Although he was born in the outskirts of Washington, D.C. and raised in Vermont, cartoonist Frank Miller has identified himself as a New Yorker since moving there in the 70s. The city became a key figure in his run on Daredevil and through to his work on The Dark Knight Returns although under the guise of Gotham City. In the years since he’s told stories set in ancient Greece, a fictionalized Las Vegas, and even into the ravaged future, but he always returns to New York. In 2001 Miller returned to the boroughs of New York after years in Los Angeles to complete work on The Dark Knight Strikes Back. Just months after moving, September 11th happened and changed Miller profoundly. That experience shown through obliquely in The Dark Knight Strikes Back as well as in later works, but it wasn’t until his new graphic novel that the artist was able to approach it head-on.Released last week, Holy Terror shows one super-heroes reaction and retaliation when a terrorist attack occurs in Empire City, a stand-in for NYC. Originally planned as a Batman story for DC, Miller pulled the book from the publisher and set out on a new path unrestrained by the dictates of company-owned characters. This new hero, the Fixer, is a harsher hero forged for a harsher world where existential enemies show themselves once more.
Last week Newsarama spoke to Bob Schreck about the launch of Legendary Comics, and this week Frank Miller talked with us about his new graphic novel and what it took to get here.
Newsarama: Holy Terror opens on the fictional Empire City and their version of the Statue of Liberty, called the Statue of Blind Justice. This really tells us it’s a fictional place, but one not too far away from New York City. Why do you think it was important to fictionalize the locale, as you did with Sin City?
Frank Miller: “Fictionalizing the locale” frees me up. I’m not trapped by competing re-interpretations of events, by competing definitions of events. I play fair with the reader: This is Frank’s story, and yes, it’s my memories — through my mind’s own filter — of what happened and could happen to the city I love. It’s not history, not reportage. Fictionalize? Of course. That’s what I do.Nrama: You’ve been quoted before as saying you broke into super-hero comics when you realized you could do them as crime comics but with a hero in them. How has using the super-hero archetype as a metaphor evolved for you, specifically with Holy Terror?
Miller: I’ve always adored superheroes. With Holy Terror, I seek to return to the traditions of the 1940s, back when Nazism was identified as an existential enemy, just as the Islamo-fascists have shown themselves to be in my time. Superheroes fight bad guys. These are very bad guys.
Nrama: Seeing the lead character in Holy Terror named the Fixer reminds me that you used the same in your early days of comics as a character in your strip “Call It Karma” in the APA-5 fanzine. What led you to revisit that name, and did you bring more than just the name forward to this new work?
Miller: It’s a name I’ve kept in the back of my head since my childhood. It was waiting for the right character.Nrama: How did the Fixer develop for you once you had him in mind for this book?
Miller: He grew. He fleshed out as a new, fresh character, leaving all of Batman’s baggage behind. Batman, by the way, has some pretty nifty baggage. I always love to revisit Batman. He’s a wonderful character. But the Fixer is something all his own.
Nrama: This book famously began life as a Batman story before you decided it needed to break free of that and become its own thing. Once you made that decision, did it free you up to go back to the already completed work and revise it since it was fully yours, 100%?
Miller: I had wonderful freedom, and used it.
Nrama: When this book was originally announced in 2006, you described it as “a piece of propaganda” in the vein of Captain America punching Hitler. What are your thoughts about the potency of comics as propaganda, in the past and through to the present?
Miller: Propaganda has gotten a bad name. Something’s called “propaganda” only when the reader disagrees with it. If they agree, it’s called “relevant.”
An artist expressing a point of view? Whatever the medium, whatever the story’s intent, that’s propaganda, and it’s “relevant.”
Nrama: For Holy Terror you opted to hand-letter the book, essentially doing the whole book yourself except for color covers by Dave Stewart. Why’d you choose to internalize the production of the book?Miller: It’s what the book looked like to me. I had to see it through.
Nrama: After living in L.A. for a number of years, you moved back to NYC in early 2001 – the same place you lived in the 70s and 80s when you first broke out in comics. What brought you back?
Miller: You’d have to be a New Yorker to understand. This is a city like no other.
Nrama: You did a memorial commentary on the September 11 attacks for NPR, which really struck me with your thoughts about patriotism not being this nostalgic relic but being a survival mechanism for a country. Let me ask you this before I let you go– what are you patriotic for?
Miller: Everything in the Constitution.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!