Frazetta, Frank

Tagged: Comics | Art

(1928-2010) American illustrator, born Frank Frazzetta; he dropped the second "z" to create what he thought would be a better professional name. A native New Yorker, he studied at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts and, at the age of sixteen, began drawing professionally for Comics. He worked on the comic strips Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Flash Gordon, and (for nine years) Li'l Abner, and briefly drew his own comic strip, Johnny Comet. He also contributed to comic books published by DC Comics, EC Comics, and other companies; ironically, the most popular Superhero that he drew, DC's the Shining Knight, had his body almost completely covered by armour, in stark contrast to the loinclothed barbarians that would come to define his popular image.

Although Frazetta would continue doing art for comics in the 1960s, including work for Mad magazine and Warren Publishing's Creepy and Vampirella, his life changed in 1962, when a job passed to him by his friend Roy Krenkel launched his career in sf art. His first assignments were cover illustrations and interior art for books by Edgar Rice Burroughs being republished by Ace Books and Canaveral Books; his renderings of Burroughs's Tarzan first showcased his flair for painting muscular, bare-chested heroes. Dissatisfied with the payments he was receiving from Ace, Frazetta moved over to Lancer Books, which offered him the opportunity to paint covers for books by other authors, including an atmospheric portrait of skulls and demons rising in a mist for Jack Williamson's The Reign of Wizardry (March-May 1940 Unknown; 1964) and an uncharacteristic portrayal of clothed adventurers confronting apelike creatures and giant mushrooms for the 1964 edition of John Wyndham's The Secret People (20 July-14 September 1935 The Passing Show as by John Beynon; 1935 as by John Beynon; rev 1964 as by John Beynon Harris, introduced by Wyndham; text restored 1972 UK as by Wyndham). But Lancer more significantly assigned Frazetta to paint covers for several republications of Robert E Howard's Conan books, and his sombre but energized paintings of Howard's barbarian, by all accounts, greatly contributed to the character's renewed popularity. Bolstered by the immense popularity of his Tarzan covers, Frazetta had already received the Hugo Award as Best Professional Artist in 1966, and his equally well-received interpretations of Conan cemented his reputation as a definitive artist for works of Heroic Fantasy.

Soon, Frazetta was well on his way to becoming sf art's first genuine superstar: he had already begun accepting assignments to paint posters for major films, including the genre titles The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) and Mad Monster Party? (1967); he and his wife set up a company to sell other posters he had designed; he started painting for a number of calendars; and in 1975, he published the first two compilations of his artwork, The Frazetta Treasury (1975) and The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta (1975), to be followed by many similar volumes. (The checklist below, even with acknowledged exclusions, still may be incomplete.) He continued to paint book covers, including additional volumes by Burroughs and Howard, and publishers paid high rates for his services, realizing that he now had a large following and that his distinctive covers would boost their sales; if Frazetta was not available, publishers would recruit authors to imitate his style. Frazetta's paintings were also appearing on record albums by artists like Herman's Hermits, Nazareth, and Molly Hatchet.

In the 1980s, Frazetta involved himself in several new projects: he helped to design and produce an animated fantasy film by Ralph Bakshi, Fire and Ice (1983); he established a gallery, Frazetta's Fantasy Corner, to market his and others' artwork; and he lent his name to a series of four novels, Frank Frazetta's Death Dealer, inspired by his ideas and paintings but written by James R Silke. His increasingly rare book covers included several volumes of the L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future series of original anthologies. A number of health issues limited his productivity during the final two decades of his life, which were also tarnished by an embarrassing family feud involving his son's apparent attempt in 2009 to steal a number of his father's paintings. But the aging Frazetta was also receiving a host of honors: two Chesley Awards for general artistic achievement (in 1995 and 1998), lifetime achievement awards from the Writers and Illustrators of the Future (1997) and the World Fantasy Awards (2001), and the Spectrum Grandmaster Award in 1995. He was even the subject of a documentary film, Frazetta: Painting with Fire (2003).

Frazetta's vigorous paintings of heavily muscled heroes, usually brandishing weapons as they confront human and inhuman foes, are notable for their dynamic sense of movement (in contrast, perhaps, to work by Boris Vallejo and other later, smoother illustrators who are often said to have inherited Frazetta's mantle); he is famous, too, for his lush wide-hipped women, often chained or menaced but shown equally often as threatening Amazon warriors. Old accusations that his work was sexist or cheaply melodramatic now seem irrelevant, since his spirited and powerful style of artwork has now been so universally celebrated. Today, even though almost all of his work involved fantasy, Frazetta remains a figure of incalculable importance to the entire field of sf art: while previous artists had been popular, none of them had ever become the sort of celebrity, and brand name, that Frazetta became, and his name has essentially become an adjective to describe a style of art that remains strongly associated with works of heroic fantasy. A list of all the artists he has influenced would constitute an entry in itself. [PN/GW]

Frank Frazetta

born New York: 9 February 1928

died Fort Myers, Florida: 10 May 2010

works

This listing excludes calendars, most self-published items, comic book reprints, and foreign-language compilations.

about the artist

  • James A Bond. Frazetta: The Definitive Reference (Lakewood, New Jersey: Vanguard Productions, 2008) [graph: illustrated bibliography of Frazetta's artwork: pb/Frank Frazetta]

links

Previous versions of this entry

Website design and build: STEEL

Site ©2011 Gollancz, SFE content ©2011 SFE Ltd.