Comic Creator Frank Miller is Suing the Widow of an Editor for Refusing to Return Valuable Batman Illustrations

In the 1980s, comic legend Frank Miller created cover art for a magazine editor. Miller assumed his illustrations were lost, until he discovered the editor's widow putting them up for auction.

Frank Miller speaking at Comic Con
Comic book writer and illustrator Frank Miller. (Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)

Amid a rise in the value of comic books and collectibles, comic creator Frank Miller is suing the widow of an independent comics publication editor for refusing to turn over two of Miller’s illustrations.

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The market for comic collectibles soared in 2021, with Heritage Auctions selling $181 million in rare comics and original comic art, a 117 percent increase over the prior year. In June, one of Miller’s illustrations sold for $2.4 million at auction. The cover for the first issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, created with the colorist Lynn Varley, is now the “most expensive mainstream American comic book cover sold at auction,” according to a press release from Heritage.

Batman: The Dark Night Returns Book One cover depicting Batman and a lightning bolt
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Book One cover. Heritage Auctions

Miller’s suit concerns artwork created for David Anthony Kraft, a writer and editor for DC and Marvel who also published Comics Interview magazine. Miller, who went on to create Sin City and 300, was occasionally featured in the magazine throughout the 1980s and created drawings featuring comic characters Ronin and Batman for Kraft to use as cover art.

The latter illustration is of particular value because it was one of the first Batman pieces done in the distinctive Dark Knight Returns style, in addition to depicting character Carrie Kelley, who became the first female Robin, according to the Aug. 8 lawsuit.

Miller and Kraft agreed the artwork would remain Miller’s property, but requests to return the works were unsuccessful and the comic creator eventually assumed they had been lost.

When Kraft died in 2021, the cover art passed into the hands of widow Jennifer Bush-Kraft. In May, Miller learned they weren’t in fact lost but were being put up for auction and demanded their return, which Bush-Kraft refused. The two pieces are currently being held at the auction house.

The lawsuit says the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 but doesn’t specify how much Miller is seeking in damages.

Neither Miller nor Bush-Kraft responded to requests for comment.

One of the illustrations represents the “apex” of Miller’s career 

Comic art from the 1980s and early 1990s has seen the largest jump in value, according to Heritage Auctions vice president Todd Hignite, in part due to the nostalgia of collectors and its relevance in current movies and TV shows. In particular, Miller’s Dark Knight work is some of the most valuable from that time, he said.

“That era when Frank Miller was doing the Dark Knight run is considered to be the apex of his career, the most desirable period of his work,” said Douglas Gillock, vice president of auction site ComicLink. “There’s only so many Dark Knight pieces.”

However, Gillock believes artwork created for an independent magazine like Comics Interview wouldn’t be considered as valuable or desirable as Miller’s comic cover illustrations.

Gillock attributes the rising interest and value of comic book art to a burgeoning market of consumers. Early generations of collectors from the 1970s to 1990s are now entering the late phase of their collecting period, according to Gillock, but the explosion of media franchises featuring comic characters has introduced a tide of younger collectors.

Plus, the pandemic played a part in driving up prices. “People were at home, not using money for vacations and looking for alternative investments,” said Gillock, who believes the increased value of comic art and collectibles signifies the market catching up with other forms of art. “Comic art has seemed really cheap for a while. Now, more people have recognized its significance.”

Comic Creator Frank Miller is Suing the Widow of an Editor for Refusing to Return Valuable Batman Illustrations