Thursday, April 14, 2011

WTF Happened to Frank Miller?

Remember the late 90’s sitcom trend of parents failing to correctly use  the youth lingo? They would hopelessly use words like “hip” and “groovy” when giving their teenage children the low down on the birds and the bees. Kids would roll their eyes, say “oh, Dad” while the laugh track would mock him. From the release of The Dark Knight Strikes Again to present day, Frank Miller has turned himself into the lame dad of the comic book world. He keeps attempting to captivate them with a hardcore Batman, but has lost all touch with what younger generations find interesting.


By now, most people know who he is--writer/artist of Sin City, The Dark Knight Returns and 300.  In the early 80’s he was one of the first to start writing “gritty” comics. He redefined Daredevil, The Punisher, and Batman. From 1991-1998, he was, in my opinion, the best comic book creator alive. His comics mixed heroism with exaggerated action, hard-boiled cynicism, and wit. Characters took equal time thinking of clever ways to conquer goals as they did physically pummeling enemies. With Sin City, Miller created a distinct, high contrast, art style that was unique in comics.  The hard crisp lines separating black from white were nearly devoid of the typical 90’s comic book crosshatching that made Jim Lee famous.

Something changed in 1997 with Sin City: Family Values, or slightly before.   His sense of goofy humor began crawling into inappropriate moments of his testosterone drenched Sin City world. For the first time, humor trumped the noir tone. For some reason, Miller thought it would be a good idea for Miho, an assassin, to roll around on roller blades for the entire comic.  Miller’s previous Dwight storyline, The Big Fat Kill, balanced humor and action more effectively. His art, also, was noticeably diminished from his previous books. Family Values lost most of Miller’s hard black and white compositions and introduced scribbly cross-hatching.  The main character, Dwight, no longer wore the hard outlined trench coat. Miller replaced it with a knee-length fur coat with a loosely scribbled silhouette. Miller began drawing faces with lines that contoured the natural lines of the face, giving his characters the weathered appearance of characters beyond their years. It’s the cardinal rule of shading faces: each line adds a year to character’s life.  Comic book artists usually shade faces with straight lines that cannot be mistaken for wrinkles. The same way Miller did in the 80s.


Miller created several quality comics for the next few years (even with his new, looser style), including the wonderful 300 in ‘98 and, to a lesser extent, Sin City: Hell and Back in ‘99.  That all fell apart in 2001 with the release of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, or as DC marketers pompously called it, DK2.  The goofy title should have been a warning sign. Frank Miller said in an interview that he wanted to make the comic have more of a cartoony feel.  I didn’t like this idea, considering the first Dark Knight book had a forlorn, gloomy tone. Still, I thought, there could be hope. “Cartoony” made me think of Rick Burchett’s clean crisp lines in Batman Adventures or Frank Quitely’s minimalist but precise artwork in All Star Superman. Miller gave us neither. We were exposed to the worst art I’ve ever seen in a professionally made comic book, surpassing the previous champion crap-pile of Mitch Byrd’s pencils in Generation X 23.  Miller must have a different interpretation of “cartoony” than I do, because DK2 looked like a thirteen year old got a box of crayons and tried to draw like Frank Miller. And then got bored. And then started doodling.

I first noticed how inconsistent and sloppy the inks were. Miller didn’t even pretend to make contour outlines of characters.  They had jagged starts and halts with inconsistent thickness.  John Romita Sr. once shared inking tips with Wizard magazine. He demanded that inkers control the thickness of their lines. It could be crucial to the illusion of depth and making the foreground distinguishable from the background. Miller had been able to abide by this for the past thirty years.  All of the sudden, he was either incapable or too lazy to bother.  His lines strayed off characters’ bodies like loose threads. One internet review of the comic generously labeled the art as “hastily drawn.”  I would call it a big pile of shit.

Characters’ limbs and appendages changed size. Their hands would increase or decrease in size depending on how much time Miller took to draw them. Same with feet and heads. For instance, look at the size of Batman’s hands in these panels below.


According to the perspective of his stance in the top panel, his left hand should be smaller than his right.  It is obviously larger. It’s also TWO AND A HALF TIMES the size of his head.  By the way, he’s also punching on Superman there, who’s splotchy and shadowed for no apparent reason.  Frank Miller also seems to have decided that being beaten up makes you look like you spilled an ink well on your face.


What about this?



Wonder Woman’s thighs belong to Kathy Bates and she looks like a transvestite. The laces on her forearms don’t match the angle of her arm. And what is up with her triceps becoming one with her torso?  

He correctly determined that he couldn’t draw hands, so he frequently hides them in this book. Sometimes Miller doesn’t want to draw hands or feet, so he hides them behind truly awful artwork.



Miller doesn’t even bother to make sure he doesn’t accidentally ink the torso over the top of an arm.


Then we have the worst drawing of the Joker ever.



I just don’t know what to say about that one--moving on.


How about the man of steel when he’s not a giant ink blot? Still sucks.


This too, is so bad that it could pass without comment. I’m just not going to let it. Superman looks 80 years old and Japanese, he has a 24 inch waist, once again, an arm becomes a torso at the bicep, and the fingers on his left hand don’t match the angle of his hand.

Look at Robin’s forearms in the first panel.



Hell, look at any panel. The art makes Rob Liefeld look good.


Most cartoony comics have distinct colors to make up for the lack of shading. Lynn Varley’s colors are muted and dull. I feel bad for ragging on her, though. She didn’t have much to work with. Still, I see colorists like Edgar Delgado elevate all the artwork they touch.



This page from DK2 also exemplifies the worst writing in comic books. It’s goofy, like the rest of the story.  Anything that Miller thought would be cool was so obviously awful, I’m surprised DC’s editor didn’t cancel the book at the script’s first draft.
I’ve been holding out hope that my beloved Frank Miller would pull himself out of the creative tailspin he’s been in for the past decade or so.  It hasn’t happened and, worse, he’s degenerating. Frank Miller has stayed afloat by retreading the glory of his 80s and 90s creation, getting royalties from his reprinted comics, selling film rights to his comics, and doing one-shots on characters he perfected decades ago like Daredevil and Batman.  He has since forgotten how to write Batman, as proven in the awful All-Star Batman and Robin, which was cancelled before it was finished. It was supposed to come back this spring after a two year hiatus, but I haven’t heard anything.
All Star Batman and Robin has a moment where Batman cackles with laughter. That’s right, cackles. Once you let that sink in, Robin makes the comment “He may be faking that voice, but his laughter still creeps the crap out of me.” As bad as that line sounds, it’s actually worse.  I don’t need to dwell on how artificial “creeps the crap out of me” sounds, so I’ll move on to the context. What does he mean “still”? It’s not like Robin ever mentions being creeped out beforehand and Batman doesn’t commonly go around cackling like a madman.  And the whole idea of Batman creeping someone out with a laugh was stolen from Batman the Animated Series when he does it to freak out Harley as a stalling tactic. It is not and never should be a character trait as Miller made it.
In an earlier page, when Robin doesn’t know who Batman is, Batman answers: “What are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I’m the goddamn Batman.” This is not the tough-love mentor we know in love. He’s a petty, mean-spirited asshole.
Other than the pathetic attempt to overwrite the Batman he helped to create in Batman: Year One, which removed every ounce of camp from the Adam West era and transformed Batman into the Dark Knight we could appreciate, Miller has tried his hand at directing.  Which actually pisses me off more than it should.  For Sin City (2005), Robert Rodriguez kept as close to the comic books as possible while Frank Miller in his “co-director” status, helped actors become his characters. I greatly enjoyed Sin City, but it replaced the tone of the comic with camp. This was the first time in 20 years that Miller had let his work be adapted to another medium.  He said it was because the Hollywood process had destroyed his ideas in the past and he didn’t want to put up with it anymore (Robocop 2 & 3).  Makes sense. However, his next directorial project was to adapt Will Eisner’s The Spirit.  Miller did exactly what he hated about his previous film efforts--he took someone else’s idea and destroyed it, changed it to fit his own style and ignored the creator’s intent.  Eisner is a legend whose image is fiercely defended by rabid comic book fundamentalists. It’s not like we wouldn’t notice how much the movie sucked. I also checked out Frank Miller’s storyboards for The Spirit because it’s the only art he’s done in about five years, not counting a few pin-ups in the backs of his friends’ comics.  The Spirit artwork is awful and it pretty much only consists of guys shooting at the camera with two guns.


From 2001 until this day, I’ve wondered if Frank Miller has a medical condition, because his art has taken a stylistic turn for the worse, much like Picasso’s.  It’s sloppy. It’s inconsistent. It’s lazy--as if he were trying to avoid the most difficult details and distort the human form so much that we wouldn’t realize he could no longer draw it with consistent precision. In the most recent months, his hollowed cheek bones might also indicate an illness.  As a human, I certainly hope he’s just being a lazy artist, because that can be corrected.  But his work has meant so much to me for so long, that a part of me wants it to be beyond his control, just because I’d hate for these last ten years to be the lasting impression he gives a generation of comic readers.

26 comments:

  1. Everything you've just written is so true! I've thought this for so long, what the hell happened to the man? He used to be so great, He is so lazy, I actually found this article by typing in google 'why is Frank Miller's art so bad' i'm so glad you've written this.

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  2. Thanks. l had stalled writing this for a long time, hoping he'd get better. No such luck. l finally gave up. I'm glad you agree

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  3. I totally disagree with the article, it may be true frank millers is not the same creative force he once was back in the 80's & 90's possibly due to his new artistic style & attitude with comic books, you all forget Frank miller has always been going against the grain his art style has change more times than anyone in the comic industry could remember, i believe he's been very consistent with that artistic attitude...he don't care...rightly sole...its his current vision, you don't like it don't buy it!
    His writing has never change its always been the same dark, edgy, sarcastic, sick, funny & very unpredictable...just read Elektra assassin..am sure all you complainer never read that mature insane epic book he put out back in the 1980's with the art of bill sienkiewicz! like him or not he's an amazing artists & writer who makes strong bold statements with his art & writing & who has inspire countless of clones and copy cats...just cause he cant draw a straight line anymore don't mean he doesn't know what hes doing....the guy is an insane genius just like the overrated Alan Moore! so all you dis-grunted frank miller ex comic book fans, please stop your rants & wining, because you all sound as cranky as Frank miller himself!

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    1. Yes, because Miller is "dark, edgy, sarcastic, sick, funny, and unpredictable" always, that gives him a free pass. :-) Makes COMPLETE sense, you dumb f****** idiot.

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    3. If you doubt that Frank Miller has lost his talent, read "Holy Terror" and "All Star Batman and Robin". Though "The Dark Knight Strikes Again" is stupid (that title is a dead give away), it's not bad compared to is more recent works. A.S.B.A.R. just misses every mark with the characters (Joker never smiles, what the hell), and "Holy Terror" is so blatantly anti-Islam you'd think it was co-written by Fox News and a 12th century Crusader. Both works expose Miller for what he had become, a sadistic, sexist, homo-phobic, racist, fascist.

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    4. And that is NOT the man I want writing my child-hood icon.

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  4. I'm not the biggest fan of miller's work - I bought most of Sin City books (in finnish) but everything else has been from the local library. It must've been a big shock to read "DK2" or whatever if you were a big fan of his previous work, but for me it was the one that finally got me interested in his art.

    now, you can't draw like that if you haven't got the skill this guy clearly has! It's fast, sloppy and expressive, but I happen to think that's exactly what he was aiming at. He's done it before and wants to get a new angle to it. And when you put this kind of expressiveness into work, twisted anatomy, happy accidents, bad lines and mistakes here and there - it all goes with it. It's indeed a SKILL to draw badly in such a way it looks decent. I'm trying to do it myself but so far failing miserably :D should probably learn how to draw and then try to unlearn it.

    Of the writing of Miller now or back then, or of his film career, you're probably right?

    But... just look at the panels you've provided from The Dark Knight Strikes Again. He's drawn all these characters with just a few strokes, many times the outlines are a single line! And he's got the balls to ink that. For example there's a line that begins from the chest of this woman character, draws a boob and goes all the way to her hands, drawing all the different muscles on it's way. How many artists can you see doing that, when many can't even place a woman's breasts in their proper place?

    Like you said, Picasso did this kind of ink drawings, using just a minimum of strokes to draw an entire picture with many objects and characters.

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    1. The art is awful, there's no excuse.

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    2. @Red Rider: You are mistaken if you think that, as the viewer, you are intended to objectively like all art.

      It's not that there is no excuse for bad art, but that there is no excuse for art, full stop.

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  5. Maybe he's going through a phase, just like when he attacked the occupy wall street movement, the right wing did his brain just like Dennis miller, lost a something or his way

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  6. You are the lame hipster wannabe of the comic book world. You've cleverly succeeded in your goal of sucking a**. Your blog is a pile of sh**. You will never impress a generation of comic book fans.

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  7. 1. There is certainly plenty of valid reasons to strongly dislike & critique Miller's later artwork & it's style, but ignorance is not one.

    2. Realistic anatomy, proportion and perspective are not standards by which ones own expression is measured.

    3. Miller's signature style has always been rough & proportionally unrealistic. Look again at his seminal works; The Dark Knight Return, Ronin, early Sin City... etc

    4. There is nothing wrong with that "Spirit" drawing. Obviously it's a rough storyboard & not a finished piece of art, but I am completely lost as to what you think is awful about it. It's a drawing done by a very technically capable artist.

    5. "much like Picasso"....
    You are just shooting yourself in the foot with ignorant comments like that..

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  8. It just sucks.... we all know it.. if you like his artwork then that means you can't draw. Or clearly have no artistic talent.. because only those people would say thats one bad ass drawing... and Picasso sucks too.

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    1. @Mario Romero

      1. Your opinion is just that your opinion. You don't know what other people "know".

      2. Enjoying Miller's artwork has no bearing on whether someone has any "traditional" artistic ability.

      3. If you think Picasso sucks that's your prerogative. Some people don't like Mozart or Bach. The issue is usually that such people struggle to issue coherent critiques of the work.

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  9. Oh and Red Rider. Is correct. There is no excuse for miller. Other than being lazy and not caring to provide acceptable artwork that the editors and loyal fans EXPECT. Based on his prior work. You don't do that to wonder woman and not expect people to talk shit about his take on the female anatomy. Makes you think what kinda chick's he's in to.

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    1. @Mario Romero

      1. No one needs an excuse to draw the way they want to.

      2. The only relevant definition of "acceptable artwork" is the artists.

      3. Linear expectations from the hive mind are irrelevant.

      4. Sure, people will talk shit. Just like if the art met their expectations they'd gush all over it. Same thing.

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  10. The butch man dude kind. Oooohhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

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  11. wow. unbelievable.


    Dear Mr. Miller,

    If you stumble on this blog, just smile to yourself.

    Your work has inspired generations of artists, including myself.

    Travis Z

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  12. The dudes art is fucking terrible. U guys are biased dick riders and butthurt aspiring awful artists and he probably knew u would make excuses for him. Miller must have gone insane. DKR isn't even good enough to justify spawning a generation of u assholes

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  13. The dudes art is fucking terrible. U guys are biased dick riders and butthurt aspiring awful artists and he probably knew u would make excuses for him. Miller must have gone insane. DKR isn't even good enough to justify spawning a generation of u assholes

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  14. @Sicarii DC

    1. Art is subjective and thus opinions are inherently biased. Perhaps a more suited word to use in your sentence would have been "pretentious".

    2. No one needs an excuse to draw the way they want to draw.

    3. Enjoying Miller's artwork has no bearing on whether one has any traditional artistic ability.

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  15. Here's how you know miller is riding on his own coat-tails:

    Objectively. Say, if we jumped into another dimension where Frank Miller never did TDKR or Sin City, etc (but for the sake of pop culture, someone else did, say Tim Sale or Mignola in their own style). If you showed a comic fan in that dimension those images from DK2, or let them read just the script from ASBAR or Holy Terror.

    How would they react. Really? My guess is they wouldn't be too impressed.

    As for the people saying "who else can break so many rules or do so much with just a few lines"...

    Mike Mignola. Like miller, he uses economy of line, more his art is becoming minimalist, with only suggestions of shape & form. Both rely on shadows. Both have continued to experiment with anatomy & gestures.

    But only Mignola is still regarded positively by the art community at large. Because as he's grown more abstract he hasn't gotten lazier. He doesn't use quick lines. He never scribbles. And while his anatomy is more stylized than ever, his perspective and proportions are CONSISTENT and SENSICAL.

    Miller looks like a bad artist copying his early work.

    If you like old Miller, just stick to John Romita Jr. It's what Miller's would have looked like if he hadn't fallen in love with his own legacy.

    Those are really the two. Mignola, and JR jr. They each look like different sides of what miller might have become. And both were certainly influenced by him. But they both left him in their dust a couple decades ago.

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  17. Frank Miller is sick. He's been fighting an undisclosed illness over recent years from when Sin City was released in the movie theaters up to what you see now. That is why his current drawings look out of whack such as Dark Knight Strikes Again, Holy Terror, and variant covers of Dark Knight III Master Race compared to his early works. source:
    http://thegreatcomicbookheroes.blogspot.com/2014/12/get-well-soon-frank-miller-tribute.html

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