Frank Miller Admits Declining Health Due to Years of Alcohol Abuse


Vanity Fair interviewed veteran artist/writer Frank Miller, now the focus of a new documentary, who spoke about how he was once an alcoholic, and it almost endangered his life:


“Is Frank Miller okay?” “He does not look well.” “If I wasn’t told it was him, I wouldn’t recognize him.” “Miller has been looking horrible lately. Makes me think he is sick with some sort of terminal illness. In 7 years he’s gone from healthy to really sickly, almost emaciated.” “I’ll pray for him.”

These are just a handful of Reddit posts and comments from 2014 and 2015, when the declining health of Miller—the legendary comic book creator of The Dark Knight Returns, 300, and Sin City —became both alarming and undeniable. Fans speculated that he had cancer or some other disorder that made the writer, artist, and filmmaker, then in his late 50s, look suddenly ancient. Most were sure he was dying.

Miller actually was dying, as he reveals in a new documentary, Frank Miller: American Genius, which confirms that his debilitating illness wasn’t anything that his fans guessed. He was an addict, ravaged by years of alcohol abuse. In an exclusive new interview, Miller explains that he used to drink to unlock his inhibitions, fueling the morbid creativity that made him such a powerhouse storyteller. His stark imagery, innovative use of silhouette and shadow, and willingness to plumb the darker recesses of the inhuman heart made him a superstar of the comics world. But as his alcoholism intensified, his body withered, and Miller’s own story took a grim turn.

He was aided in his recovery by Silenn Thomas, his longtime producing partner and the director of American Genius, whom he credits with helping to pull him out of a freefall that surely would have killed him otherwise. Their movie, which chronicles Miller’s mental and physical struggles as well as his storytelling triumphs, will have a one-night-only theatrical release on June 10 at more than 90 Cinemark Theatres around the country, featuring a live-streamed introduction from him and Rosario Dawson, who starred in the 2005 movie version of Sin City and its 2014 sequel, A Dame to Kill For, both of which Miller co-directed with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.


It’s certainly a shame Miller almost lost himself to alcohol. And miraculous he didn’t lose his mind to something worse like drug addiction. It does beggar the question why some people see drugs like cocaine as bad, but don’t see the same problem in whiskey and its vodka affiliate. Miller’s lucky he was able to recover. He also spoke about being mentored by the late Neal Adams:


In the documentary, I noticed that you often became very close with people who were extremely hard on you. Your mentor was Batman and Green Lantern artist Neal Adams, who explicitly told you, “You’re not good enough, kid. You’re not going to make it in this business.” And Marvel legend Stan Lee told you that you weren’t ready for Marvel.

Miller: Yeah, that was me submitting work that I’d done when I think I was all of 15. He sent me a very gracious letter saying, “Your stuff isn’t quite up to our standards yet.”

It’s rare just for someone to welcome that kind of criticism. To hear your hero say, “You’re not quite there, and you may never get there” would be crushing for most people.

Miller: It could be. And that’s exactly why [Adams] would say it, because he didn’t think people who aren’t tough enough should stick around. Neal Adams would tell me my work was no good, it absolutely stunk, and I didn’t have a chance, and should go back to Vermont and pump gas. I would just say, “So what should I do?” And he’d throw a big sheet of tracing paper over what I did: “Recompose it for me—and fix the anatomy.” Then he’d tell me, “Go get some little toy cars so you can learn how to draw the damn cars right.” That’s good advice. Actionable advice. Miller: He was endlessly generous. If he saw that you’re worth the time, he would do anything. You became part of his family.


That’s certainly saying a lot more than can be expected of today’s “artists” whose style is mediocre or worse, and are so thin-skinned they won’t accept any criticism. A problem I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob Liefeld had years before, and maybe even Bart Sears, recalling his artwork in the early 2000s was alarmingly awful. Lest we forget, Liefeld’s take on anatomy was bottom of the barrel in quite a few of the tales he drew. Of course, in the age of social media, things have really gone south. Miller also spoke of a new Sin City project he’s working on, and said:


What made you decide to explore that era?

Miller: I had been planning on doing a World War II-era Sin City that was going to be called The Homefront. And I may yet do that one. Then I thought, “Why not just pitch it further back to when they had just founded Sin City?” It was like the legendary Dodge City, just a bunch of saloons and prostitutes and people riding through town. So I started playing with that and I ended up drawing a picture of my guy Marv with a mohawk and paint over his face. And that became the beginning of it.


If he had gone through with a story set during WW2, or does, one can reasonably wonder why he now has such a problem doing any kind of stories dealing with Islamic terrorism, by contrast, recalling his defeatist comments to the UK Guardian just several years after publishing Holy Terror, along with his pathetic apologies for condemning Occupy Wall Street? Seriously, if he can’t confront a modern issue like Islamofascism, there’s no point to tackling WW2 and the Holocaust either, because it only makes focus on the latter topic look like a virtue-signaling joke as a result. All that aside, one more thing I do find peculiar about Miller was his refusal to link to any news articles like these about the sexual violence that occurred at the OWS encampments 13 years ago.



When Miller originally spoke about the issue on the website he had at the time, he just posted a superficial take with nothing to back him up. If he had, it would’ve made it harder at the time for his left-wing detractors to oppose him. I just don’t understand why he couldn’t have made a serious effort to provide some research that would’ve helped his side of the argument. And then Miller’s since continued to [virtue]-signal he remains a left-wing loyalist, as if the situation couldn’t be dismaying enough. It will be interesting to find out if Holy Terror receives any mention in this documentary, and how all involved reference it. For all we know, if it’s discussed at all, it’ll probably be according to Miller’s defeatist viewpoint ever since.


What’s behind your interest in the dark side of human nature? You write about fantastical people, but you bring a warmth and humanity to them even as you focus on things like violent crime or the horrors of war.

Miller: I believe that my stories are about the forces of good and evil, and I believe that those two abstractions are at present in all of us. There would be no such thing as good if it wasn’t something you had to make an effort to be. I’m fascinated by the borderline between psychotic behavior and something that is much deeper and more pernicious. That to me is a lifetime artistic journey.


Making differences clear between good and evil is important. But failure to tackle serious modern issues spoils everything.

Miller’s documentary event was also spoken about at Comic Book Couples Counseling, and I noticed, much to my dismay, there’s a certain would-be writer who’s one of the interviewees in the new documentary:


A preview of the new documentary Frank Miller: American Genius was held last Thursday at the Angelika Film Center in New York City. Directed by Silenn Thomas, the film attempts to encompass Miller’s massive career and impact on the comics medium and larger pop culture. It features interviews with figures you’d expect and a few you wouldn’t: Neal Adams, Richard Donner, Walter Simonson, Howard Chaykin, Jim Lee, Tom King, Joëlle Jones, Tula Lotay, etc.


I guess Tom King’s one of those interviewees we wouldn’t expect, or maybe we would? Considering how awful his writing for mainstream superhero fare is, exploiting established characters to serve reprehensible agendas and other bottom of the barrel purposes – something that’s become sadly common since the turn of the century – that’s exactly why it’s bewildering what even Miller himself must’ve seen in King’s participation, assuming Miller had any oversight in the development. This only makes me feel discouraged from checking out the documentary, if at all. Also, look who else was involved:


Frank Miller: American Genius will premiere at Cinemark locations on June 10th, but I wanted to make the nearly five-hour drive to New York City and catch the preview in person since Neil Gaiman moderated it. Gaiman entered the industry through journalism, eventually crafting comics about eight years after Frank Miller started. This slight gap between them creates a fascinating perspective, and it was a privilege and a delight to sit in the second row, snapping photos and capturing their conversation.


And Gaiman’s such a leftist in his own way, that’s one more reason I’m not feeling up to viewing this in such a hurry. They sure know how to pick all the wrong folks for the job, which, based on Miller’s own violence-laden stories, could also include him. Also, it doesn’t sound like there’s many right-wingers involved in this documentary, which could be telling. Besides, far as I’m concerned, the Dark Knight Returns is decidedly not the colossal classic folks like them want us to think it is. I realize DKR can’t directly be blamed for how editors going forward went miles out of their way to mandate visions similar to what Miller applied to Batman in his take, but even so, it sure had a very negative influence on what was to come, particularly since the turn of the century.


Sometimes, I think, if a dark vision matters, Daredevil was one of the very few items in Miller’s resume worth anything. That said, it’s a shame Miller had to make his mark based on applying darkness to only so many stories, which isn’t a good image for adult entertainment, and makes it look like that’s all a grownup actually cares about, even at the expense of themes like comedy and optimism.


Originally published here

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Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1