Comic book writer and artist Frank Miller is suing the widow and estate of a comic book magazine founder over two promotional artworks he created that she was trying to sell at auction. The art, which appeared on the covers of David Anthony Kraft’s Comics Interview magazine in the 1980s, includes an early depiction of Batman and a female Robin – from 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns series – and is potentially a valuable collector’s item.
The lawsuit seeks the return of the Batman piece, which was used on the cover of Comics Interview #31 in 1986, as well as art depicting the titular character from Miller’s 1983 Ronin series. He had sent both to Kraft for use in publishing; Ronin’s artwork was used as the cover of Comics Interview #2 in 1983. Miller argued in court papers that he and Kraft had agreed they were on loan, citing “custom and usage in the trade to the time”, and that he made repeated requests for their return.
But Kraft’s widow, Jennifer Bush-Kraft, disagreed with Miller’s claims. “My husband kept all his correspondence,” she said in a phone interview. “When I say all this, I don’t know if you can understand the level of thoroughness. He bound all this correspondence by year, by name and alphabetically by company.
When the question arose about requests before 2022 to return the artwork, she said, she searched her husband’s records and found no such request.
Silenn Thomas, chief executive of Frank Miller Ink, said in an email that Miller would not comment on the ongoing legal case. The lawsuit, which was first reported by Law360, was filed Monday in the Gainesville Division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Bush-Kraft said she believed Miller gifted the art to Kraft. “If it hadn’t been given, David would have returned it,” she said. (Another Miller promotional piece, for his Sin City comic strip, was used by Kraft in the 1990s and returned, he said in the lawsuit.)
“He wouldn’t have ruined the relationship with someone he would potentially work with in the future,” she continued. “He certainly wouldn’t have ruined his relationship” with DC Comics, which published The Dark Knight Returns and Ronin. The art was created for promotional purposes, she said, and it was common for Kraft to keep these kinds of pieces.
The dispute began in the spring, and in May an attorney for Miller sent a cease and desist letter after Miller learned of a potential sale of the works on Comic Connect, an online auction house devoted to comics. comics and pop culture memorabilia, saying he loaned them to Kraft and expected them to return after a while.
An attorney representing Metropolis Collectibles, a sister company to Comic Connect, wrote in response that “the ‘real and relevant custom in the trade at the time’ was that comic artists donated – not loaned – works of art to Mr. Kraft and other comic book publishers in the hope that publishers such as Mr. Kraft would use the artwork in their publications and thereby provide publicity and exposure to the artist and his work. The attorney also wrote that because Miller was only now asking for the artwork to be returned, decades later his request may be premature due to the expiration of the deadline. of prescription and according to other theories.
But Miller, in the court filing, wrote that he and his publisher had sought the works’ return directly and indirectly since the 1980s, and believed the works were lost. Miller is seeking damages for the value of the work “in excess of $75,000, to be determined at trial.”
The sale of the work could be lucrative: in June, the cover of the number 1 of The Dark Knight Returns was sold at auction for 2.4 million dollars. In 2011, a page from issue #3 of the series that showed the former Batman and Carrie Kelley — then a new female Robin — jumping halfway above the Gotham City skyline, sold for $448,125.
“I can’t afford to go to court and I can’t afford not to go to court,” Bush-Kraft said. “I’m just one person. I am not Frank Miller. I don’t have a business.
Currently, neither Miller nor Bush-Kraft owns the art; Bush-Kraft had donated it to Comic Connect ahead of the auction, which was scheduled for June. (Both works were removed from the auction before it started.)
“We will let the court decide who owns the pieces, and in the meantime we retain possession,” said Stephen Fishler, general manager of Comic Connect and Metropolis Collectibles.