♦February 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of Tripwire, which began as a print magazine back in 1992. So every day from today, we shall be representing a classic interview or feature from our long history. Today’s throwback is our chat with Frank Miller talking about 300, which ran back in Volume 2 #4, March/ April 1998. Interview by Scott Braden…
The Secret War
FRANK MILLER’s exorcising ghosts and creating a timeless epic with his 300. TRIPWIRE’s got the story. (TRIPWIRE VOLUME 2 #4, MAR/APR 1998)
This is not some stuffy, historical drama,” Frank Miller warns from his home and workplace, somewhere below the Mason-Dixon. “This is the best damn story that I ever had my hands on. It’s also as heroic a story as you’ll find anywhere. It’s something that, quite literally, transcends time with its power.”
It’s also been one of his greatest secrets that is, until now. This May, Dark Horse Comics will unveil Miller’s 300 before the masses: his fictional account of an honest to goodness, blood and guts epic battle that changed the world forever.
Your world. My world. And ultimately, his own.
“When I was a kid,” Miller reveals, “I saw a movie that was based on this little known battle in 480 BC. It made a permanent impression on me; an impression that eventually led to my obsession with Ancient Greece and the history of the war between the Greeks and the Persians. And I’d been telling myself for years that I should turn this into a comic book, because I knew how good a one it would make.
“Picture this: 2500 years ago, Greece was where mankind was just beginning to discover concepts like democracy, reason, and individual rights. The Greeks were on their way to essentially create the world that we live in today. And during this period, Greece was made up of several little republics. There was Athens which is the most well-known of these city-states. Then there was Sparta, which produced the greatest warriors who ever lived. The Spartans were a very rigid, feared people. If you picture something along the lines of the samurai warrior, you’ll get an idea of the ethic they lived by.”
“Meanwhile,” Miller continues, “all of Asia was controlled by Persia. The king of Persia was a giant of a man named Xerxes—you can’t make up names that good—and he had put together the largest army that ever existed. It was at least 300,000 strong.”
“Wanting to broaden their influence, the Persians were determined to conquer
all of Greece, and the Spartans were the first of the Greek city-states to determine that they didn’t want that to happen. So the Spartans found a narrow mountain pass that the Persians had to go through to invade mainland Greece, and with only a tiny contingent of men, defended that pass. For political reasons, Leonidas, ‘the Lion’s Son’ and the king of Sparta, was only able to bring his personal bodyguard of 300 men.
And those 300, along with a handful of other Greeks, defended all of Greece against this unbelievable, military juggernaut changing the course of world history.”
The Battle of the 300, as Miller calls it, has haunted him ever since. All these years, he has passionately embraced the lessons that this story taught: sacrifice, believing in the greater good, the definition of heroism. And when he finally got his break into comics years later, he created characters and situations that carried on where the 300 left off.
He told the BIG stories in a BIG way, transforming and transmigrating the medium. He was a student of the 300’s power and presence. He was under their influence.
Just look at his work with Daredevil and Elektra. Experience Ronin and his Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Get caught up in his Sin City. They are person- al triumphs, all. But not his most personal. That was yet to come.
“I’ve had this story in mind for many, many years,” Miller says. “Again, I always knew that it would make an absolutely great comic book, but to tell you the truth, I was afraid of it. I knew that to do this story justice would take every ounce I had. I didn’t know if I was up to the challenge.”
But as the years progressed and Miller became more and more comfortable with his work, he finally felt the time had come. All he needed now was a publish- er that would let him tell that story.
Enter Dark Horse Comics.
“A couple years back,” Miller explains, “I finally got around to telling [Dark Horse Comics Publisher] Mike Richardson that I’ve been aching to do this story since I was a little kid. And every few months, he’d call me up and ask when I was going to do ‘that Spartan thing.’ He was very eager to see it. And I would toy with the story every so often. I even used the battle as a prologue in one of my Sin City stories, which in a way, was me acting like a cat marking territory. I didn’t want anybody else to snag it from me.
“As far as my going forward with the story itself, it really was a matter of get- ting the materials together and scrounging up the courage. So I went to Greece and spent three weeks researching the battle. I even walked the battlefield where the two armies fought. Finally, all the references were ready and I was out of excuses, so I just had to plunge in and do this thing.”
Five issues and 130 pages later, Miller has immersed himself into what may become one of his greatest works. “Looking at the project (from an artist’s per- spective),” Miller admits, “300 has a real wide-screen feel to it, because it’s a story composed across double page spreads. It’s been a real challenge for me to depict a story with such incredible scope. But as a writer, 300 has challenged me even more so, because of it’s pure, unadulterated heroism. There is nothing cynical about this story, and there’s nothing temporary about it.
“This is more of a change of pace for me than it would’ve been if I took on Conan the Barbarian. What I’m aiming to get across with 300 is a completely dif- ferent mindset; a different way of thinking. For instance, the narrative running through this story is told in first person plural. Because these soldiers were such a team – because the 300 were such a unit – they thought as one. And when the Spartans fought, they were like a single killing machine that moved in a rectangle across the battlefield. They fought shoulder to shoulder, to the extent that they did- n’t even use their shields to cover just themselves; they would cover half of them- selves and half of the person next to them. So when it came time to draw the battles, I wasn’t showing just one guy in a conveniently chaotic battle scene hacking away with a sword, I was showing an entire fighting unit. Getting the crux of that really tested my powers.”
Miller pauses, smiling, “When I first found out about this story, it introduced me to themes that have been the basis for all of my work. Now that I’m finally being able to tell it, I’ve put a lot of myself into
something that I consider to be very personal.