Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Late, Great Frank Frazetta

Renowned fantasy artist and comic book artist Frank Frazetta passed yesterday at the age of 82. The cause was complications from a stroke.

Frank Frazzetta (he later dropped the second "z") was born on February 9, 1928 in Brooklyn. Beginning when he was only 8 years old, Mr. Frazetta attended the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts. The school closed when he was 16, forcing him to look for work. He found work assisting science fiction artist John Giunta. He was only 16 when his first work appeared in Tally Ho.

In the late Forties Frank Frazetta worked on comic books at Fiction House for a time, cleaning the art of artist such as George Evans, Graham Ingels, and Bob Lubbers. He later moved to Nedor (also known as Standard) Publishing, where he worked primarily on humour titles such as Barnyard Comics and Happy Comics. In 1946 he moved to Prize Publications (also known as Crestwood Publications), where he did his first solo work on Treasure Comics.

By the late Forties and early Fifties Frank Frazewtta was very much in demand. For National Periodical Publications he did work on All Star Comics, on the "Shining Knight" in Adventure Comics, and Tomahawk. He worked at Magazine Enterprises on such Western titles as Ghost Rider, Straight Arrow, and Tim Holt, and the crime title Manhunt. For Magaizne Enterprises he created the character Thun'Da, King of the Congo in 1951 (adapted as  serial in 1952). He ghosted for Dan Barry on the Flash Gordon newspaper strip. He also did work at EC Comics on such titles as Weird Fantasy and Shock Suspenstories.

Frank Frazetta created the comic strip Johnny Comet, which he sold to the McClure Syndicate and made its debut in January 1952. It was later renamed Ace McCoy. Sadly, under any title it lasted only two years. In need of money, Mr. Frazetta went to work as an assistant for Al Capp on Li'l Abner in 1953. He would work for Mr. Capp until 1961. After he left Al Capp, Mr. Frazetta expanded beyond comic books and comic strips. He created illustrations for such men's magazines as Gent and Dude. He also worked for a time as Harvey Kurtzman's assistant on the Little Annie Fanny feature published in Playboy.

 It was in the years 1963 to 1964 that Frank. Frazetta's career would shift dramatically. It was during this period that Mr. Frazetta began illustrating the covers of  paperbacks such Edgar Rice Burroughs novels as those in the "John Carter of Mars" series, the "Carson of Venus" series, and the "Tarzan" series for Ace Books.  It was in 1964 that Mr. Frazetta did his first work for Warren Publishing, on the very first issue of Creepy. Over the years he would contribute work to many of Warren's publications, including Eerie, Blazing Combat, and Vampirella. It was in 1964 that Frank Frazetta did a parody illustration of Ringo Starr of The Beatles for Mad magazine. The illustration caught the eye of United Artists, who hired him to illustrate the poster for the movie What's New Pussycat (1965).

The period from 1965 to 1973 saw Frank Frazetta thrive as a painter of paperback covers and movie posters. Mr. Frazetta continued to illustrate covers for Ace Books' various editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. It was in 1966 that he illustrated his first cover for a Robert E. Howard, Conan the Barbarian paperback, Conan the Adventurer. He did the art for several movie posters, including The Secret of My Succcess (1965), Hotel Paradisio (1966), The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), Mad Monster Party (1967),  Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968), and The Gauntlet (1977). It was in 1972 that Mr. Frazetta did his first album cover, Hard Attack  by Dust. He would go onto create covers for Nazareth's Expect No Mercy (1977), Molly Hatchet's self titled debut album (1978), Molly Hatchet's Flritin' with Disaaster (1979), and Molly Hatchet's Beatin' the Odds. By the late Seventies into the Eighties Frank Frazetta did a series of private portfolios (Kublai Khan, Lord of the Rings). He also continued to create paperback covers, although to a lesser extent than he had before.

It was in 1982 that animator Ralph Bakshi collaborated with Frank Frazetta on the fantasy film Fire and Ice. Frazetta worked extensively with Mr. Bakshi on the film, which was released in 1983. His painting Death Dealer from 1973 would not only serve as the cover for Molly Hatchet's first album, but would be featured in a series of novels by James Silke and a comic book miniseries published by Image/Frazetta Comics in 2004.

Frank Frazetta was arguably one of the greatest artists of the late 20th Century. His work in comic books is legendary, although his career in the medium was short when compared to other artists say, Jack Kirby). As a painter of paperback covers he revolutionised the medium. Alongside such artists as James Bama, Mr, Frazetta turned  paperback illustration into a true art form. And while it is the robust heroes and barely clad princesses that come to most people's minds when they think of his art, Mr. Frazetta was also capable of creating more whimsical images. This can be especially seen in his work for movie posters, creating humorous artwork such films as What's New, Pussycat and Mad Monster Party. Mr. Frazetta's work ranged from the ruggedly adventurous (his many Conan covers) to the subtly erotic (his poster art for The Fearless Vampire Killers) to the outright comedic (The Night They Raided Minsky's). Indeed, it is because of his versatility that Frank Frazetta worked in more media than most comic book artists ever had. He was a truly creative artist whose work has often been imitated, but rarely matched.

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