Frank Frazetta was one of the best and most renowned fantasy illustrators in the history of the genre. Frazetta died yesterday, May 10, 2010 at the age of 82.
Frazetta began his career as a comics artist, starting as a teenager as an assistant to other artists. He worked for smaller comic book publishers, producing a number of memorable “funny animal” comics (see my previous post on Frank Frazetta’s Funny Animal Comics), and a number of adventure titles.
He was eventually given the opportunity to crate his own comic title, Thun’da, King of the Congo, but his run on the comic was only two issues. He then went to work in newspaper comics, doing “ghost work” (uncredited assistance) on Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon. He continued to work for comic book companies, including EC Comics and DC Comics, and contributed covers to the Buck Rogers comic books.
In 1954 Frazetta went to work for Al Capp, assisting on his extremely popular Li’l Abner strip, he also continued to work on his own newspaper strip, Johnny Comet. On leaving Capp’s studio he did work for the Warren horror comic magazines, Creepy and Eerie, contributing many of those publications’ most memorable covers. At the same time he contributed to Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s Little Annie Fanny strip for Playboy (see my post on Will Elder).
From there, Frazetta moved into paperback cover illustration and achieved his greatest renown for his lushly painted covers for novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and in particular, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian books.
In addition to the influences of his colleges at E.C., like Al Williamson, Roy Krenkel and Wally Wood, Frazetta picked up on the techniques of the great 19th century pen and ink illustrators like Joseph Clement Coll and became a first rate pen and ink draftsman.
In his painting, Frazetta carried forward the traditions of the great swashbuckling adventure illustrators like Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth and Frank Schoonover, bringing them into the modern era with a touch more menace, implied violence and sex. In the process Frazetta became tremendously influential on a new generation of adventure fantasy artists, many of whom are working today.
Frazetta’s figures, beasts and monsters seem to inhabit a world in which gravity exerts more force than normal; and that great sensation of weight translated into a suggestion of immense power, either heroic or menacing.
Frazetta’s color palette, again with a direct lineage to Pyle and Wyeth, was often dark and moody, punctuated by bright passages for emphasis. His use of theatrical lighting for dramatic effect gave his compositions an immediate visceral impact.
To my mind, it is in the bridge he forms between those Golden Age illustrators and the newer generation that grew up in awe of his barbarian images that Frazetta is most notable, carrying forward traditions of great adventure illustration in a lineage he happily acknowledged in illustrations like Galleon (image above, bottom), a direct homage to Pyle’s Attack on a Galleon (see my post on Howard Pyle).
There is a museum devoted to his work that was run by the family. I don’t know what its status will be going forward. The museum site doesn’t have much information, but it does have a selection of Frazetta’s work in the form of prints.
I’ve listed some other resources below.
[Note: Some images are NSFW.]