For someone of my age, it is impossible not to think of Frank Frazetta when we think of fantasy. Frazetta was ubiquitous and his paintings adorned the bookshelves with their unique blend of realistic painting, with wholly unrealistic idealised men and women with ne-er so much as a chain to hide their nudity. Un-PC it might have been, but it was probably thanks to his art that we still remember Conan the Barbarian, and the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger. And are able to continue to enjoy the likes of 300, Game of Thrones, Thor, Tarzan, John Carter of Mars etc. on TV and film.
Aged 16, he started drawing for comic books that varied in themes: westerns, fantasy, mysteries, and histories. Some of his earliest work was in funny animal comics, which he signed as “Fritz”. During this period he turned down job offers from comic giants such as Walt Disney. But in the early 1950s, he worked for EC Comics and several other comic book companies. Through the 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 working on the Flash Gordon daily strip. In 1961, after nine years with Capp, Frazetta returned to regular comics. Work in comics for him was hard to find, as comics had changed during his period with Capp and his style was deemed antiquated. Eventually he joined Harvey Kurtzman doing the parody strip Little Annie Fanny in Playboy magazine. But it wasn’t until 1964 that one of his magazine ads caught the eye of United Artists studios. He was approached to do the movie poster for What’s New Pussycat and earned his yearly salary in one afternoon.
He did several other movie posters and started producing paintings for paperback editions of adventure books. His cover for the sword-and-sorcery collection Conan the Adventurer by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp caused a sensation. Numerous people bought the book for its cover alone. From this point on, Frazetta’s work was in great demand and became the standard for the fantasy genre. During this period he also did covers for other paperback editions of classic Edgar Rice Burroughs books, such as Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. He also did several pen and ink illustrations for many of these books.
If you want to find out more about the man and his art, here are some links to sites where you can start:
And just to illustrate how popular his work is, here’s a piece of his that sold for $1million:
RIP Frank… you’ll be sadly missed but not forgotten