Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why Frank Miller's "Holy Terror" Doesn't Suck

I read Frank Miller's "Holy Terror" and found it to be ludicrous, disorganized, unapologetic in its racism, but at the same time, some of the best art I've ever seen him do. If you can't stand to read it, ignore the words and just look at the pictures. If you can look at it as a folio of drawings instead of a racist anti-Arab, anti-Muslim screed, the man has reached new heights.

My experience reading it was a slow progression. I looked at it first thinking that it was a mess of whiteout spatters and fingerprints, but the further you go the more visual sense it all makes, breaking up these spreads with big almost abstract silhouettes in elegant designs almost like Franz Kline, architecture rendered in these simple but intricate contour drawings. The fingerprints and spatters make more sense in context, and you see that Miller is as much an expressionist painter as a cartoonist.

Is it good comics? That depends on your definition of "good comics." If you mean pictures in sequential progression, yes. There's an undeniable flow to it. If you mean good storytelling, at least in the literal sense, not so much.

There are also some entertaining lines like, "Its towers stab into the sky like sharpened sticks aimed at the eyes of god." It's some of the most inspired bad prose I have ever read. In fact, I'm not even sure it qualifies as bad. It definitely goes well with the bold, aggressive drawings. Beside the drawings its almost a surreal kind of poetry. 

There is no denying that Miller has made some very offensive and inarticulate public statements regarding his conservative politics.I can't imagine that my appreciation of the book is for the reasons he intends, at least as far as the literal content is concerned as it's presented. It's as though he's gone in the opposite extreme direction as Dave Sims' fundamentalism, but bigotry unfortunately lies on both ends. His creative output in the last few years has deteriorated, culminating in his mess of a film, The Spirit. But now he's back to doing comics, and his work has evolved in a new direction. It's more contemporary in its approach than anything he's done before, more like something out of Kramer's Ergot than Batman. But politically, it's undeniably ugly. I wish it weren't. But if you've been a fan of Miller in the past, giving up on his work at this point is a mistake. It may not be what you're used to, it may not be good storytelling, but it's fantastic art. 

So as much as we all wanted to dismiss this thing, I really recommend checking it out. If you don't believe me, here's a few pages. I'll let them speak for themselves. If these don't sell you on the book, I don't know what will:

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