You gotta love Frank when he's got something to say...
April 28: Frank Miller delivered a provocative keynote address at last nightís Harvey Awards that examined the comics professionís self-perception, the relationship between comics and Hollywood, and the influence of Wizard Magazine. A full transcript of his speech follows:
Thank you. Itís kinda hard to be cranky at a pace thatís not manic [laughter]. Most of the reason I get cranky is when perfectly sensible people act in perfectly stupid ways. Like in comics, like right now. Iím talking about how comics people relate to the rest of the world. Itís really strange. Itís really weird. It doesnít make any sense. Think of it like, we know we need a lot from the rest of the world. Weíre trying to be really good. Weíre showing our sunny best to the doorstep. We bring flowers and presents and ring the doorbell and then we run like hell. We got issues, the kind we canít stuff into a mylar snug. Is it a love/hate relationship or is it a lust/fear relationship? I donít know. Weíre confused. Weíre sending more mixed signals than the Florida electorate. Just listen to us.
"Excuse me? Rest of the world? [pause] Please notice us. Please notice us. Way over here, the guy with the bad haircut, thatís me. Excuse me, rest of the world? PleaseÖ donít notice us. You might censor us. Please. Please. Iíll censor myself so thoroughly itíll make your head spin. Iíll be vewy vewy qwiet. Excuse me, rest of the world? Please give me Hollywood money [laughter]. Just a little bit of it. Just a little of what youíve got would mean so much to me. Excuse me, rest of the world, once youíve had your way with me. Once youíreÖ done with that, you donít have to leave a note or anything. But please donít laugh at me."
Mixed signals is damn confusing. Still and all, we live here and we better figure out what the hell weíre doing. The Direct Market is about as hale and hearty as a beached whale and Marvel Comics has spent the last few years muttering to itself and pushing around a shopping cart [laughter]. So failing to look for new readers and new venues would be eight kinds of stupid, we gotta shop around. Two questions then: What do we want from whom? And what do we have to offer?
First off, then, [scornfully] "the rest of the world." Itís really sad that so many of us call it "the outside world." Sadder, worse yet, is that we call it "the real world." If itís real, then what are we, fake? So having established that we are not a laboratory experiment or an incredible simulation, letís postulate that the very large part of the world that is unconcerned with comic books is not an alien planet. Weíre part of it, itís our world too. So what do we want from it? Letís just think clearly, what do we want from this world? More readers? Well, absolutely. Money? Sure. With money just make sure that you read the fine print, keep your eye out for two terms, "perpetual license" and "your first born." And donít drop the soap [laughter].
What else? Respect. Mass market acceptance. Well, with that, kinda like a gerbil being dropped into a Cuisinart, it gets a little dicey. After all, thereís a reason they call it the mass market. Itís massive. Itís fat, itís big, and itís dumb as a post. You see, it all gets down to mouths. Not brains, not heart, not soul, just mouths. It all gets down to food. This will make sense soon, I promise.
People who call our culture a consumer culture are on the right track, but they donít go nearly far enough. Ours is a devouring culture. Our choices of words are revealing, look at how even in our own field the creative work is called "product." Itís just product. Look at how artists, writers, brain surgeons, and pig farmers are all lumped together under the term "provider." If she saves your life on the operating table, sheís a provider. If he flips your burger, heís a provider. Would you likewise lump together Walt Whitman, Michelangelo, and Rosie OíDonnell as content providers? [Laughter.]
Product. From Dennyís to McDonalds to Texaco to Exxon, the mass market makes one preeminent demand of its product and that demand is that it be consistent. You wanna know what youíre gonna get. No challenges, no surprises, a cheeseburger in Boise must taste and look exactly like a cheeseburger in Seattle. Everything has gotta be easy to swallow. Everything has gotta be the same every time, no challenges, no surprises. Of all of the homogenous products ingested equally today, the most uniquely predictable is entertainment. Vast media entertainment. Hollywood. Swimming pools, movie stars [laughter]. And donít get me wrong, working in Hollywood can be a gas. Itís a fun business, a glamorous business, a sexy business. But the operative word here is business. You must never forget that when youíre dealing with these folks. Itís business, itís always business. Youíll meet lovely people, sweet people, even honest people, really. Iíve met [pause] two [laughter]. The honest people are the ones telling you that youíre as disposable as used cat litter and just as valued. Endure the happy talk, but be aware that itís friendship when they want free work out of you and itís just business when they turn around and fire your sorry butt. Expect to be fired, it is an axiom in Hollywood. Youíll hear it from any veteran screenwriter between bitter sips of whisky at Musso and Frankís, you will be rewritten. Itís not becaus anybodyís being particularly malicious, most of the time anyway, and it isnít necessarily because what you write sucks. Itís the money, honey.
Comic books cost, what, about two grand to publish? That isnít even a tip for a caterer. The stakes are so high, they paralyze the mind here. They need so many butts in so many seats that they canít afford to annoy, offend, or confuse anybody, ever. Product has got to be safe, dependable. No challenges, no surprises. You wanna know what youíre gonna get. Itís a pleasant and ruthless business, Hollywood is. So when they come calling, and they will come callingóthese days movie options are falling across our field like pieces of the Hindenbergówhen Hollywood comes calling play it smart. If you want to play the game, stay smart. And never forget that you hold the only card that counts: ideas. Stay smart, donít be snowed. Theyíve got all the money in the universe. Theyíve got offices the size of football fields, theyíve got gorgeous trophy wives, and theyíre so awfully busy that theyíre chatting in a cel phone and watching dailies when youíre trying to talk to them. And they even refer to really famous people by their first names. But theyíre running a little dry when it comes to ideas.
Thatís not exactly right, theyíve got ideas, they got bags of ideas. There are very talented minds in Hollywood and lots of them, and there are people who work very hard and aspire to bring fine ideas to fruition. Thereís even a tiny handful whoíve achieved something really wonderful, but God, so much of it ends up as roadkill. Itís the money, honey. The money and the fear, theyíre close personal friends. Thereís another close personal friend who happens to be his boss and heíll fire your close, personal friend the instant your project doesnít look that sure. The sure thing. Safe. Consistent. Predictable. Easy to swallow. So even when ideas are generated in Hollywood, they might as well be submitted to the Teleban Arts Council [laughter].
And here we are. Weíre just ripe for the picking; weíre just bursting with fresh ideas. We must look like a pinata to those folks, and theyíre certainly treating us like one. Give it a whack, break the sucker open and see what falls out. These ideas that weíve got, itís not that weíre smarter than Hollywoodówell, yeah, weíre smarter than Hollywoodóbut itís not that. Itís that in comics we can take an idea the distance without running up the national debt. Our ideas donít need to go through that abortion clinic they call "the development process." Weíve got what they want because they canít make it happen. We have to know this, we have to be aware of this. So if youíre gonna do business with Hollywood, never think of yourself as a second class citizen.
Stay smart, stand tall and steel yourself. Get ready. Know that one of three things is gonna happen. Thing #1: Your creation will be translated to a work of utter genius. It will make millions and millions and millions of dollars and Gwynneth Paltrow will call you seven times a day and Jennifer Lopez will drape herself all over you as you accept your Oscar for best picture. Thing #2: Youíll make some pretty good money, but that creation that you took all that time writing and drawing will be remembered for all time as one really crapo movie. Thing #3 is where things get really depressing. Thing #3 is where your creation is consigned to the elephantís graveyard. The elephantís graveyard is what I call a certain set of shelves that just about every development executive seems to have. These are shelves piled high with dead screenplays. I know this sounds strange, Iíve seen a lot of them. I donít know why they display these unproduced, unloved, God forsaken scripts from movies that never got made all stacked like cord wood, but they do. And itís weird. Stay smart. Get it in writing. Donít put your baby on the block unless youíre ready to see her sold and stand tall. If they talk to you, they want what youíve got. Nobodyís doing anybody any favors out there.
And keep this in mind, if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. If you lie down with tapeworms, you get [holds up a copy of Wizard] tapeworms [laughter]. I feel thatís over Hollywood. Thatís the only reason publishers kow-tow over this rag, this bible written by Satan. Hollywood executives are notoriously poor readers. And they really are. Why do you think they hire people called "readers?" [Laughter]. Duh. Readers. Those are wanna be writers who provide coverage and thatís a term youíve gotta love. Coverage. I mean weíre talking about scripts, not the damned Gulf War. These envious wanna-be writers provide coverage for executives who donít read much. And get this, theyíre proud of not reading. One TV guy I met, full of hyperactive disdain, he sniped at me, "I donít read comic books. I read scripts." Youíre lost pal.
They donít read comic books, they read Wizard Magazine! Or at least the publishers think they do. Either way the result is the same. For all the disgust youíll hear about Wizard and its shoddy practices when you talk to publishers and marketing folksóand I have yet to hear a single good word from anybody about this thing that ought to come on a rollófor all of that, the publishers kow-tow. Even though this tree killer here regularly cheapens and poisons our field. Aesthetically and ethically, they grovel.
Even though this monthly vulgarity [rips off front cover] reinforces all the prejudice people hold about comics [rips out pages] they cry to all the world that weíre as cheap and stupid and trashy as they think we are, we sponsor this assault. We pay for the @#%$ privilege. But really, when will we finally get around to flushing this thing, this load of crap, once and for all [tosses torn magazine into a trash can onstage. Applause].
And when are we going to finally realize what weíve got? Just look at the candidates for these awards that are coming up. Free minds, free hands, producing work that no committee could come up with, no development executive could allow, no focus group could approve. Minds like Harvey Kurtzmanís alive now and working. Look at what weíve got. What we have in our little fieldóand itís little, but itís smart, damn smartówhat we have is magic. Magic that certain people are eager to bottle. Deal with them then, if you wish, but donít look up at them. Look down. And be certain of this, our field will pull out of this slump and wonít be Hollywood thatíll rescue us. And it ainít gonna be the internet either, itíll be the books. Itíll be the comic books.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Harvey Awards.
It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and I'm wearing my milk-bone underwear.
"On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."