The comic writer and artist Frank Miller is suing the widow and the estate of a comics magazine founder over two pieces of promotional art he created that she was trying to sell at auction. The art, which appeared on the cover of David Anthony Kraft’s magazine Comics Interview in the 1980s, includes an early depiction of Batman and a female Robin — from the 1986 The Dark Knight Returns series — and is potentially a valuable collectible.
The lawsuit seeks the return of the Batman piece, which was used on the cover of Comics Interview No. 31 in 1986, as well as art depicting the title character of Miller’s 1983 Ronin series. He had sent both to Kraft for his use in the publication; the Ronin artwork was used as the cover of Comics Interview No. 2 in 1983. Miller contended in the court papers that he and Kraft agreed they were on loan, citing “custom and usage in the trade at the time,” and that he made repeated requests for their return.
But Kraft’s widow, Jennifer Bush-Kraft, disagreed with Miller’s assertions. “My husband kept all his correspondence,” she said in a phone interview. “When I say all of it, I don’t know if you can understand the level of meticulousness. He bound all of this correspondence by year, by name and in alphabetical order by company.”
When the question was raised about demands before 2022 to return the artwork, she said, she searched her husband’s files and found no such requests.
Silenn Thomas, the chief executive of Frank Miller Ink, said in an email that Miller would not comment on the ongoing legal matter. The lawsuit, which was first reported by Law360, was filed on Monday in the Gainesville division of the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Bush-Kraft said she believed that Miller had gifted the art to Kraft. “If it was not given, David would have given it back,” she said. (Another promotional piece by Miller, for his Sin City comic, was used by Kraft in the 1990s, and was 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 use, she said, and it was common practice for Kraft to keep those types of pieces.
The dispute started in the spring, and in May, a lawyer 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 and pop culture memorabilia, saying he had given them to Kraft as a loan and expected their return after a period of time.
A lawyer representing Metropolis Collectibles, a sister company of Comic Connect, wrote in response that “the actual, relevant ‘custom in the trade at the time’ was that comic artists would give — not loan — artworks to Mr. Kraft and other comic publishers in the hopes that publishers such as Mr. Kraft would use the artwork in their publications and thereby provide publicity and exposure to the artist and their work.” The lawyer also wrote that because Miller was only just now demanding the artwork be returned, decades later, his request might be untimely because of the expiration of the statute of limitations and under other theories.
But Miller, in the court filing, wrote that he and his publisher had sought the return of the works directly and indirectly since the 1980s, and that they believed the works were lost. Miller is seeking damages for the value of the works “in an amount, exceeding $75,000, to be determined at trial.”
The sale of the artwork could be lucrative: In June, the cover of Issue No. 1 of The Dark Knight Returns was auctioned for $2.4 million. In 2011, a page from Issue No. 3 of the series that showed the older Batman and Carrie Kelley — then a new, female Robin — mid-leap over 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’m not Frank Miller. I don’t have a company.
Currently, neither Miller nor Bush-Kraft is in possession of the art; Bush-Kraft had given it to Comic Connect ahead of the auction, which had been planned for June. (Both works were pulled from the auction before it started.)
“We will let the court decide who owns the pieces, and in the meantime we are retaining possession,” said Stephen Fishler, the chief executive of Comic Connect and Metropolis Collectibles.