“The noir hero is a knight in blood caked armor. He’s dirty and he does his best to deny the fact that he’s a hero the whole time.”
Frank Miller has a very polarized fan-base. Some worship him as the incredible artist, writer, and contributor that gave us some of the most recognizable comics of the last 30 years, while others feel that he’s devolved into a sloppy, jaded old man who’s well has run dry. I don’t know where I stand personally. Instead of doing the norm by providing an in depth biographical overview of his life and accomplishments, I’d rather explain my own experience with Mr. Miller’s work. As for biography, let this suffice: He was born January 27th, 1957, raised in Montpelier, Vermont, the fifth of seven children. He’s bounced coast-to-coast, living first in Hell’s Kitchen then Los Angeles, then back again.
I remember when I first saw Frank Miller’s work, I was a seventeen year old wasting an afternoon at Border’s with a friend. Invariably, I found myself thumbing the crisp pages of the latest science fiction, then fantasy novels– but, as was my habit, I stopped at the comics aisle, their glossy pages and appealing art too pretty to resist. I recall hefting a thick book from the bottom shelf, a black and white bound hardcover called “The Art of Sin City.”
I was perplexed. As I turned the pages, I was surprised to not find anything remotely Las Vegas–the only reference I had for ‘Sin City’ at the time– save the seductively inked woman in the cowboy chaps and tangled in a lasso. The art was beautiful, and the style intoxicating, but the content quickly overwhelmed me. My cheeks reddened, and as my friend approached I quickly returned the book to the shelf. I didn’t mention it to him, but it was the most interesting book that I saw that day– and the only one I can remember presently. Ten years have passed between then and now, and I can still remember the feeling I had when I held that book, like it was going to suck me in. That’s impact. That’s Frank Miller.
Fast forward to Emerald City Comic Con, 2010. I had begun to dabble in comics for the first time, collecting various floppies and trades– mostly in search of lasting appeal. Super heroes bored me for the most part, and I had latched on to Conan The Cimmerian as a possible obsession, but it wasn’t full blown yet. I expressed interest in “Criminal” by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, but I was yet to read any of it, my interest more in following the buzz of the crowd than in staking out any real corner of the con for myself. Enter Matt P., whom I had met only hours before, asking me, “What books do you read?”– In a moment of pure embarrassment, I honestly didn’t have an answer for him. But as the con wore on, and I my tasting more widespread, I found a genre I had seldom looked at before; “noir.”
I couldn’t get enough ‘noir,’ even if I couldn’t exactly define it, much less describe it to anyone. Matt asked me again about the books I liked, and after throwing him a few titles he immediately prescribed “Sin City.” Returning from the Con, I hopped online and bought “The Hard Goodbye” on faith and recommendation. The rest is history.
When I received the title in the mail, I didn’t even realize it was the same stuff that had held me captive ten years gone until I cracked the cover. As I fanned the pages, the result was the same– the feeling of exuberance came rushing back.
Since then, I’ve read far more of his work– Dining on his Batman contributions, Daredevil, Ronin, and 300; but his masterpiece will forever be Sin City (at least to me). As his style has evolved, I’ve found that I like him less– his later work feels more rushed and less concerned with the clean and stark contrasts of his earlier days. Perhaps he’s evolved this way to escape the crisp lines and defined boundaries of his youth. Maybe he’s testing us, seeing how loyal we’ll remain to him– I don’t truly know. But I do know that there was pure blissful magic flowing from his pen at various periods of his life, and for that the noir genre and myself are forever indebted.