Few creators in the comics field have had the influence that Frank Miller has enjoyed. The 60-year-old writer-artist is often the first name off the lips of people who have barely read a comic in their lives, largely for his three-decade-old seminal smashes The Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil: Born Again. Since then, he’s become a subject of controversy because of the over-the-top violence, hypersexualization, and perceived cynicism in works ranging from Sin City to 300 and Holy Terror. Nevertheless, he has remained a revered titan of his field, and we caught up with him at San Diego Comic-Con to chat about Dr. Seuss, his upcoming Batman: Year One–esque Superman origin story, and whether he’s gotten around to watching the Netflix series about a character he made world-famous.
You’ve been coming to Comic-Cons for a while. What’s the secret to survival?
Just to enjoy it. It’s the kind of thing you learn doing any kind of public appearance: Don’t stay out too late, don’t take it too seriously. Mostly. Generally understand if you’re in a position like any of the guests are, that you’re not there to be at a party or to be made to feel good or anything like that, you’re there as a salesman and as a representative of your work. You wind up having a great time, especially at shows run as well as this one. Your focus shouldn’t be, Great, I get to see all of my friends and we’re just going to have a great time day and night. You’ll just end up dead.
In that case, tell me what you’re selling these days.
I’m working on all kinds of things. I’ve got a new Superman project that’s getting started, telling his origins.
Can you tell us a little more about that? What is it?
It’s like my book Batman: Year One. It’s going to be “Superman: Year One.” It’s going to be telling his beginnings from when Pa Kent discovers him in the cornfield, and the little boy grows to youth and then to manhood and begins to find his fortune in the big city.
What’s the time frame on that?
We’ll see. I’m not quite sure.
Will you be writing and drawing or just writing or drawing?
We’re going over things. I can’t name the artist right now, but I’ll be writing that. I’m working on that, and I’m coming back and completing my half-finished book, which is the companion volume to my 300. It’s Xerxes.
Right, the prequel. What’s that going to be like?
That’s going to be very, very big. The story’s expanded a great deal. The story of Xerxes is much larger than the story of 300, which was a three-day battle, after all. Xerxes had a very long and powerful reign, and he was the successor to King Darius. His reign ushered in the rise of Alexander the Great. This’ll be a very, very big project. It’s by far the biggest thing I’m tackling.
I seem to recall that you’re working on a children’s book about mythology. Is that still in the works?
Yeah, I’m playing around with various children’s-book ideas. It still feels like a big, gaping hole in my career right now, that I don’t have at least one children’s book under my belt.
Along those lines: I see you have a Cat in the Hat pin. Did you grow up a big Cat in the Hat fan?
How did Dr. Seuss influence your work?
When I was a little boy reading The Cat in the Hat and all the other Dr. Seuss books, what was magical to me was that in these lyrical little singsong rhymes, he would tell adventures of pure fantasy and of visual insanity. They were absolutely liberating to a young artist and a young writer and just a kid. I grew up first on Dr. Seuss and then on Superman comics and Batman comics and Spider-Man comics and all of that. My childhood was constantly enriched by big, broad adventures with brightly colored stories. I’ve kind of stayed there ever since.
What’s the future of the Dark Knight franchise?
It can go pretty much anywhere. I’ve got plans that have been running through my mind and some things I’ve discussed with [Dark Knight III: The Master Race co-author] Brian Azzarello that are possibilities for where the franchise can go. The machinery of the DC universe and the mythology of it is so broad and so rich that the possibilities are as wide as you can get.
What did you think of Wonder Woman? The movie, I mean.
I adored it. I honestly think it’s the best superhero movie since the original Chris Reeve Superman. I thought they honestly hit out of the park.
What did you like about it?
Everything I can name. By far and away the thing I liked the most was [Gal] Gadot herself. I thought she was genuinely mythic. Beyond being spectacularly beautiful, her performance was magical. They played up the mythological aspects wonderfully. The historical stuff was spot-on. Even some of the casting choices, right down to having Captain Kirk show up as Steve Trevor — using him to underscore her eternal youth and beauty, by having him cast clearly as the fragile mortal she’d leave behind. They did so much right. It’s wonderful.
Speaking of the DC movies, you got name-checked today at Hall H. Ben Affleck was asked where he was when he found out he got the role of Batman and he said he was talking to Zack Snyder, and Snyder reached down under his desk and brought out a statue version of Batman and Superman fighting in The Dark Knight Returns. He said something like, “I want to make a movie like this.” Have you interacted much with Ben Affleck?
I met Ben first on the Daredevil set. We got along great there. I’ve seen him from time to time since, but not all that much. A real nice guy.
Speaking of Daredevil, have you watched the Daredevil Netflix series yet?
Not really, no. I haven’t had a chance yet.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
What do people misunderstand about you? What mistakes do people make about you that you’d like to clear up?
Oh, I’d rather have people make whatever mistakes they’re going to make and remain as much a man of mystery as capable. [Laughs.] I’m not trying to be understood.
Probably better that way, I suppose.
Yeah. Too many people understand all too well. I’m not eager for more.
Are there any characters that you really want to play with that you’ve never been able to touch before?
Through Dark Knight, I’ve been able to touch all the ones from the DC pantheon, but I’ve never had the crack at Superman that I want to have. There are lots of other characters that are supporting characters and so on, but they work their way in because they’re hung around the major characters. In the case of DC Comics, which by far has the strongest and richest mythology, there are those three fundamental pillars they have of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Then they have all the other characters that string along underneath and are just wonderful.
My last question: Are there any comics creators that are on the younger side these days whose work you’ve seen and have been really impressed by?
Yes, there are. The one who leaps to mind right now is Lee Weeks. I find his work extraordinary and it gets better all the time.
This interview has been edited and condensed.