailing twine. What did he do, with his aspirations and dreams of becoming a comic book artist? Frank just called up the biggest comic book artist of the time: Neal Adams.

“I just looked him up in the phone book and he was there. That was back when artists were much more accessible,” Frank recalls as he lights another cigarette. “I honestly just looked him up. He was my hero and I found his name in the phone book.
“I also found Steve Ditko’s name in the phone book…He was a very friendly man. I called him up and met him at a party. But with Neal, it was more like ‘Can you be here in twenty minutes?’”
Frank calls that first meeting “Awkward,” and then pauses thoughtfully for a second. “I had a big portfolio of artwork that I wanted to show him. I almost broke his nose with it when I opened it up. He looked over my artwork and said ‘You’re from where?’

“I said ‘Vermont.’

“‘You should go back there and pump gas. You’re never going to be good.’”

            Adams has an infamous reputation for being a hard-ass, especially to new talent, critical and harsh to what some would deem a fault. For Adams, though, the big man’s motives are to find out just how serious an aspiring artist really is: if they want to work in comics that badly, then they’ll overcome their ego and actually become better.

“The women in my life would tell you, I’m very persistent,” Miller says with a smile. “I kept coming back until finally Neal, at one point, said ‘He knows he can’t draw. I already told him that but the storytelling is ballsy,’ and he got me my first job at Gold Key Comics.”

Frank’s first job was a Twilight Zone story for Gold Key Comics in 1978, a publisher that was in their last decade, and had seen better days the decade before. He’d follow it up with another Zone story, but soon go on to the bigger pasture of DC Comics. Soon making the move to Marvel, he broke in and drew some John Carter, Warlord of Mars, as well as a few issues of Spider-Man. Frank Miller, young and lanky and determined, was about to hit his first defining moment as a cartoonist.

“I had done a couple issues of Spectacular Spider-Man and I looked at Daredevil, [who] was blind. All of a sudden I realized that I could do all my crime stories through this character,” Frank states.

Daredevil had been the poor man’s Spider-Man: he was a blind lawyer in New York City who used his radiaoactively-endowed radar senses to fight crime while jumping around in a bright red suit. When Miller eventually took over the writing chores on Daredevil as well, he followed the adage that a hero is as good as his villains, and took the minor league superhero and pitted him against major league villains. Gone were the threats of lame-ass baddies Stilt Man and The Owl, as they were replaced with The Kingpin (shanghaied from Spider-Man), Bullseye, and an initimable female assassin.

            Daredevil’s New York, under Frank’s run, became darker and more dangerous than the Spider-Man New York he’d seemingly lived in before. New York City itself, particularly Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, became as much a character as the shadowy crimefighter; the stories often took place on the rooftop level, with water towers, pipes and chimneys jutting out to create a skyline reminiscent of German Expressionism’s dramatic edges and shadows. The bold inks of Klaus Janson complemented Miller’s style, giving Daredevil that final Noir look.

“Have you ever flown over?” Frank posits in defense of his rooftops. “There are really that many water towers. It’s not a joke.”

Miller infused elements of crime fiction with ninja action, throwing Matt Murdock/Daredevil’s femme fatale Elektra into the mix. Admittedly his take on Will Eisner’s Spirit antagonist Sand Saref, Elektra was Murdock’s college girlfriend whose fixation on her father turned her to become an assassin after his murder. Working through ninja clan The Hand, the tension between Elektra and Murdock was the crux of Miller’s first year as Daredevil auteur. At the end of his first year, Miller had Kingpin’s assassin Bullseye viciously run Elektra through with her own sai—an unprecedented death of a major character in a superhero comic book.

By the time Miller wrapped up his first run on Daredevil, with 1983’s #191, the character had gone from a predictable superhero archetype to a tortured (and very human) hero struggling to stay on the side of the angels. Matt Murdock wasn’t just a son who avenged his murdered father by dressing up in tights: he was now the son of a washed-up alcoholic boxer of a Dad, who grows up teetering on the razor’s edge between good and evil…always threatening to tip over to the wrong side. What Miller created in Daredevil wasn’t necessarily an anti-hero, but a hero who was never too far from becoming a villain. His run ended quietly but tensely, in an issue that has Daredevil playing Russian Roulette with an invalid Bullseye.

“I guess that’s what it all comes down to, Bullseye…” Daredevil narrates in a caption, the gun aimed between the villain’s eyes. “When it comes to that one, final, fatal act of ending you…” 

The hammer clicks, betraying the revolver’s empty chamber.

“My gun has no bullets. Guess we’re stuck with each other, Bullseye.”

Miller would find himself willingly stuck with Daredevil, going back for a few more stints, as well as being forever associated with him. But that would come later…

While working on the Elektra saga, Miller was invited to join Upstart Studio in the Garment District of New York, working alongside other cartoonists including Howard Chaykin and Walter Simonson. Upstart was a hotbed studio, particularly with Chaykin putting out indy masterpiece American Flagg! and Simonson making Marvel’s Thor mighty again with his trademark run.

“It was a thrill to be in such a pantheon of artists. I really honestly feel like that experience was formative for me,” Frank notes.

The move would be more than just an art table and conversation—Frank was exposed to new influences that took a firm hold of him for his next project, a creator-owned project published through DC Comics, a rare thing for the comics industry of the early 1980s. 

“Both Walt Simonson, and particularly Howard Chaykin, introduced me to the European comics. Then, through a girlfriend Laurie Sutton, I discovered the Japanese comics,” Frank reveals. “That all gave birth to Ronin.”

Miller’s 1983 futuristic tale merges samurai adventure with cybernetics, corporate America, and social dystopia. Ronin starts off looking like the Daredevil Frank Miller with a slightly different inking style, and organically merges different European and Japanese storytelling and inking techniques as it goes. There’s a lot more pen work and stippling towards the end of Ronin; Frank no longer just has a strong Neal Adams influence, as his work wanes more European and gets a bit funkier.

The next few years sees Frank focus on his writing chops, as he returns to Daredevil for a stand-alone issue drawn by John Buscema. Matt Murdock shows up in New Jersey in civvies, and takes down a criminal-run town, storming in like a nameless cowboy, to scrape the corruption away. Between the Elektra Saga and what comes next for Frank and Daredevil, this “Badlands” issue is overlooked. A shame, for its one damn fine single issue.

“I was just getting my chops back on that job,” Frank points out. “It wasn’t like I jumped right in to Born Again that I knew who he was anymore.”
Miller got reacquainted with Matt Murdock, this time with artist David Mazzuchelli, and turned the hero’s life even more upside-down. When Matt’s former secretary and girlfriend turned heroin addict and porn star, Karen Page, sells Daredevil’s identity to the Kingpin for a hit, the crimelord destroys Matt Murdock’s personal life—having Murdock disbarred as an attorney, his funds blocked by the IRS, and his home destroyed. Born Again follows Matt’s complete nervous breakdown and subsequent rebuilding, a postmodernist deconstruction and reconstruction from ground up.

If Daredevil felt a little Sam Spade before, he was now becoming more Mike Hammer, a powder keg of anger and rage. By literally stripping the superhero of his identity, Miller deconstructs Murdock/Daredevil and forces a narrative redefining of the character. Born Again, surprisingly, wasn’t Miller’s final word on Daredevil: he returned years later to write a new origin story (The Man Without Fear, based off an unused film script, with John Romita, Jr. and Al Williamson on art), and Elektra would still haunt Frank as much as she had Murdock.

It’s hard to write about Frank Miller and not do a play-by-play of his career, as most every project hits a pivotal note in his development, each building off of the prior. I only had thirty minutes (that wound up turning into sixty) to talk to him, and we hit on the major points, zeroing in on his more recent work, the post-post-modernist Frank Miller who now tends to embrace more pastiche than realism in his work.

But we have to address the Frank Miller who kicked off “post-modernism” in comics with his 1986 comic The Dark Knight Returns. With story and pencils by Frank, inks by Klaus Janson, and watercolors by Lynn Varley, Dark Knight takes place in a future of Philip K. Dick proportions: Retired after the death of his second Robin, Bruce Wayne hangs up the cape and cowl for good. A heat wave sears Gotham as street punks overtake the streets, with the Batman relegated to being no more than an urban myth whispered amongst the cracked pavement and foundations of Gotham City. An ailing Ronald Reagan is still President with Superman his government flunky. Pushed back to the edge, Batman rises up again and fights enemies new and old, while suffering with the strains of middle age and the media-riddled social climate.

Like Daredevil in Born Again, Batman is broken down and built back up in Dark Knight Returns: his new war on crime is a bit rusty, until he’s beaten to hell by a gang leader. Coming back in his original costume, Batman is wiser from his defeat: Being crusty and old, he can’t fight like a young man anymore. In order to win, he’ll have to fight dirtier than he possibly ever has before. By facing his mortality, he becomes seemingly immortal and more true to the urban myth whispered about on the news and the streets of this future world.

Miller’s Batman was extremist, militant, short-eared and barrel-chested. He’s not a superhero with a boy sidekick, but a General who takes a young girl under his wing as a new Robin. Dark Knight Returns doesn’t just distill Batman to his primal elements; it also encapsulates the 1980s political climate and the waning days of the Cold War.

“I’m talking to animators, and I would rather do it animated,” Frank reveals when I bring a hypothetical Dark Knight Returns movie up. Along with Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns is a revolutionary work, unchangeable by processing into a live-action film. 

The next year, Frank looked to the other end of Batman’s timeline with Batman: Year One, a new origin story, again with Mazzuchelli on art. Rather than tell a Batman story, Miller instead focuses on the trials of Jim Gordon, a new police lieutenant moving into the corrupt Gotham City police force. Gordon’s rise and fall as a hero cop is the true crux of Year One, as Batman’s development seems to reflect his proxy rather than the other way around.

Like he defined Daredevil’s New York years earlier, Miller makes Gotham City a cracked metropolis dangerous and downtrodden enough to justify the presence of a Caped Crusader. Mazzuchelli’s Alex Toth inspired art brought an urban modernity to a classic style, as heavy blacks dramatically cast upon figures, and long shadows are cast upon buildings. They manage to pull Year One off with a heavy degree of realism, but never to the extent that it becomes boringly grounded.

And then, Miller went off to Hollywood. He wrote both Robocop 2 and 3 as a “hired hand” and “gunslinger,” having his scripts reworked into something different by the studios. It was a trial by fire and, maybe, just maybe, a coming of age for Frank Miller. After a solid decade of having near-to-complete creative control over his stories as a cartoonist, working in the Hollywood studio system must have been an enormous frustration.

            When he came back for another original graphic novel, it was for Elektra Lives Again, his final word on the Greek assassin. It’s really a Matt Murdock story, as Matt stays up nights and continues to  torture himself over her death and the uncertainty of her resurrection. Miller works Matt’s narrating captions between the present, the past, and his dream imagery of Elektra, a fragmentation given a voiceover straight out of an old crime book, but with a heavy dose of sensitivity that never veers into the maudlin.

            Elektra Lives Again isn’t a Daredevil story, but a Noir one focusing on Matt Murdock the man. When he stands in a trenchcoat, bandages pasted across his face at the end, it’s a sign of things to come out of Frank’s next iconic creator-driven work, one as redefining as Dark Knight Returns

            Frank wasn’t entirely done with Daredevil: he gave him the Year One treatment in Man Without Fear, with the art team of John Romita, Jr. and Al Williamson. He would come back to Batman years later for one more go, and still holds a soft spot for the Hell’s Kitchen vigilante.

“I don’t follow my characters after I let go of them, because I just get too upset. I’m just not going to like where they’re going to take Batman or Daredevil,” Frank admits. “It’s just a personality quirk of mine.”

But, if an opportunity to work on Daredevil again presented itself?

“It’s so funny—if you’d asked me this question a few years ago, I would have said ‘No’ about Batman, Daredevil, about anything,” Frank reflects. “Now, I’m realizing that I have this eternal love for these characters. With Batman, I already know what I’d do next. 

“And with Daredevil? He’ll show up and knock on my door when the time is right.”

Martha Washington lives in the 21st century America forecasted by Frank Miller and artist Dave Gibbons. Martha’s a young black woman living in a prison-like government-approved ghetto, a closed-in prison deemed “social welfare” by a President with an uncanny knack for keeping the office two decades. When Martha finally breaks out of the ghetto, she joins up with the government’s militia in a period of martial law, and is thrown into a war with fast food corporations out of a rainforest.

Give Me Liberty kicks off a character Frank would have a narrative love affair with for seven more years, on and off. It’s the emergence of a Frank Miller with a heavier-handed knack at social and political satire than before, but it also displays Frank’s sensitivity in his creation of Martha, this strong woman given life by two of the founders of “postmodern comics.” Martha is arguably the most fleshed-out and real character Frank has created in his long career, but she would soon be overshadowed by what came next.

Marv has a heap of problems to begin with, and the dead hooker in bed next to him is only the icing on the cake. As the cops roll up, sirens blaring, he knows there’s more to Goldie’s death. Even if it kills him, this sociopathic misfit, perpetually stuck on the wrong side of the tracks, with a mug that would make kids cry (and a violent streak that does the same to grown men), is going to find Goldie’s killer. 

And so starts Sin City, first serialized in the anthology book Dark Horse Presents. When it starts, it feels more like the old Frank, with some of the same linework, but heavier blacks and longer shadows. When Marv jumps out of a window, he kind of looks like Batman, substituting a long trench for the cape.

But then, as the second part rolls around, Sin City becomes even darker, the lighting more direct, hard edges created by shadow, thicker more liquid lines replacing thinner ones drawn by a pen.

He did it. Frank Miller reinvented himself yet again.

“At the time, I was timid,” Frank admits. “I honestly said to [Dark Horse publisher] Mike Richardson (and we have a profit sharing arrangement) that I was willing to share the loss if this thing didn’t make money. I said ‘Look, I’m just going to please myself. This will be the comics I always wanted to do.’”

“I just said ‘I don’t give a damn. I’m going to do exactly the comic that I want to do,’” he says a bit later. “I didn’t care whether it succeeded or not, and it succeeded way beyond my expectations.”

            In Marv, Miller redefined the anti-hero by creating a throwback to the days of post-war tough guy fiction, particularly Mickey Spillane’s iconic Mike Hammer. While we don’t exactly cheer for Marv because he’s the good guy (he’s not), or even because his mission is a noble one (in its own leave-a-trail-of-bodies way), we root for him because he personifies the level of toughness we all wish we could possess. When Marv lets loose and embraces the killer within, we all envy that uninhibited release of anger, just as Miller was uninhibitedly celebrating the crime comic: blood, sex, violence, and run-on sentences inclusive. 

The similarities to Hammer is no accident, according to Frank:

            “When I first met Mickey Spillane, I was sitting next to him at a convention appearance,” Frank recalls a time right before Sin City’s launch. “Somebody asked me what my next book was going to be called, and I said ‘The Big Fat Kill,’ and I felt this big oak piece go through my chest (it was his elbow), because he knew it was a reference to his book The Big Kill. He was always never less than a complete gentleman about it.”

            As Sin City progresses—with titles like The Big Fat Kill, A Dame to Kill For, Booze, Broads and Bullets and That Yellow Bastard—through Frank’s introduction of armed hookers, sensitive toughguys with new faces, over the hill cops, and jaundiced perverts, more and more it feels like it should be printed on shitty paper between cheap cardstock covers. The level of scantily clad women with heavenly bodies, people spurting blood like geysers out of bullet holes, fast cars, dismembered corpses, and bare-ass naked femme fatales rises to an impossible crescendo. Miller’s clearly loving it, seeing how much he can get away with each story, and we love it for being so damn dirty and subversive. But in between the sex and violence, there’s a quiet sensitivity at play in Frank’s first-person captions, as Marv enjoys a cigarette after killing a man, or Hartigan speeds down windy roads to save the girl. Like Dark Knight Returns launched a wave of violent superhero comics, Sin City brought crime back as a formidable genre, striking at a time when Quentin Tarantino’s crime epics were burning up cinema screens.

            Miller, after years of trying his hand at Hollywood, had it come to him through another artist living by his own terms: indy film maker and jack-of-all-trades Robert Rodriguez, whose first film El Mariachi was self-funded through money earned as a pharmaceutical lab rat.

“I met Robert Rodriguez in a Hell’s Kitchen bar. For one thing, he was the only guy in Hell’s Kitchen wearing a cowboy hat who was straight,” Frank gives with a sly grin. “He showed me what he had in mind, and I went ‘This is good.’ 

“He had single pages and had taken [pictures of] girlfriends and fellow actors, but he caught the look of Sin City. I didn’t think it could be done. I didn’t know digital then. He taught me digital, and now I know it well.”

Rodriguez’s “audition” clip for a Sin City movie was an adaptation of Frank’s three-page story “The Customer is Always Right,” starring Josh Hartnett. Shooting them against green screen, Rodriguez amped up the contrast and created backgrounds digitally, recreating Frank’s atmospheric implied line world loyally. It didn’t take long for Miller to give his blessing, and for the two to team up as co-directors on the film adaptation.

Sin City came out April 1, 2005, with a motley cast—boasting Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, the late and great Brittany Murphy, Rosario Dawson, and Benicio del Toro—starring in a handful of the Sin City stories brought to celluloid life. It succeeded in the one area no other comic book adaptation had ever really tried before: the loyal translation. Sin City the film showed us Miller’s absurdist Noir tendencies in motion, while also making the creator-owned comic book a household name. It also gave Miller the last laugh, placing him in the director’s chair on his own terms.

“We’re planning on it early next year,” Frank says of Sin City 2. “We’re getting both of us happy with things, and we’ve both gotten a bit feistier,” he jokes. 

“Preproduction will be early next year. Preproduction with Rodriguez takes about ten days. The guy is a lightning bolt. We’ll cast the movie across the later months of this year, and a lot of it will cast itself, since a lot of people want to be back.”

The heart of this new anthology? A Dame to Kill For, the origin of bad-ass Dwight, (played by Clive Owen in the first film) serves as the crux of the movie, with other shorter stories around it. Dwight’s a tortured man, refusing to repeat his hard and violent past by “letting loose” even one more time. When he lets an old flame walk right back into his life and manipulate him with almost fatal consequences, Dwight finds the monster within the only thing that can save him in his dark, twisted, crooked, and violent world.

Dwight’s not a ready-made traditional boyscout hero figure, but he’s the closest thing to one Sin City has.

IRVING: What’s your image of a hero? The Frank Miller hero?

MILLER: Got a week? It’s somebody who is defined by his virtue. He might be tortured, might hate himself, but he always does the right thing.

“It goes back to when I was a little kid in my mother’s kitchen,” Frank continues. “I had gone to the movies and seen these 300 Spartans. I was sitting with my brother two rows ahead of my parents, because that was cool. I said to my brother ‘Steve, are they going to die?’

“And he said ‘I don’t know.’ 

“I went back to my parents and asked ‘Are the good guys going to die?’”

Frank pauses, and deepens his voice, impersonating his late father:

“‘I’m afraid so, son.’

            “From then on, my entire concept of a hero was someone who does something because it’s right, and not because they were going to get a medal.”
            The movie: 1962 film The 300 Spartans, telling the epic story of 300 Spartans and their comrades-in-arms fending off the overwhelming Persian army in The Battle of Thermopylae of 480 B.C. The good guys did not win, not in the traditional sense, a pyrrhic victory as King Leonidas’ sacrifice served as an inspiration to others, bravery and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. Leonidas’ self-sacrifice underscores his honor as a warrior and a man.

            Miller retold the story of the 300 Spartans in the aptly-named 300, a panoramic graphic novel with lush watercolors by Lynn Varley. The style was still distinctly Frank’s, but enhanced with Varley’s watercolors, grounding his art in a muted and faded reality. 300 was easily Frank Miller’s most ambitious work to date.

            Hot on the heels of Sin City, 300 also got the film treatment, this time directed by director Zack Snyder. Snyder gave 300 a color saturation and time decompression, hacking swords and flying arrows speeding up and slowing down for dramatic effect, the heavy metal score upping the testosterone of the film. Gerard Butler’s Leonidas was played with both humor and determination. Some called 300 a manga come to life; others called it war porn; it was an over-the-top action movie with a strong undercurrent of heroism and sacrifice. 300 isn’t meant to be a historical film, but the retelling of a historical battle campfire style, and follows an event’s ascension into and retelling of as a legend.

“It was Zack’s show,” Miller points out. “I did my book and he does a very meticulous job in translating. With that, we’ll sit down and talk over scenes. There were several disagreements, but I’ve generally been very impressed with him.”

Impressed enough to let Snyder direct 300 prequel Xerxes, which will tell the story of Leonidas’ Persian antagonist. That is, after Snyder goes flying with the new Superman film next year.

            To Frank Miller, getting rewards for heroism almost negates the initial act:

            “Luke Skywalker getting his medal at the end of Star Wars, to me, is a rather hollow moment,” Frank conjectures. Then we start talking about Star Wars, and Luke’s losing a hand in Empire Strikes Back is the beginning of his trajectory into true herodom.

“The great moment for Luke Skywalker is in the third movie, Return of the Jedi, when he walks in with total authority and says ‘You’re going to die,’” Frank points out. He recalls the scene in slow, thoughtful sentences, and I realize his storyteller switch has been cut on. “Then he just does this incredible and astonishing thing where R2-D2 tosses him his lightsaber. He’s completely on his game. Even when Leia strangles Jabba the Hutt, the entire thing has me going ‘I’m a fan!’”

When Frank conveys a scene, you feel like you’re hearing a campfire tale, or sitting opposite him, the chair of his art table morphing into a director’s chair. There are a few more times during the interview where he tells stories like a director would, and I realize that Miller really is the Hitchcock of comic books—possessing a distinctive style that is accompanied by a unique personality and degree of celebrity, all tempered by a true passion for stories.