Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Frank Frazetta’s Funny Animal Comics

Frank Frazetta's Funny Animal Comics
OK, I know I haven’t done a dedicated post about Frank Frazetta yet (I’ll get to it, I promise), but I couldn’t resist writing about this material when I found out it was available online.

For those of you who might not be aware of Frank Frazetta, I’ll simply say that, along with less well known compatriots like Roy Krenkel, he set the standards for fantasy, and particularly “sword and sorcery”, illustration during the second half of the 20th Century. Though basically retired now and dealing with health problems, he continues to work on artistic projects.

Frazetta has also been an outstanding comics artist during his career, turning in stunning work for E.C. Comics and producing his own newspaper strip, Johnny Comet. He also worked as an assistant for Al Capp on L’il Abner, Dan Barry on Flash Gordon and Will Elder on Little Annie Fanny for Playboy. Some of his comic book work was done in collaboration with Roy Krenkel and Al Williamson.

What many people, even some dedicated Frazetta fans, don’t realize is that Frazetta was primarily a comics artist for the early part of his career, starting in professional comic book work at the age of 16.

Some of his earliest work was for so-caled “funny animal” comics, in which anthropomorphized barnyard animals careen through loopy nonsensical misadventures in emulation of the popular animated cartoons in the same genre.

Tapping the visual lexicon of Disney, Warner Brothers, Fleisher Studios, Walter Lantz and other classic animated cartoons from the 1930′s and 40′s, the young Frazetta drew stories for characters like Hucky Duck, Dodger DeSquoil, Munchy Squirrel and Barney Rooster. Though the characters weren’t memorable, Frazetta’s art for them was, showing an uncanny and precocious talent for draftsmanship, calligraphic linework and expressive comics storytelling.

Frazetta’s funny animal work (which he often signed “Fritz”) didn’t go unnoticed; and he received an offer to work for Disney, but turned it down for personal reasons.

Someone (unnamed, as far as I can tell) has posted a complete Frazetta Barney Rooster story on the Comicrazys blog, giving a rare opportunity to see the early Frazetta at his best. If you’ve seen other funny animal comics from the time (or since, for that matter), you’ll immediately see Frazetta’s work stand out, with a visual punch and clarity that belies its apparent simplicity. His use of line weight, judicious additions of texture and masterful spotting of blacks give the drawings weight and force without detracting from their manic freedom.

Some of Frazetta’s funny animal comics were collected in a book, Small Wonders: The Funny Animal Art of Frank Frazetta in 1991. Originally intended to be a two volume set, of which I’ve never seen a second volume (I don’t think it was published), the book included a knowledgeable overview of Frazetta’s early comics career in an introduction by William Stout. It is unfortunately out of print, but you may be able to find it used through Amazon or other book search services.

I have a notion that the online strip was scanned from the book, but any opportunity to look as Frazetta’s comic book work is a treat.

[Link via Journalista]

5 thoughts on “Frank Frazetta’s Funny Animal Comics

  1. Liz

    Ha!

    I had no idea Frazetta did cartoons. His fantasy work is breathtaking, and makes a lot of similar stuff pale by comparison. These days it seems like any wannabe writer can “draw” a comic, but it’s easy to see how being a talented artist is important.

  2. Scott Allen

    For those of you that want more information on Frazetta’s career, I strongly recommend “Painting with Fire” a documentary about Frazetta’s life. This film is rich in information and provides a shocking “twist” in the end that enlightens your appreciation for the artist.

  3. Loomis

    Stay far away from Painting with Fire!!! That has to be one of the most poorly produced, incoherent and random documentaries ever made. Interviews are so terribly framed it will drive you crazy. Can someone explain why the interview with John Buscema had him appear as if he was three feet tall?
    The documentary was so amateurish it borders on being an insult to Mr. Frazetta. The whole movie looks like it was produced by some high school seniors as a class project.
    Either wait for it to appear on IFC again or download it – don’t pay one cent for this documentary. You’re better off buying any of the Frazetta art books for a more through look at his career.
    Stay far away from this movie!!!!!

  4. Gerry Mooney

    Nice writeup, Charley. I knew Frazetta had assisted Al Capp on “Lil Abner” for many years but I’d never seen his funny animal work. He did everything with with such class and flair, all the while making it look totally effortless.

    Parts of “Painting With Fire” were taped at the grand opening of the Frazetta museum in East Stroudsburg, PA, which I attented. You can see my back for half a second in one shot! At least I think it was me.

  5. Scott Allen

    Well I walked in to it with having very little knowledge of Frazetta, and walked away satisfied and enlightened. Sure some interviews aren’t the best, and I get the point that Frazetta was an athlete, but if you have a netflix acct and looking for another documentary of an artist, its worth checking out.
    Books are the best bet, I agree.

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