Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Frank Frazetta (1928-2010): "Worldbeater."

May 11, 2010
Written by Don Mangus

(It is both a pleasure and a sad duty today to give the reins of the blog to Don Mangus, one of our comics and illustration art experts, and a fine gentleman who has graced these digital pages before. A pleasure because, well, Don is that good a writer, and a sad duty because of the task he has been asked to undertake: Eulogizing Frank Frazetta, who passed away yesterday at the age of 82. He was indeed the greatest living sci-fi and fantasy artist and one of the world's great talents, period. The forces of good are mourning the passing of a great talent. He is pictured there, to the right, scarce three weeks ago, holding The Frank Collection Catalog, of which his Warrior With Ball And Chain was the centerpiece. Surely we will never look on his like again. - Noah Fleisher)

Sadly, the passing of Frank Frazetta marks the end of a modern fantasy era.

Frazetta's iconic cover images for Lancer's paperback reissues of Robert E. Howard's immortal Conan series marked a sea-change for fantasy art. The athletic and movie-idol-handsome artist's work has inspired and influenced every fantasy artist since the 1960s, and spawned scores of bald-faced "art pirates," often dubbed "Faux-zettas" by fandom's sardonic wits.

Without doubt, Frazetta was a one-of-a-kind artistic prodigy. Though justly celebrated for his barbaric fantasy paintings, he was a master of every cartoon and illustration genre -- action-adventure, caricature, costumed hero, crime, funny animal, jungle, romance, horror, humor, satire, science fiction, Western, and everything in between.

To measure the scope of Frazetta's legacy, it's worth taking note of both the fickle nature and short memories of the publishing industry and the reading public. All too often "today's super-star" becomes tomorrow's forgotten creator. For most, "Glory days – well, they'll pass you by..."
It's sobering to ponder how close to this fate even the supremely talented Frazetta came.

In 1954, after creating a superb (and highly collectible) body of early comic book work for Standard, Eastern Color, DC, ME, Toby, ACG, and EC, Frazetta found himself in need of a steady paycheck, and began anonymously assisting Al Capp on the syndicated Li'l Abner comic strip. In 1961, after being refused a raise, Frazetta quit the Abner job, put together his latest and greatest portfolio, and hit the streets looking high and low for work from the few comic book companies that had survived the huge implosion following the industry-stifling 1954 U. S. Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency.

Despite a no-doubt superlative portfolio, the now-forgotten Frazetta came away with only a few comic book jobs, thanks almost entirely to the good graces of his old EC stable mate and friend, George Evans.

To the discerning eye, the Frazetta touch can be found submerged in the panels of Dell Comics' The Frogmen #1-3 (1962). These last-gasp comic book jobs helped keep Frazetta going during a turbulent transitional period.

The breakthrough in Frazetta's fortunes came thanks to another caring friend, fantasy legend Roy G. Krenkel, who had scored a series of Edgar Rice Burroughs illustration assignments from Ace books, and was largely carrying on a tradition pioneered by J. Allen St. John.

At first, Frazetta helped the perpetually procrastinating Krenkel fulfill a few of these assignments. Then because of the wildly enthusiastic Krenkel's urging, he struck out on his own. Not content to merely knock at the door of opportunity, Frazetta savagely kicked it off its hinges with his visceral Conan covers. A bunch of enchanting fantasy paperback cover assignments followed, as well as spine-tingling horror magazine covers for Warren Publishing, and other strikingly successful commercial art assignments -- all of which ended up crowning Frazetta the "king of living fantasy artists."

Always mindful of getting his originals back from the publishers, Frank and his wife Ellie purposefully built the Frazetta legacy. Starting in the mid-60s, the Frazetta legend grew and grew among creative art directors, fans, and collectors alike, thanks to a wealth of posters, fanzines, portfolios, calendars, record album covers and books.

Among the important career milestones were a series of five Frank Frazetta books from Bantam Books, the triumphant appearance of the Death Dealer on the cover of the May 1976 issue of American Artist, Ralph Bakshi's 1983 animated Fire and Ice movie, based on Frazetta's paintings and co-directed by Frazetta himself, the 2003 feature documentary Frank Frazetta: Painting with Fire, and perhaps most importantly – the opening of the Frank Frazetta Museum in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania in 2001.

As Jim Halperin, Co-Chairman of Heritage Auction Galleries, aptly notes, "Frazetta was, quite simply, the greatest comic book artist of the 20th Century. Amazingly, he was also a modest soul, and a true gentleman in every way. He will be missed, but never forgotten."

To leave a comment, click on the title of this post.

-Don Mangus


  1. Amen, Don.

    I've always felt that those who only knew Frazetta from his fantasy paintings, missed the true breadth of is genius.

    What he accomplished in his few short years working in comic books was breathtaking. His command of ink and brush was without peer and he made it look so effortless.

    Wonderful tribute to a wonderful artist, Don.

  2. Don, you encapsulated the entire career and legacy of Frazetta with detailed brevity. That's hard to do. Frazetta's passing is indeed the end of an era, a phrase so often written, yet seldom as true as you have informed us.