Highly influential U.S. comics writer, artist and film director Frank Miller is the creator of the “Dark Knight” Batman comics series, and also “Sin City,” and “300,” among others. He spoke to Variety at the largest geek meet in Europe, Lucca Comics & Games, about his European idol, Hugo Pratt, where he would take the “Batman” movie franchise if he had his way, and his plans to explore Superman’s Jewish origins.
First off, we’re in this medieval town at a pretty unique event. So I wanted to ask you about your relationship with Lucca Comics. As I understand it you’ve been here before, quite some time ago.
When I first came here, I believe it was 1985, it was much earlier in my career. I’d just done my book “Ronin,” which had not been that well received in the United States. I had studied European and Asian comics from New York, buying them at the Forbidden Planet shop. But coming here and getting close to it, and meeting artists like Milo Manara and so many of the others including an idol of mine, Hugo Pratt, was just a great journey. I was really getting a full experience of the European album for the first time.
Have European comics been an influence on your work?
Yes, talking to the artists gave me a sense of a different intent to their stories. American comics are so super charged to keep your attention at all times. But to see an approach that took a more leisurely pace, and a more fun one, was refreshing. On top of that I discovered the European point of view was that comic books worked for adults. They were also for kids, of course. Actually they were for kids, but you could get away with them being also for adults. So for me it was an inspiration.
Speaking of Hugo Pratt, I noticed that at a recent “Suicide Squad” premiere you were wearing a T-shirt with Pratt’s “Corto Maltese” character, the romantic sailor, on it.
I was studying “Corto Maltese” before it got translated, strictly for the brush work, which greatly informed how I did “Sin City.” The brevity of it goes all the way back to Milton Caniff. But Pratt had his own edge that I found fascinating and like nothing else I’d ever seen. I wanted to learn from it and integrate it.
Your work is very influential all over the world; you re-invented Batman with the groundbreaking “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” book in 1986, which influenced every ‘Batman’ movie ever since. If you had your way, where would you take the “Batman” movie franchise today?
My dream would be to make it much smaller. To lose the toys and to focus more on the mission, and to use the city a great deal more. Because he’s got a loving relationship with the city he’s protecting. And unlike Superman his connection to crime is intimate; it has been ever since his parents were murdered. And he defeats criminals with his hands. So it would be a different take. But it will never be in my hands, because it would not be a good place to make toys from. There wouldn’t be a line of toys.
Is this how you approached it with Darren Aronofsky on the Batman movie project that Warner Bros never made?
That screenplay was based on my book “Batman: Year One,” and yeah it was much more down to earth. In it a fair amount of time is spent before he became Batman, and when he went out and fought crime he really screwed it up a bunch of times before he got it right. So it was 90-minute origins story.
Have you seen the movie “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”?
And what did you think?
I’ll just say: ‘Thanks.’ What can I say? — he laughs — no, actually I’ll withdraw that; I’ll say: ‘You’re welcome!’
You’ve mentioned a new “300” project. Is that a movie project?
No. I’ve heard rumors of another “300” sequel, I’m not a part of that. I’m working on a book that’s going to be much more mystical than “300.” It’s the story of the journey of Xerxes [the fourth king of kings of the Persian Achaemenid dynasty.] It’s really an excuse to travel and to go to the library and start studying the culture.
Do you have anything cooking in the movie sphere?
Nothing in progress, no.
Recently at New York Comic Con you said Donald Trump would make a great comic book character, which sounded like you were going to do a book on him. Are you working on a Trump book?
I write about bigger subjects.
There is a bigger subject I’ve read you are going to tackle: an origins of Superman story exploring Superman’s Jewish roots. Can you tell me more?
Yes. It’s something I want to do. I’ve only discussed this briefly with DC; it’s not a work in progress. But there is no denying what the actual origins of Superman are. They’ve been clouded over through the years. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster [who created Superman in 1933] must have been aware that they created him during a time of rampant anti-Semitism. All this was timed in the shadow of a war being waged by the worst anti-Semite the world has ever seen. So I would just like to bring it back home.
When you tell a superhero story you tell it in broad strokes. You don’t sneak you message in. I would love to see the visuals of Superman facing a Panzer tank and the emotional release of him smashing a place like [the] Buchenwald [concentration camp].