Frank Frazetta

Frank Frazetta
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).

Frazetta remains extremely popular and there are a number of books that collect or feature his work, and there is a video interview with the artist on DVD, Frazetta: Painting With Fire.

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.]

13 Replies to “Frank Frazetta”

  1. Great tribute.
    Frazetta had that rare ability to absorb his influences and put his own unique twist to them, making them better in the process. Besides the people you mentioned I also see a little J. Allen St John, Charles R. Knight and Zdenek Burian in his work and yet it was still all Frazetta.

  2. I think that museum is closed forever since his son Frank Jr stole about 90 paintings last year.

  3. Well, Arnie Fenner said this:

    “In the meantime, a chapter has ended: the East Stroudsburg Museum is closed, reportedly for good. The paintings are no longer there. I was glad for the opportunity to watch it being built, happy for the chance to see so much of the art that inspired me as a kid exhibited under one roof. Let’s hope others will have the chance to do likewise somewhere, sometime again in the not-to-distant future.”

  4. He once said that he doesn’t use reference. He was a talented Man that would rather talk baseball then art.

  5. You have to remember that is was Frank’s wife [ Elsie ] who was his agent / manager that put the museum together as the purpose to have all the work together , she passed away last summer and that is when it started to fall apart . I was there in 2005 and met them both .

  6. Well, according to an article that was posted today this is what’s going on:

    “It’s not yet known exactly what the family has planned for Frazetta’s artwork or intellectual property rights. Frazetta sold few of his paintings, electing to hold on to most of them. A few weeks ago son Bill said they planned to put the collection on the road so more fans could see the originals.”

  7. When I look back at my years in high school, (Art & Design, 1976-79) I will never forget the first time I saw the art of Frank Frazetta. Painting to me would never be the same. His use of Light, his use of color, his ability to move one even with the most sublime of subjects. He changed my whole perception of what painting should be. He inspired me to do what I love to do.

    Although our subject matter is a world apart; although my skills can never come close to his shadow; yet, anything I have achieved, any commendation I may have received through out my career, is solely accredited in large part, to
    Mr Frazetta.

    I thank Mr Frazetta for introducing a slue of us to a world and style of painting that perhaps none of us may have never have seen if it weren’t for him.

    He may be asleep in death, but he lives on in our hearts.



  8. Thanks for a nice treatment of the man, Charley. That first image you chose is one of my very favorites by Frazetta. It shows how he could employ an utterly convincing treatment of light and color to make an over-the-top subject matter more believable. I had the great pleasure of seeing it in person at the Frazetta museum and it took my breath away.

  9. I was an airbrush artist in the eighties and I can honestly say Frazetta is among my most memorable art influences. I have at three (four?) of his books tucked away somewhere – all with dog-eared corners.

    His Lord of the Rings pen drawings were an education in linework.

  10. Frazetta had a way of making an unreal world believable. His Conan paintings carry such a strong depiction of character, that you can describe what Conan eats for breakfast just by looking at him! In the ‘Egyptian Queen’ picture you can almost see the dust floating around in the air, but he doesn’t paint a spec of it! It’s the power of his vision that comes through his great talent. Truly a one of a kind telent. Frazetta created a real world that stretched from side to side and corner to corner of the canvas. And that’s just his paintings! His drawing, which is where his true natural ability stems from, inspires a whole other passionate rant!

    Thank you for the post. That first image 1s one my my favorites also.

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