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Monday, May 10, 2010


Self-portrait of the Master, 1962.

It was obviously inevitable at some point, but my heart is heavy as I type these words. Frank Frazetta, one of the most singular illustrators of the past six decades, is dead at the age of 82. Anyone who's had even the slightest interest in pop culture since the 1950's knows exactly who he was, even if they did not know him by name, because the dynamism of his work was such that it hacked and slashed its way into the worldwide consciousness.

THE MOON MAID: when I first saw this painting at age ten, I was completely mesmerized by that woman's buttocks. Thus was born one man's love of the zaftig.

And forget the planet's consciousness; Frazetta's world and sensibility affected me deeply from the age of ten, and my love of fantasy-adventure and all the muscular heroes and shapely heroines that go with it would never have caught fire without his influence.

A Frazetta cavegirl: playing right into my lifelong obsession with savage women.

I freely admit it: I've been Frank Frazetta's bitch since 1975 and I would not have had it any other way. His take on the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard gloriously enhanced the visions those works put into my head, and the meeting of those creative forces was to me as powerful as an up close and personal nuclear explosion.

Frazetta's Tarzan, with N'Kima the monkey perched on his shoulder.

Replete with iron-thewed warriors, stunning nude females with lush curves, landscapes fascinatingly not of this earth, and an illustrative life and quality that grabbed viewers by the throat and either seduced or beat them into submission, Frazetta's impact simply cannot be measured. He did work in comics for, among others, the legendary E.C. stable and ghosted LI'L ABNER for Al Capp in the 1950's,

Frazetta's LI'L ABNER, featuring villainous self-caricature "Frankie."

did several indelible pieces for Warren Publishing,

a number of terrific movie posters — Why wasn't he tapped to do the poster for CONAN THE BARBARIAN? Makes not a lick of sense... — and even some pieces for NATIONAL LAMPOON that ably showed off what happened when his illustration skills collided head-on with his sense of humor,

but he will forever be known for how his fantasy book cover illustrations literally redefined the look of fantasy artwork from the mid-1960's onward. It is simply impossible to imagine what such material would look like these days had Frazetta never happened, and frankly that's a prospect I don't want to consider for even three seconds.

The painting that visually defined Conan as we have come to know him: Frazetta's THE BARBARIAN (1965).

I could go on and on in this gushing manner, so I'll just stop now, go off to watch the documentary on him — FRAZETTA: PAINTING WITH FIRE (2003) — and let some examples of his work speak for themselves.

Despite all my years entrenched in the comics biz, I never got to meet you, but I will greatly miss you, Frank. I swear I have tears in my eyes as I write this and I just wish I could have told you to your face just how much you meant to me. Rest well.

Caricature of Ringo Starr from a 1966 issue of MAD.

Perhaps the definitive depiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars and Dejah Thoris.

Cover for Edgar Rice Burroughs' THE MUCKER. I love the sheer ferocity of the figure of the protagonist, Billy Byrne.

THE DEATH DEALER: the painting that was "borrowed from" to create FIST OF THE NORTH STAR's Raoh.

Seriously, who needs 3-D when you have art like this? Jesus H. Christ!!!

Where would heavy metal album cover art be without Frazetta? Nowhere, that's where!

A charming anti-smoking ad from an early issue of VAMPIRELLA.

I need to scrape together the cash and get my copy of this one-sheet poster framed. Thank the gods I bought this when I did...


Joe Jusko said...

There will almost assuredly never be another artist who will make the impact on not only our industry but on several generations of budding, fertile artistic minds that Frank did. He was the tree that every fantasy artist since has flowered from. He was truly a "living legend" and now he strides among the gods.

Glenn Greenberg said...

I bought the hardcover collection of Frazetta's comic book work last year. Glad I did!

The Master has left us, but his work lives on.

John Bligh said...

You'd have to think that along with Jack Kirby and Alex Raymond, he's the most important, influential fantasy illustrator there ever was (and will be).

Satyrblade said...

Frazetta was the Leonardo of fantasy art. Cataclysmic in his impact, genius in his vision, implacable in his defiance of complacency (unlike Frank's vastly inferior brother-in-arms, Boris Vallejo), Frazetta hewed his way through popular culture like Conan through a legion of Stygian stooges. Rest well, warrior. Your name is etched forever in the arches of Valhalla.

Eva Ink Artist Group said...

Really nice look at his work Steve. Love the commentary! :-)