Friday, April 19, 2013

Sin City by Frank Miller

Unleash your inner psychopath!
This is the first and best of Frank Miller’s Sin City graphic novels. Originally published in 1992, the first edition was simply entitled Sin City. It was later named The Hard Goodbye to distinguish it from the later stories in the series. Here we are introduced to the incomparable character of Marv—a big ugly psychotic lowlife with a heart of gold. Marv wakes up next to a dead hooker who just gave him the night of his life. In gratitude for his good fortune he vows to track down her murderer, even if he has to torture and kill everyone who stands in his way. Miller plucks the choicest cliches from every gritty noir thriller of the past three-quarters of a century, then exaggerates and magnifies them until they meld into something totally original and exhilarating. Miller simultaneously critiques and revels in America’s love affair with violence in pop culture. Through Marv’s interior monologue we are allowed entrance into the mind of this brutal antihero who possesses the mind of a child, the loyalty of a faithful dog, and the blood lust of a maniac. It is a testament both to Miller’s skill as a writer and to the depravity of our violence-jaded culture that we can root so enthusiastically for this demented sadist. The effect is truly liberating. Reading The Hard Goodbye is a ride like no other.

In the past two decades so many artists have copied Miller’s stark black and white art that it’s difficult to remember just how shockingly original this style was when these comics first came out. I remember seeing this book for the first time, as someone who had enjoyed superhero comics for most of my life, and thinking it was like nothing I had ever seen before. Miller’s work still stands as superior to all his imitators. The art of Sin City pays homage to the classic newspaper comics of masters like Milton Caniff and Will Eisner, yet Miller pares down the imagery to its sparsest elements, distilling each panel until it resembles something like a Japanese woodblock print. Though he takes plenty of liberties with human anatomy, Miller’s ingenious manipulation of positive and negative space would make this book an excellent supplemental text for an undergraduate drawing course. Of course, it wouldn’t be politically correct to use the book for such a purpose because the story is so delightfully perverse.

Judging from Miller’s art, I always thought Marv was a black man until Mickey Rourke was cast to play him in the movie. Rourke turned out to be an excellent choice, and the movie did justice to this great story. There’s still a few scenes here that never made it into the film, however, and Miller’s fabulous art alone makes it worthwhile to experience this story in its original form. For comics enthusiasts, this is one of those modern masterpieces you must own. Even if you don’t normally read comics, if you like hard-boiled crime stories of any media, you’ll love this book. Of all Frank Miller’s Sin City stories, this is the one essential must-have.

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