Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Frank Frazetta

Conan the Adventurer, 1966, Frank Frazetta. The original artwork, but not the original book. Conan became a barbarian in the years to follow only after the comic books
and the movie industry got their hands on the "swashbuckling" hero.

Frank Frazetta, Self-portrait
Lest anyone accuse me of playing "favorites," that is, only writing about my favorite artists, let me affirm right now, the art of the American comic book artist, Frank Frazetta, is not my cup of tea. I'll have to admit, I do admire his technical virtuosity and the ease at which he worked (he died in 2010 at the age of eighty-two). He was a consummate professional, the best to be had in the rich realm of fantasy art. It might be going to far to say he invented the genre, but safe to say he defined it and forever influenced all such artists to follow. Speaking of defining, if you're not familiar with the name or the art of Frank Frazetta, let me mention three words to help jog your memory--Conan the Barbarian.
Arnold Swartzenegger's handsome, movie star countenance in no way measured up to that drawn by Frank Frazetta for the series of Robert Howard books beginning in 1966.
Ohh, that Frank Frazetta. Aside from Arnold Swartzenegger's face (above), Frank Frazetta, with his own rugged face (above, right) was the artist who, overwhelmingly shaped the visual image of Conan to be emulated by any number of artists in his wake. Frazetta's work was the model as such artists labored to illustrate heroic tales of second greatest muscular hero (after Tarzan) to emerge from the literary adventure genre, to the comic book, and finally the movie screen. The Conan paperbacks came to twelve in number (two Frazetta covers are seen below), though the character had appeared in hard cover as early as 1952 with a series of seven. An additional forty-three books have followed in more recent years, the last published in 2004.

He Avenged in 1968
Conan conquered in 1967.
Frank Frazetta was not born with a pencil in one hand and a comic book in the other, though legends abound. The original version of Frank Frazetta first appeared in 1928 in Brooklyn, New York. One Legend has it he began drawing at a very young age (Frazetta claimed he was two at the time). Not above contributing to such legends, Frazetta also claimed he used up all the paper in the house and started drawing on toilet paper. His grandmother paid him a penny per picture (probably another legend). In any case, by the time he was eight he was taking classes at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts, though he claimed to have learned little there. According to Frazetta, the same was true when he took private classes from Michel Falanga. He insisted he learned more from is peers than his instructor.

Frazetta's first published character, "Snowman."
Whatever the case, Frank Frazetta was working professionally in the Brooklyn comic book studio of Bernard Baily by the age of fifteen, doing pencil "clean-up" work. Whether this involved art work of janitorial duties is uncertain. His name first appeared as a credited artist in a single-issue Tally-Ho comic book sometime between 1944 and 1946 (above). His heroic character, "Snowman," apparently melted. Frazetta's expanded his portfolio to encompass work in several different genres--westerns, fantasy, mystery, funny animals (Fritz the Cat), and romance, including a comic-book biography of Burt Lancaster. His big break came around 1950 when his Buck Rogers comic book art brought him to the attention of Li'l Abner's Al Capp. By this time Capp was doing mostly just the writing for his popular comic strip while supervising a staff of artists who turned out the actual artwork.

Even in Capp's Dogpatch U.S.A., super heroes were Frazetta's specialty.
While working for Capp, Frazetta was also producing his own comic strip, Johnny Comet, and continuing to work with Dan Barry on Buck Rogers. He married in 1956, he and his wife raising a family of four children while spending a total of nine years with Al Capp. During the early 1960s Frazetta contributed art to Mad magazine and drew for  Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder, the creators of Playboy's Little Annie Fanny (Ahh, I remember her well). Then came Conan. Shortly thereafter, came movie posters (What's New Pussycat), with Frazetta earning as much in a day as he had previously in a year. Publishers were continuing to beat on his door along side producers from the recording industry as Frazetta did covers for such groups as Herman's Hermits, Nazareth, and Molly Hatchet. Around 2000, Frazetta began suffering a series of strokes which impaired his right side. Undeterred, he began drawing left-handed.

However, Frazetta and his fantasy art
were perfect for 1970s hard rock music.
Frazetta seems an odd choice for
a 1966 British boy band.

John T. Quinn III, no doubt influenced by Frazetta, suggests what Disney Studios might have done had they managed to capture the Conan movie franchise.


No comments:

Post a Comment