Frank Miller interviewed about his career
PLAYBOY: Through a spokesman, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the film “an insult” to Iran, as well as a “fabrication” and an act of “cultural and psychological warfare.” Do you consider it an accomplishment to have pissed off Ahmadinejad?Very courageous answer! And he's right about how Islam changed much of the middle east, save for Israel (and Armenia, which is more or less mideastern too), and Islamofascists like Iran's are always looking for excuses to turn into tantrum machines.
MILLER: I’m ready for my fatwa now. [laughs] I’m banned from Iran, but believe me, I’ve made much greater sacrifices. What I love is that I actually made the Iranian government change its historical policy toward Persia. It went from despising the empire of Persia to all of a sudden loving it, after 300. Persia had been a globe-spanning empire, then Muhammad came along and changed the mentality and rewrote all the histories. Iran’s days of empire are long gone, and they were just looking for something to get pissed off about.
PLAYBOY: More recently you angered a lot of people with Holy Terror, your 2011 comic book about a superhero who fights Al Qaeda. In Wired, a writer called it “a screed against Islam,” and others accused you of depicting Islam as a violent religion. Do you stand by the book?While his desire to be defiant in the face of tyrants is admirable, this got me to thinking about a downside: it's not always a good idea to anger people, depending on what the subject is, and if it's pissing off the Spider-Man and Green Lantern readerships, as Terry Kavanaugh, Ron Marz, J. Michael Straczynski and Dan Slott have done, that's where it's something very bad. So while I'm sure Miller's intentions of who to outrage were meant for all the right reasons, I think it's fair to argue that "pissing people off" does have a downside, and it pays to be careful not to take steps that can alienate people, as Marvel and DC have spent the last 20 years doing with superhero fans, for all the wrong reasons.
MILLER: Yes. Why not? I felt the response to 9/11 was tepid, if not disgusting. It’s almost as though they killed 3,000 of my neighbors and we spent the next bunch of years apologizing for it. Since superheroes have a tradition of fighting fascism, why not do it one more time? I don’t know where anyone got the idea it was anti-Islamic. I used, I believe, three Islamic words, which are common Al Qaeda usage. I didn’t feature their religious services. I happen to believe terrorism is a pungent evil, and I’m glad we’re fighting it. It’s incomprehensible to me that people apologize for it or pretend it never happened.
PLAYBOY: You described Holy Terror as “propaganda” in the tradition of Thomas Paine and predicted it would “offend just about everyone.” Has offending people been a goal in your career?
MILLER: I’ve been through periods when I wanted to spend my career annoying or offending people and other times when I wanted to inspire or spin a good yarn or draw a particular kind of car. I remember coming into the worlds of Marvel and DC and wanting to shake things up because they’d been the same way for so long. I wanted to be the bull in the china shop. And sometime in the 1970s along came Will Eisner with A Contract With God, which showed that comic books could have a shelf life and be read repeatedly, not just come out and disappear in time for next week’s cycle.
That aside, it's impressive he brings up Eisner, because, as noted earlier, Eisner's last graphic novel, The Plot, focused on Muslim anti-semitism, so I think it's safe to say that, whatever his opinions on the finished product, Eisner would support his old buddy Miller's idea on principle. Since we're on the subject, it makes me wonder what people like Slott might think of Eisner. I'm sure there's some people in comicdom today whose alleged admiration for Eisner turned to hatred and spite after they heard he was going to confront Islamofascism in his last days, and would probably denounce him as a "racist", and it wouldn't make any difference that he apologized long ago for his embarrassing renditions of Ebony White's character design in the original Spirit strips.
Miller also reveals something that happened in the mid-80s I wasn't aware of till now:
PLAYBOY: Early in your career the first thing you did to annoy people was to kill off Elektra, a beloved female ninja you created for the Daredevil comic. Did you have any hesitation about doing that?Yikes. So Marv Wolfman and George Perez weren't the only ones who got a threat letter after the ending they wrote for the Judas Contract in New Teen Titans. And the worst part is that, at the time this happened, anti-stalking laws in the USA hadn't been properly drafted yet (it took at least until 1990 before that happened), otherwise, Miller could probably have gotten a case filed more easily and the authorities wouldn't have refused to help.
MILLER: Sure. I had the jitters. There were death threats: “You killed the woman I love. I’m coming after you,” that sort of thing. I was worried for my girlfriend, so I went to the FBI, which explained that because the letters had been opened and had no postmarks or proofs of postage, they couldn’t be considered mail, so I was to take the threats and like it. But killing her was true to the character and true to the story. That’s all that matters.
Despite what he says about Elektra Nachios, either he or another writer reversed her fate 4-5 years afterwards, so that's something he hasn't clarified fully here. (And how doesn't it occur to the interviewer that the real word for female ninja is "kunoichi"?)
He also has an interesting take on masculinity:
PLAYBOY: Your work is clearly influenced by film noir and pulp magazines. Do you prefer the older ideal of masculinity to the one you see represented in culture these days?I agree that, no matter how helpful it can be for women to learn self-defense and keeping their calm when faced with danger, honorable men who can defend an innocent lady in distress is an idea in serious need of improvement. Lastly, he has something to say about Superman:
MILLER: I believe there has been a crisis of masculinity in modern times, and the 1940s-style gentleman needs to make a comeback—the sort of man who opens the door for women and compliments them and does things for them. I believe it’s a biological function of men, because we tend to be larger than women, to be protective of them. If I were to try to zero in, comic-book-like, on when masculinity went awry, I’d say it was when Rod Stewart sang, “You are my lover, you’re my best friend,” rather than allowing there to be two people in his life who served two very important functions.
PLAYBOY: A lot of Dark Knight readers think you love Batman and hate Superman. Any truth to that?Rest assured, I don't think he dislikes the Man of Steel (or even Wonder Woman, though he had a very questionable take on her in his All-Star Batman book), though it's worth arguing guys like him should have tried writing Superman's solo tales more often, and using an optimistic POV more often too. But if he's acknowledging that the World's Finest are only fictional characters, that's good, because it shows he's one writer who recognizes why it makes no sense to think of fictional characters as though they're real people we bump into on the streets. Even today, there's still people out there who haven't grown up and understood the differences, which has only resulted in a lot of bizarre hatred for fictional people instead of criticizing the writers/editors for any faults they see in how the characters are depicted.
MILLER: The Dark Knight series is all from Batman’s point of view. But if you look at Dark Knight 2, you’ll see a Superman who’s much calmer than the one in the first Dark Knight. Batman and Superman are dead opposites. I love Superman. Do I love Batman more? They’re not people. They’re only lines on paper.