The Role and Depiction of Violence in Frank Miller’s "Sin City: That Yellow Bastard"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

22 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Content

I. Introduction

II. Crime, Violence and Aesthetics
1. General Style
2. Aesthetics and Meaning of Violence in Sin City: That Yellow Bastard
a.) Physical Violence
b.) Violence with Weapons
c.) Sexual Violence
d.) Verbal Violence

III. Conclusion


List of Figures

“For God’s sake, man. Stop fighting it. You’re going down. Don´t make it any worse. Don´t make me kill you. - I’m doing fine, Bob. Never better. Ready to kick your ass.”

John Hartigan’s reaction after his partner Bob shot him in the back. Frank Miller´s Sin City: That Yellow Bastard.

I. Introduction

Frank Miller’s critically acclaimed comic book series Sin City clearly pushes the borders of the sayable and displayable. The website for popculture features Sin City in its “The 40 Most Violent Comics Ever” article.1 According to the Parents Guide To Movies2, the film adaption of Sin City matches all criteria of mature content to an extraordinary extent: sex and nudity, violence and gore, profanity, alcohol and smoking as well as intense fighting scenes. And so does the comic itself. Nevertheless, Frank Miller was awarded several times with the Eisner Award - the most important American award for comic artists.

This paper will deal with the 4th volume of the Sin City - series: That Yellow Bastard. I chose this volume, as I consider it representative of the whole series. In accordance, the Sin City film adaption, directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, featured many scenes of That Yellow Bastard volume. The graphic novel comes up with a unique noir, black-and-white style, roughness and an unadorned depiction of the characters’ dirty traits - his tendency towards violence.

The main subject for this paper will be the representation of violence and its role within the Sin City narrative. The aim is not to execute a typical step by step comicanalysis, but rather to put the focus on the violent-aesthetics, its meaning and conveyance. The analysis will show that violence in Sin City cannot be associated with pulp aesthetics as for example seen in the exploitation genre. This paper constitutes violence rather as a stylistic and narrative device.

In contrast to comics like The Gumps by Sidney Smith, Frank Miller does not make use of slapstick or trivializing elements concerning crime and violence.3 Crime and its depiction are taken seriously, as are its causes and effects. Violence is not part of Sin City´s crime; it rather defines its crime. “Simple” crimes like robbery or defamation are not portrayed as such and, if mentioned at all, form a part of everyday life. For instance, as Hartigan tells Nancy that she has been robbed, she reacts annoyed, saying that “that’s the third time this year!”4, then quickly forgets about it and continues to tell Hartigan that she has always loved him.

The parts where Miller integrates violence are harsh and brutal. Sin City’s characters are threatened or threatening and often are both - victim and offender. Their life revolves around inflicting or averting personal damage and therefore is their motivation to act. It is driven by fear and acts in favor or against violence. Interestingly, this principle has already been developed and applied to the law system by Walter Benjamin. He proposes that “law assumes its authority very much as a result of an ever-present latent threat, the threat of physical violence.”5 This feature clearly manifests in the Senator’s character. He ensures that his laws are regarded by means of threat and violence. Miller shifts Benjamin’s dictum to the extent of corruption and intrigue.

Two examples shall illustrate these insights. John Hartigan shoots and in the end murders Junior, who is trying to rape and kill young girls and the woman he loves, Nancy. Junior’s father, on the other hand, tries to protect his son and threatens Hartigan with a future full of pain and agony:

“You´re screwed! And you don’t know screwed! You got no idea what screwed is! You´re on the fast train to hell, Hartigan! And I’m the son of a bitch who’s sending you there!”6

The other example for the story’s principle of inflicting and preventing violence can be seen with Hartigan’s partner Bob who tries to persuade Hartigan to leave eleven year old Nancy in the hands of Junior. He again is afraid of what Junior’s father, the Senator, might do to him. “They’ll kill me, too”, is what he is convinced of.7 Hartigan, sticking by his principles knocks out Bob and continues his way to save Nancy.

The Sin City volumes enable a “violence-reading” so one can detect principles and depictions of violence as a serious medium of storytelling. As I will show, violence in Miller’s graphic novel has not the role of putting additional thrill or effect to the story but rather serves as a foundation for the stories to be built upon. In contrast to graphic narratives that use violence as something odd and absent from daily life, Miller constitutes a shift in focus and makes violence a daily companion in the lives of the Sin City characters.

It is therefore worth having a close look at the style and depiction of violence and crime in its different types and forms. A short introduction into Miller’s general art style which is used in Sin City shall be prefaced as it will serve for greater understanding.

II. Crime, Violence and Aesthetics

1. General Style

With Sin City Frank Miller created a noir-looking comic. It features a very high contrast black-and-white which is intensified through a clear lighting style and hard shadows. Often the characters tend to disappear in the dark so the reader can only see a few outlines. Miller abandons all sorts of ornaments and focuses the reader´s attention to the characters’ emotions and acts. A straight contrast to this aesthetic may be the one established by Craig Thompson in Blankets for instance. If Blankets does “portray his [Thompson’s] romantic and spiritual confusion in a sensitive, honest way”8 then Sin City portrays Miller’s fantasies of a criminal City with little hope and struggling characters in a harsh, - explicit way. His drawings often consist of straight lines, rough edges and a clear structure. The degree of detail changes according to perspective and the importance of a character in a particular moment. For instance, close-ups are often rich in detail where as medium or wide shots are reduced to a few lines and big parts of black or white.

The relation of white and black space is especially for Sin City an important issue. Eventually black and white are the only colors that build contrast. Miller states that when working with black and white he “realized that the eye is less patient, you have to make your point, and sometimes repeat it. Slowing things down is harder in black and white, because there isn't as much for the eye to enjoy.“9 Miller succeeds in creating different effects by changes in the amount of black and white parts. Sometimes a character’s face is drawn completely black - a faceless human being - whose expressions are hidden or irrelevant in contrast to their surrounding or action. Other times we see a nearly complete white face with big, expressively wide opened eyes - and we not only understand but also feel the emotion that the character lives through.

Two examples shall visualize the above:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 1 Fig. 2

2. Aesthetics and Meaning of Violence in Sin City: That Yellow Bastard

The following will analyze Miller’s drawing style and its effects on the depiction, meaning and importance of violence. His special use of closure and encapsulation will be integrated within the analysis.

For better structure the types of violence will be split into physical violence, weaponry violence, sexual violence and verbal violence.

a.) Physical Violence

One finds physical violence and abuse in numerous pages within the Sin City cosmos. That Yellow Bastard even starts with a fight between the retiring John Hartigan and his partner Bob.10 The page is divided into four panels with thin black outlines that enable a clear reading flow. The drawing of Bob’s knock out is presented quite harmless in comparison what follows in the course of the story. In a medium shot the impact of Hartigan’s seemingly square fist is only represented by Bob falling to the ground and his glasses falling right next to him. The actual hit on the face happens between the gutters. Direct injuries or bruises are not shown and even on the panel of Bob lying unconscious on the ground one cannot make out any gore or brutal elements. Miller decided apparently to start the story in a “soft” way to enhance the effect of violence that comes later. However, the high impact of Hartigan’s hit is still felt as the big fight- panel shows a “KRAK!” caption which stands onomatopoetic for Bob’s cracking jaw or nose. Bob himself only can utter an “AAR” speech bubble which is much smaller than the “KRAK!” caption. By letting the reader imagining the actual hit and adding the sound captions, Miller constitutes Hartigan as a character who will fight for his principles and differentiates between violence against real enemies or simply dumb partners. This shall find further proof when Hartigan gets violent on Junior - his nemesis.

Concerning physical violence Miller decides on an explicit depiction of the interrogation scene.11 Hartigan is tied to a chair and gets beaten up heavily by Liebowitz - a henchman of Junior. A splash page introduces the reader into a lonely factory hall with Liebowitz standing powerfully above Hartigan who lowered his head. The power relations are clearly set. Liebowitz is presented as a manipulative, big man wearing a muscle shirt full of dirt and sweat. He is standing in a superior pose, making Hartigan’s strength diminish to nothing. A row of panels shows the impact of Liebowitz’ big fist on Hartigan’s face. Blood, represented as white liquid, is streaming down from his face, and other particles, quite possibly his teeth, splash out. The caption “KRAK” that we know from the beginning is positioned dominantly right next to Hartigan’s blood drenched face and gets repeated three times. A full panel page of Liebowitz standing in front of Hartigan, who is spilling blood, is quite representative of the whole scene:




3 Cf. Arthur Fried, Crime in Comics and the Graphic Novel. In: Charles J. Rezpka, Lee Horsley, “A Companion to Crime Fiction” (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2011) 332.

4 Frank Miller, Sin City: That Yellow Bastard, (Oregon, USA: Dark Horse, 2010) 157.

5 Martin Bluemthal-Barby, Pernicious Bastardizations: Benjamin’s Ethics of Pure Violence. MLN 124 (2009): 729.

6 Miller 63.

7 Miller 16.



10 Miller 16-17.

11 Miller 74 - 87.

Excerpt out of 22 pages


The Role and Depiction of Violence in Frank Miller’s "Sin City: That Yellow Bastard"
University of Bayreuth
Graphic Narratives
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1122 KB
Sin City, Graphic Novels, Graphic Narratives, English Literature, Violence, Aesthetics, Sex, Frank Miller, That Yellow Bastard
Quote paper
Alexander Löwen (Author), 2014, The Role and Depiction of Violence in Frank Miller’s "Sin City: That Yellow Bastard", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Role and Depiction of Violence in Frank Miller’s "Sin City: That Yellow Bastard"

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free