at the Diamond Comic Distributors Retailers Seminar
by Frank Miller
Let me get started by
asking you all to join me in honoring two good men we recently
lost. I'm corny enough to ask you to stand up for this part.
A round of applause, please, for as dear a friend as comics
ever had: Mr. Don Thompson.
And another round—let's
make this an even bigger one; I want the walls to shake this
time—for the greatest artist in the history of comics:
Mr. Jack Kirby.
Well, it's a pretty big room,
but I think you did it. The walls had to shake for Jack, just
like they would have on one of his pages.
An age passes with Jack Kirby.
Us comics folks, we're all fond of naming "ages" of
comics. We've come up with a half-dozen names for them in the
last half-dozen years. But a very big age of comics is coming
to an end now, and, I've got to say, I can't call it the Marvel
Age of Comics, because I don't believe in rewarding thievery.
I call it the Jack Kirby Age of Comics.
By saying this, I mean no disrespect
to the outstanding and remarkable works of
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and many
others. We are in their debt as well. But it was Jack Kirby
who defined the style and method of every comics artist who
followed him. There is before Kirby, and after Kirby. One age
does not resemble the other.
The King is dead. There is no successor
to that title. We will never see his like again.
There are many others we should honor tonight. Too many, far
too many. Comics have been around long enough for us to lose
the generation that gave us the art form and the industry we
celebrate tonight. They leave us with their example of the best
our weird little corner of art and commerce: their love, their
love of comics.
For most of you and me here, I
know that love has been lifelong. And to our families, schoolmates,
and acquaintances, it's seemed a little unnatural, hasn't it?
It's always seemed a little weird, hasn't it?
Bear with me while I tell you
about Frankie Markham, and how I fell in love with comics.
I was a skinny kid in grade school. The gangly kind of kid who
grows tall too fast and falls down too much playing Softball.
Frankie Markham was my nemesis. Frankie Markham was mean and
ugly and a number of years older than me, a tough-ass farm boy,
a bully. He must've been all of twelve years old. You know what
I mean. A grown-up.
Me, I started out wanting to be
Superboy. My mom was kind enough to sew me a Superboy suit,
and I often wore it under my school clothes. Only to a crowd
like this would I admit that.
There came the day when I had
to stop being Superboy. That was the day Frankie Markham slapped
me around and punched out my buddy Craig. He punched him so
hard it dislodged his braces. Craig was a bloody mess, and I
was bawling like a baby. It was all I could do, bawl like a
The fantasy was shattered. Superboy
would've flattened Frankie Markham, or at least used his heat
vision. I knew that I couldn't be Superboy anymore. It was time
for this third-grader to grow up, so I did. With a new, pragmatic
world view, I did the realistic thing. The mature thing. The
grown-up thing: I decided I was Spider-Man.
Spider-Man had trouble with bullies,
too. They embarrassed him in front of girls. They called him
names. But he put up with it, concealing the secret of his awesome
power. He put up with it and put up with it, just like me, he
put up with it and put up with it, until—
And now my story moves towards its sense-shattering climax.
At least I wish it did. I'd love to say that I kicked Frankie
Markham's ass from Vermont to Wisconsin, but I never did that.
I never had a fight with Frankie Markham, and I'd have lost
it if I had. But I did learn to fight back against the bullies,
with my fists and my wits, and Spider-Man helped. I gained courage,
I learned to control my arms and legs, and I fought back. Somewhere
along the way I even earned Frankie Markham's respect.
And Spider-Man helped.
It was years later, the last time
I saw Frankie Markham. I was driving then, so I must have been
about 17 years old. I was driving down some back road of Vermont,
and there he was standing by the road, hitchhiking. I pulled
over and picked him up and drove him over to some other back
road. On the way, he told me that he'd heard I was moving to
New York City and that I was going to become a comic-book artist.
He thought that was really cool.
I let him off. I watched him lumber off. I watched Frankie Markham
lumber off, down that back road. My old nemesis. All of a sudden
he seemed small and sad. Not very often at all, I wonder about
what happened to Frankie Markham.
Comics have always been desperately
important to me. As a refuge. As inspiration. As a vehicle
for my fantasies. As a career. I know I'm not alone, not in
this room, in loving what comics are and what they can do. It's
that love that built this industry.
Jack Kirby was the biggest and
brightest of a generation that brought so much love to the page
that our entire industry is built upon it. It was an amazing
generation. An epic generation. When you think about what they
did...They clawed their way out of the Great Depression. Just
this month, we were celebrating how they stormed the beaches
of Normandy, beat Hitler, and quite literally saved the world.
And along the way, they, in their generosity, gave us the comic
And now I'm lucky enough to be
enough of a player in this field to be invited to speak to you
all about the future of comics. And I will. But there's no way
to talk about the future of comics without addressing its past.
There's no way to properly understand where we are now and where
we are going without looking at where we have been—and
our history is
so clouded by misconceptions and outright lies that I have to
dispel a few of them just to help us all think straight.
Too often our villains have written
our history. It's very important that we keep in mind that up
until very recently everything that's been any damn good about
comics has been done in spite of the rules of the game, not
because of them. Men like Jack Kirby and Joe Shuster and Jerry
Siegel and Wallace Wood and Steve Ditko—they brought such
generous love to the page, and such joy to our lives, and so
much money to our bank accounts, that it is easy to forget,
way too easy to forget, that they were treated disgracefully.
Ours is a sad, sorry history.
We have to keep that in mind while we're in this room enjoying
this. It's a story of broken lives. Of suicides. Of brilliant
talents treated like galley slaves. Talents denied the legal
authorship of what they created with their own hands and minds.
Ignored or treated as nuisances while their creations went on
to make millions and millions of dollars.
An industry kept alive by love,
in spite of all this. The love they gave the page. It's a powerful
thing. We must honor our dead, and we must understand our history.
We cannot move forward without looking very clearly at where
we have been. Misconceptions. Outright lies.
Here's a whopper. One that has cost us dearly. The dreaded 1950s.
Fredric Wertham. The outside world.
It seems a week doesn't go by where I don't sit down with my
Comics Buyer's Guide and read about somebody, somewhere, fretting
about the almighty outside world and how it is bound to notice
our adventures are getting more adventurous. Nobody's come after
us in any big way, but there's a little bit of the stink of
censorship in the air, isn't there? There's all this noise about
Janet Reno and Paul Simon and Beavis and Butthead, isn't there?
And we all know what happened last time, don't we? In the 'fifties,
with Fredric Wertham and the Senate hearings. They shut us down,
The outside world went and noticed
us. The United States Senate held hearings and decided comic
books caused juvenile delinquency, right? So we had to institute
the Comics Code, right? Our backs were against the wall, right?
Wrong. Dead wrong. They didn't.
The Senate vindicated us. Fredric Wertham failed.
This is how screwy our sense of our own history is. Most people
in comics don't realize that the Senate vindicated us. After
due consideration, the United States Senate decided comic books
were not a cause of juvenile delinquency. We were vindicated.
Why, then, the Comics Code? Abject
cowardice, maybe? Maybe partly, but not entirely.
We were vindicated. Why did the comics industry go and adopt
a code of self-censorship far stricter than any in entertainment?
Why would a healthy, vital industry selling comics by the truckload—hell,
by the trainload—go and castrate itself? Why?
The answer may just make you all a little sick to your stomachs.
You see, comics publishers in the 1950s had a problem. This
problem had a name. Its name was William Gaines.
William M. Gaines was the rarest
of creatures, a brilliant publisher. His EC Comics outsold everybody
else's comics by a long shot because they were better than anybody
else's comics. By a long shot. The other publishers couldn't
compete with him. Not fairly, anyway. So they used the free-floating
fear of the time to shut him down.
If you read the Comics Code—and
I have—you'll see that it was written with no purpose
more noble than driving EC Comics out of business. That was
its purpose, and it succeeded at it [waving Americana in Four
Colors, a booklet published by the Comics Code].
I can back this up. I've got a
copy of the Comics Code right here [ripping the cover off the
Excuse me, but I'm having some
trouble opening it.
Here are a couple of examples
of the Comics Code. General Standards, Part A, Paragraph 11:
"The letters of the word 'crime' should never be greater
appreciably in dimension than other words contained on a cover.
The word 'crime' should
never appear alone on a cover." See ya, Johnny Craig [ripping
pages from the booklet, throwing them away].
And here is General Standards,
Part B, Paragraph A: "No comic magazine shall use the word
'horror' or 'terror' in its title."
A noble effort, folks.
That's why we had that damn stupid
Comics Code for all these years. Not to protect children. Not
to satisfy the United States Senate. Not to mollify Fredric
Wertham. We were stuck with the Comics Code for all those dumb
decades because a pack of lousy comics publishers in the '50s
wanted to shut down Bill Gaines.
Misconceptions. That one continues
to haunt us. Because of something that never happened, our industry
cringes like a battered child every time there's a hint of a
threat from the outside world. Every few years, the fear talk
starts again. Every few years, the producers of stories about
heroes who never give up start whimpering that we should fold
up our tents and surrender to an enemy who hasn't even shown
These days, the fashionable form of self-censorship is a rating
system, so that's what people suggest. Cover advisories are
waved like a magic wand that will chase away the censors. Cover
advisories. Little apologies printed on the corner of covers.
Nobody will bother us if we apologize... if the storm troopers
come after us, we'll be safe if we say we're sorry...
Come on! What kind of self-delusion
is that? Did cover advisories help Omaha the Cat Dancer or Yummy
Fur or any of the other comics seized in busts? No! It pointed
them out, if anything. That's the first reason why cover advisories
are a bad idea: they simply don't work. All they do is save
the censors a little time.
Please understand: I believe you
should know what you're ordering. Solicitation forms should
tell you if a given comic might be trouble, so you can make
your informed choice in your shop in your community as to how
you want to handle the comic—or if you want to carry it
at all. That's your decision. And it's my duty to put together
my comic so that the format, the price point, and the cover
honestly represent the contents.
It's a matter of choices, yours
and mine, and whether or not we'll be left free to make our
I know I'm not out there on the
front lines like you all are. Nobody's going to storm into my
studio and take my brushes and pens and paper away. But we are
in this together, and when you lose, I lose.
Here's a string of them, and all about the same man: Neal Adams
is crazy. Neal Adams just didn't like to work. Neal Adams was
just being a troublemaker.
I can testify, as a firsthand
witness: if there's ever an accurate history of comics written,
Neal Adams will be recognized not just as a brilliant and influential
artist, but as a visionary, as a pioneer. As one of the heroes
of the field. And if our future is as bright as I believe it
can be, Neal Adams will be appreciated as the man who helped
us turn a crucial corner toward that future.
I was there. I can testify. Neal
Adams recognized that the talent was treated disgracefully.
As much as he loved the doing of comics—I've never seen
anybody work harder! Anybody who saw him can testify to this.
Even the flu didn't stop this guy—as much as he loved
the doing, Neal was willing to sacrifice hours and days that
amounted to years of a brilliant career, all to gain some measure
of justice for Siegel and Shuster and others.
These days, cartoonists negotiate
over how high a royalty is to be paid, not whether or not any
will be paid at all. Neal came into a field where royalties
were unheard of. A field where publishers routinely allowed
original artwork to be stolen or shredded—did you know
that at least one major publisher used to routinely shred the
Picture something from the Golden
Age. Something by your favorite artist: Joe Kubert, whoever,
Carmine Infantine Back then the originals were bigger [gesturing
to indicate page size]. Now imagine taking this Joe Kubert page
and shoving it into a shredder and watching the little fingers
come out the other end [miming action described]. I've just
described to you the first work that one publisher gave to several
comic-book writers I know.
Neal was one of the very few people
who helped change all this—and along the way he taught
a younger generation, my generation, that our work was worthy
of respect. That our efforts deserved to be rewarded. That our
families need not go hungry while our creations went on to make
He taught me. He showed me that
company loyalty at that time was an oxymoron that only a moron
could believe. He had to be very patient. We don't really learn
until it happens to us, do we? And there's always that little
voice that says, "That was a long time ago, what they did
to Siegel and Shuster and Kirby and Ditko..."
So it's no wonder that a lot of
us were surprised when we learned that 17 years of loyal service
and spectacular sales didn't buy Chris Claremont one whit of
loyalty from Marvel Comics.
That was just one of many lessons
learned by my generation, and now that we've learned them, it's
astounding to find out how many allies Neal Adams had—and
how well they disguised themselves. A few months ago, I read
a release from Defiant Comics and found out that Jim Shooter
has spent his whole career fighting for creators' rights. You
could have knocked me over with a feather.
I knew Shooter was talented and
accomplished. I knew he had something to do with the Legion
of Super-Heroes. I had no idea he was Duo Damsel.
Here's one lie you can almost
forgive, given the current condition of its source. Marvel Comics
is trying to sell you all on the notion that the characters
are the only important component in comics. As if nobody ever
had to create those characters. As if the audience is so brain-dead
it can't tell a good job from a bad one. You can almost forgive
them this, since their characters aren't leaving them in droves
like the talent is.
For me, it's a bit of a relief
to finally see Marvel's old work-made-for-hire, talent-don't-matter
mentality put to the test. We've all seen the results. They
aren't even rearranging the deck chairs.
And the way Marvel's treating
you all—the things I've been hearing about ... I'd half
expect that if I snuck past Terry Stewart's secretary and through
his office and into the board room and saw who the real boss
is at Marvel, I might just find out what happened to Frankie
Markham after all!
Marvel Comics has been caught
flat-footed and dumbstruck by a sea change in our industry.
They are paying the price for separating the talent from the
characters. As if one is worth a damn without the other. They're
showing why creator ownership is so important,
not just to me—that's obvious—but to you as well.
Work-made-for-hire isn't just
bad for artists. It's bad for business. Your business.
When I'm out on the road at conventions or store signings, there's
one question I get asked just about every time. Comics fans
are generally a very polite bunch, but some anger usually shows
when they ask this question:
"How come people don't stay
"We loved your Batman. Why
didn't you stay? We loved your Daredevil. Why didn't you stay?"
There's a whole pile of answers
to that one. You run out of steam. You have a fight with your
collaborator. Blah, blah, blah. Things happen. But the main
reason a lot of us leave best-selling titles for work-made-for-hire
publishers is simple: you get sick of feeling like a schmuck.
Don't get me wrong, here. Like
everybody else of my generation, I knew the score coming in.
I knew that I was playing with the company's toys. I knew that
any characters I created would be turned into cannon fodder
for other people. I knew that when I was promised that nobody
else would be allowed to write Elektra, I knew that promise
would be kept right up until the moment it was convenient for
them to break it, which is exactly what they did. I knew all
my efforts wouldn't amount to a hill of beans if some editor
wanted my job, or had a buddy who did, and fired me. No matter
how well the book was selling.
Don't take my word for that one. Ask Chris Claremont. Ask Louise
Simonson. Ask Jo Duffy.
Yeah, I knew all that. And I knew
that I was strip-mining the past instead of building the future.
That was the game, and I knew it, and I played it, and I had
a ball. But after a while I did start feeling like a schmuck.
So I took the risk and broke away and signed on with a younger
publisher, Dark Horse, one of many new publishers who have come
along to offer better terms. Publishers not trapped in the old
grab-it-all, keep-it-all ways.
And I'm happier now than I've
ever been. I own Sin City. Nothing can be done with Sin City
without my permission. I can't keep my hands off Sin City. I
love Sin City. The love we give the page. It's a powerful thing.
And now I can finally give that
angry fan an answer he might like. An answer I could never have
given him before.
If it's Sin City, I write it.
If it's Sin City, I draw it. That's a promise. No exceptions.
No fill-in issues. That's a promise. It's a promise I can make
only because I own Sin City.
The creator bound to his creation.
The creator in charge of his creation. It's better for me, and
it's better for you.
Things are on their way to getting
a whole lot better for both of us. But, still, the old, fearful
mind-set pers1St, The old self-contempt. And never has it been
more shamelessly displayed than in the resentment and hatred
that's been aimed at Image Comics.
For decades, rotten business practices
caused a steady, slow brain dram, driving talent away one by
one. One by one. Each individual artist or writer, more or less
replaceable. There were always new kids to come along and feed
Then along came ringmaster Todd
McFarlane and his amazing friends. Instant millionaires, I'm
told. Their popularity at a fever pitch. They had it made. They
had money. They had fame. They had no reason to leave-except
that they were smart enough to realize that the best you can
get under work-made-for-hire is the status of a well-paid servant.
So they left. Brilliantly, they left all at once.
Consider this: Todd McFarlane
and his pals turned then back on guaranteed wealth Guaranteed
fame. They risked all of that on something that had never been
tried before-an imprint that represented a group of artists
rather than a bankroll.
And it was a gamble. It never
seems that way when a gamble works out, but I am sure Todd and
Jim Lee and Rob Leafed each had long nights when they wondered
if they'd made the biggest mistake of their lives.
They gambled and won. They shattered
the work-made-for-hire mentality, showing how unnecessary it
is. Even more surprisingly, they broke Marvel's stranglehold
on the marketplace. The kids went with them. And people hate
them for it.
Consider this: the best-selling
comic book in the country is creator-owned. And artists aren't
celebrating. Too many of us are acting like galley slaves complaining
that the boat is leaking.
Consider this: I wrote an issue
of Spawn and was called a sellout-but nobody called me a sellout
when I did Dark Knight and made more money from Batman than
Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, and Dick Sprang ever made combined.
Consider this: because of Image
Comics, artists enjoy new opportunities and are paid better,
even at Marvel Comics.
And nobody's said "thank
Let me be the first, then. Gentlemen.
And, speaking as one of us who
was out in the trenches a few years earlier, you're wel-come,
And now Image has inspired Legend
and Bravura and, I'm sure, other talent-based imprints to come.
We are headed for better times and better comics.
There are new self-publishers and new publishers ready to offer
fair and honorable terms. New homes for new creations-in a field
that has been starving for something new and fresh. The future
I know this has been a scary time
for many of you, maybe all of you. The Marvel Age of superhero
universes, the Jack Kirby Age of Comics, is coming to an end.
It's gone supernova and burned itself out and begun its slow,
steady collapse into a black hole
We couldn't feed off the genius of Jack Kirby forever. The King
is dead, and he has no successor. We will never see his like
again. No single artist will replace him. No art form can expect
to be gifted with more than one talent as brilliant as his.
The rest of us, we will build
upon what he gave us. We'll bring our best efforts, our own
quirky, mischievous, and rude efforts. We'll screw up, we'll
get lucky, we'll do right, we'll do wrong. We'll make comics
that are diverse and wild. We'll take chances.
We'll need you to take chances,
too. When you hear about next week's new work-made-for-hire
superhero universe, please don't stifle that yawn. Take a chance
on the new comics Look for the ones where the creator has every
reason to stay and can't be fired because he owns it, because
it is his, and it is him.
It's a scary time because change
is always scary. But all the pieces are in place for a new proud
era, a new age of comics. And nothing's standing in our way,
nothing too awfully big Nothing except some old, bad habits
and our own fears. We won't let them stop us We'll drop them
off on some back road, like I did with Frankie Markham. We won't
wonder what happened to them. Not very often, we won't.
won't let them stop us.