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Miller’s style catapults from panels to frames

Tae Andrews | Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Frank Miller is a man of few words. He’s written thousands of them, but Miller uses words like a sniper uses bullets: with deadly precision and without wasting ammo. His succinct writing style wastes no time and gets straight to the point.

However, Miller is an artist as adept with the drawing pencil as he is with a pen, going heavy on contrast and light on color. There’s a jarring, arresting visual nature to his artwork, which creates his inimitably distinctive style. The old saying is that a picture’s worth a thousand words – at least Miller’s are. This may not be entirely true (the actual count may be just a few hundred) but the point remains: Miller is an artist who puts much stock in gritty yet equally stunning visuals and is stingy with his words. Known for his down-and-dirty film-noir style and dark themes, Miller puts the R-rating in graphic novel. Only when taken altogether can fans appreciate Miller for what he is: a revolutionary artist and a man who continues to redefine a genre.

Miller has applied his trademark gritty style to several different comic book franchises over the years, rebooting fabled franchises and spawning new ones of his own. Most notably, he created the character Elektra while working on a series of “Daredevil” comics in the early 1980s. Toward the end of the decade, Miller turned his talents towards Batman, writing the critically acclaimed “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: Year One,” which loosely formed the basis for “Batman Begins.” Actor Christian Bale and Batman fans everywhere can thank Miller for laying the foundations for that film, which pumped some badly needed life into the fading franchise that had spiraled into the cinematic equivalent of the circus freak.

Unfortunately, after the cinematic fiasco that was “Elektra” flopped at the box office (with Miller having zero creative control over the project), Miller renounced the world of Hollywood, disgusted that his artwork had been corrupted into a nauseating farce. However, when film director Robert Rodriguez approached Miller with a short film based off his “Sin City” graphic novels, the deal was simple: if Miller didn’t like what he saw, then the film would end up as scrap reel on the cutting room floor never to be seen again.

He did like it, however, and “Sin City” made its nationwide debut on April 1, 2005. If Miller’s gritty and graphic tales of a dark urban dystopia feel like they spring straight from a comic book, it’s because they do. Rodriguez literally used the panels of the graphic novels as storyboards for the feature film. It also helped that Rodriguez insisted on listing Miller as a co-director for the film – a move which forced Rodriguez to resign from the Director’s Guild of America. As a result, Miller’s vision literally leaps from the page to the screen and still stands as Miller’s best graphic novel-turned-film pursuit to date.

After the smash success of “Sin City,” Miller agreed to let director Zack Snyder go ahead with a movie version of his graphic novel “300,” which chronicles the epic Battle of Thermopylae, and two more “Sin City” films are in the works.

However, Miller apparently enjoyed his hands-on collaboration so much that he has signed on with Rodriguez again to co-direct and write two sequel films to “Sin City.” After suffering through years of watching his artwork and word work reduced to travesty on the big screen, Frank Miller has finally found the colleagues and fan base he truly deserves. It seems Miller can find solace in the old chestnut: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”