Thursday, May 6, 2010

Frank Frazetta: Painting With Fire

Frank Frazetta (born February 9, 1928) is an American fantasy and science fiction artist, noted for work in comic books, paperback book covers, paintings, posters, record-album covers, and other media. He is the subject of a 2003 documentary.

Early life and career

Frazetta was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York City. At the age of eight, with the insistence of his school teachers, Frazetta's parents enrolled him in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts. He attended the academy for eight years under the tutelage of Michael Falanga, an Italian fine artist. Falanga was struck by Frazetta's significant talent. Frazetta's abilities flourished under Falanga, who dreamed of sending Frazetta to Europe, at his own expense, to further his studies, but Falanga died suddenly in 1944. When the school closed about a year later, Frazetta was forced to find work to earn a living.

At 16, Frazetta started drawing for comic books in various genres: Westerns, fantasy, mysteries, histories, and other contemporary themes. Some of his earliest work was in funny animal comics, which he signed as "Fritz." During this period he turned down job offers from giants such as Walt Disney. In the early 1950s, he worked for EC Comics, National Comics, (including the superhero feature "Shining Knight"), Avon, and several other comic book companies. Much of his work in comic books was done in collaboration with friend Al Williamson and mentor Roy Krenkel.

Noticed because of his work on the Buck Rogers covers for Famous Funnies, Frazetta started working with Al Capp on his Li'l Abner comic strip. Frazetta was also producing his own strip, Johnny Comet at this time, as well as assisting Dan Barry on the Flash Gordon daily strip. He married Massachusetts native Eleanor Kelly in New York City in November 1956. The two would have four children: Frank Jr., Billy, Holly and Heidi.

In 1961, after nine years with Capp, Frazetta returned to comic books. Eventually he joined Harvey Kurtzman on the bawdy parody strip Little Annie Fanny in Playboy magazine.

Self Portrait 1962

Hollywood and book covers

In 1964, Frazetta's painting of Ringo Starr, of the pop band The Beatles for a Mad magazine ad parody caught the eye of United Artists studios. He was approached to do the movie poster for What's New Pussycat?, and earned the equivalent of his yearly salary in one afternoon. He did several other movie posters. Also during this time, he turned down an offer from a talent scout to play for the New York Giants.

Frazetta's cover artwork for Conan the Usurper (1967). Frazetta also produced paintings for paperback editions of adventure books. His interpretation of Conan visually redefined the genre of sword and sorcery, and had an enormous influence on succeeding generations of artists. From this point on, Frazetta's work was in great demand. His covers were used for other paperback editions of classic Edgar Rice Burroughs books, such as those from the Tarzan and Barsoom (John Carter of Mars) series. He also did several pen and ink illustrations for many of these books. His cover art only coincidentally matched the storylines inside the books, as Frazetta once explained: "I didn't read any of it... I drew him my way. It was really rugged. And it caught on. I didn't care about what people thought. People who bought the books never complained about it. They probably didn't read them."

Since this time, most of Frazetta's work has been commercial in nature, providing paintings and illustrations for movie posters, book jackets, and calendars. Frazetta's commercial work includes several cover paintings and a few comic stories for the Warren Publishing horror magazines Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.

Once he secured a reputation, movie studios started trying to lure him to work on animated movies. Most, however, would give him participation in name only, with creative control held by others. In the early 1980s, a movie deal was offered which would give him most creative control. Frazetta worked with animated movie producer Ralph Bakshi on the feature Fire and Ice, released in 1983. Many of the characters and most of the story were Frazetta's creations. The movie proved a commercial disappointment, and Frazetta returned to his roots in painting and pen-and-ink illustrations.

Frazetta's paintings have been used by a number of recording artists as cover art for their albums. Molly Hatchet's first two albums feature "The Death Dealer" and "Dark Kingdom" respectively. Dust's second album, Hard Attack, features "Snow Giants". Nazareth used "The Brain" for their 1977 album Expect No Mercy. Frazetta also created brand new cover artwork that appeared on "Buddy Bought The Farm", the second CD of the surf horror band "The Dead Elvi". Recently, Wolfmother used "The Sea Witch" as the cover for their self-titled debut. Wolfmother has also used other Frazetta paintings for the covers of their singles and for some of their merchandise, such as t-shirts.

In 2008, the cover illustration to the Burroughs paperback "Escape on Venus" sold at auction for $251,000. Frazetta retained the original Conan paintings, and long refused to part with them. Many were displayed at the Frazetta Museum in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. In 2009, Frazetta's "Conan the Conqueror" painting was the first to be offered for sale, and was purchased by a private collector for $1 million.

Later life and career

Frazetta's primary commercial works are in oil, but he also works with watercolor, ink and pencil alone. In his later life, Frazetta has been plagued by a variety of health problems, including a thyroid condition that went untreated for many years. In the 2000s, a series of strokes impaired Frazetta's manual dexterity to a degree that he has switched to drawing and painting with his left hand. He is the subject of the feature documentary Frank Frazetta: Painting With Fire (2003).

As of 2009, Frazetta lives on a 67-acre estate in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. They maintain a small museum, open to the public, on the estate. On July 17, 2009, his wife and business partner, Eleanor "Ellie" Frazetta, died after a year-long battle with cancer. Following her death, Frazetta announced the appointment of Robert Pistella and Steve Ferzoco as his exclusive agents, through their company Frazetta Management Corp. The Pocono Record newspaper reported that by December of that year, Frazetta was "suffering from dementia".

Well art lovers and Frazetta freaks, I managed to corral 177 images of his paintings and drawings. Enjoy.

Glenn Buttkus

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