Alan Moore and Frank Miller’s Impact on Comics Commercially
The legacy and influence an artist has on all who follow him/her is always surprising. Some artists take a great work as an inspiration to try something as magnificent. Also there is the possibility that a new artist will attempt to rebel against the trends set by a work. It is impossible to say for certain. Some took the works of Whitman as a vindication of American Poetry while others rebelled angrily against Whitman as the supposed voice of America. The influence of an artist is also key from a commercial standpoint. James Cameron changed mainstream American cinema with Avatar proving that there was a sizeable market for 3D films. As a result of this many movies are released in 3D regardless of whether or not they were even shot in 3D. The legacy of an artist is always significant from an artistic standpoint as well as commercially. As has been stated before, Miller and Moore are the most influential artists in the comics medium since Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr.’s work in the 1960s. Moore and Miller have forever changed both the commercial market and artistic sensibilities of comics. Both artists are constantly cited by others as great influences and both have mixed opinions about their legacies.
Miller’s boldness was reflected not only in his ventures as a storyteller but as a businessman as well. While Neal Adams is rightfully hailed as a savior of creator’s rights, Miller is perhaps one of the most significant artists to push for greater creative control in the creation and quality of comics. When Miller was approached by Jeanette Khan about working for DC Comics, he had very specific demands. Miller wanted not only royalty rights for his work on DC but also quality control on the paper that printed his work. So many comics printed during the day were plagued with coloring errors as well as being printed on the lowest quality paper to ensure lowest prices. Miller, however, pushed that The Dark Knight Returns be printed on higher-quality paper that would be able to preserve the tones in coloring as well as making his comics not be as flimsy and easy to rip apart as most comics were at the time. This effort for higher quality paper would be appreciated by many of the artists in the industry. Years later the founders of Image would rally behind having their comics be published on paper that reflected a greater appreciation for the product being sold.
Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, along with Moore’s Watchmen would forever change the market of comics when both works were collected and reprinted in trade paperback form. While originally comics had always ben envisioned as disposable entertainment, Miller and Moore’s work was the first major comic that would never cease being published by a company. The very notion that comics could be bought in bookstores and read in English classes was unheard of prior to Miller and Moore. Miller and Moore’s work would make comics far more acceptable to mainstream audiences. Particularly with the label of “graphic novel” on them. While most involved in comics are quick to dismiss the term “graphic novel” it is indisputable that Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns were instrumental in beginning the practice of collecting comic storylines in soft or hardcover volumes.
The exact impact of the trade paperbacks to comics is always disputed. From a business standpoint, trades have certainly helped comics, but many argue about the artistic merits of trades. Some have argued that too many storylines are extended for the purpose of being collected in a trade. But this fault falls more on Miller and Moore’s successors and not on themselves.
Jeph Loeb expressed his admiration for Miller’s storytelling in Sin City as a model for both comic writers and on the business side:“[Miller] told a story. Killed off the main character and then had him appear in the next one because it took place before. He provided people with an out.” The model of Sin City of telling a finite story that can be enjoyed independent of the other works is something that only some comic authors have chosen to adopt. Mark Millar, one of the most successful comic writers in the industry cites Miller as his favorite comic writer and has also demonstrated a business model that mirrors Sin City. Millar’s storylines are often collected in a single volume and any continuation of a series is labelled as a genuine “sequel” avoiding intimidating number of issues a book has to new readers.
Miller and Moore’s impact to the industry can be seen as a mixed blessing. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns sparked new interest in the comics industry and a trove of new fans who were excited to read comics. Moore has openly declared that the response to Watchmen by most comic creators was wrong. Rather than bring in more adult sensibilities, new ideas and explore different genres within the comics medium comics remained predominately superhero comics and they got darker. If looking at what followed Moore and Miller’s superhero work, Jason Todd was killed, Batman’s back was broken, Superman was killed, Peter Parker physically assaulted Mary-Jane, and Image was even worse with unprecedented darkness and sociopathic violence. But this is an unfair allegation, as comics had been already progressing to greater darkness long before Moore and Miller’s most noted works. Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams focused on racism and drug abuse in Green Lantern/Green Arrow in the 1970s. Iron Man had Tony Stark succumb to alcoholism in 1975. Bruce Banner was revealed in 1985 to be the victim of child abuse, which was labelled as the source for his anger problems. If anything Moore and Miller were reflecting approaches their contemporaries were applying in general to comics, but their works spoke to a much larger audience.
Additionally, comics’ legend Grant Morrison offered in Supergods an alternative interpretation to Image Comics. Morrison sees the works of the Image founders as a punk rock rebellion to the artistic sensibilities and realism that Miller and Moore were offering to the comics’ world. The Image Comics work in the 90s prior to the comics crash was an angry response to realism and even logic in superheroes. While there is some bombast to the works that was likely from a Miller influence the truth is that most of the artists of Image were intentionally writing pure-fun comics that were not at all meant to be taken seriously. They were intentional opposites of the great works made by Miller and Moore (and O’Neil).
So what is the true artistic legacy of Miller and Moore? They were not the founders of the Dark Age of comics, though they certainly were the most prominent of the artists of this era. After Moore left DC, Karen Berger searched through Britain searching for new talents to bring to American comics. The British Comics Invasion saw names like Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar and Moore’s own protégé Neil Gaiman begin work in American comics. Their own voices would prove to be as unique and as impactful to comics as Moore. Warren Ellis’ work in The Authority would be one of the most influential interpretations of superheroes since Watchmen, with superheroes being portrayed as willing to fight dictators. But no work since Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns has ever reached as much universal prestige and praise. Gaiman’s The Sandman is the only other major comic series that is known to those who don’t read comics. But the medium still is only a niche market. Miller and Moore were not able to break Frederic Wertham’s demonization of comics as a form of entertainment for anyone but children or nerds. Perhaps Miller and Moore’s legacy is that of the one exception to the general trivialization of comics.
The average person would probably be more impressed of Jeph Loeb being the writer of Commando, Heroes and Agents of SHIELD despite being the author of Batman: The Long Halloween a perennial bestselling graphic novel. Most would be more fascinated by Brian K. Vaughn being the head writer of Season 4 of Lost, and not interested in being the bestselling author of Saga. Comics are still viewed as if nothing else the source material for superhero movies. While Frank Miller and Alan Moore are not a common household name heard, their work is one of the only ones celebrated in its original medium of comics. Moore and Miller consistently still are bestsellers even when their work is derided or controversial. While other artists are respected, only they seem to gain serious critical attention for works published. Miller and Moore are the only artists celebrated for being comics writers.