Biography: Frank Frazetta

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Birth/Death

Birth: February 9, 1928

Occupation/Title

Illustrator, Painter, Sculptor

Bio Summary

Frank Frazetta is deemed as one of the most influential fantasy artists of the 20th century. Called by many, “The Father of modern Fantasy Art”, he holds that title with great pride, though he would never admit it himself.

Early Life/Family

His beginnings are as humble as any kid’s, growing up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. At the age of eight, Frazetta was enrolled into the Brooklyn Academy of Art, a small school operated under the tutelage of Michael Falanga.

Education/Training

Four years Frank Frazetta spent at the Brooklyn Academy of Art before the school was forced to close due to the death of it’s founder, Falanga. Just before he died, Falanga was personally trying to raise enough money to send the 12 year old Frazetta to Italy and study with the modern masters. Fortunately (perhaps), that never happened. Thus ends all the official schooling Frank Frazetta ever received in the field of art. The rest of Frank’s education was learned through numerous jobs and hands-on-training.

Career Outline

COMIC BOOKS
At age 15 Frazetta landed a job in Bernard Baily’s studio doing pencil cleanups for the house artists. While there he was befriended by artist John Giunta. John, impressed with Frank’s ability, decided to “collaborate” with him on a story showcasing Frazetta’s Snowman character. Frank recalls, “All I did was one story, I was the kid who had created the character, and I did the pencils. Giunta proceeded to really go over [the pencils] big time, and he did the inking. I was only a kid. I didn’t even know how it was done.” The 7 page story simply titled “Snowman” appeared in TALLY HO. But, because of Frazetta’s limited participation, the story didn’t give Frank the recognition he had hoped for. Nevertheless this book boasts his first published work and is a valued addition to the die hard collector. The first and only issue of TALLY HO was released December, 1944. Two months later Frank Frazetta turned sixteen years old.

CAREER BEGINNINGS
He was finally able to stretch his creative legs in 1946 when Prize Publications gave him a chance to submit a solo story in TREASURE COMICS. This was definitely a far cry from TALLY HO and Frank felt the pressure to draw a story that might earn him some well deserved merit. The story; “Know Your America” is Frazetta’s first solo published work. The issue also contained a funny/adventure serial entitled “Cap’n Kidd”. The historical value of this book is commonly overlooked by most collectors.
After his work for two issues of TREASURE COMICS, Standard Publications hired him to help illustrate their funny animal books. Between the years 1947 through 1950 he worked diligently with Standard on 15 different titles. He began illustrating books like BARNYARD, COO COO, HAPPY and SUPERMOUSE to name a few. But when Frazetta’s talent really began to bloom (about 1948) he was offered a nine page story for EXCITING COMICS, one of Standard’s action\adventure titles. He was also asked to provide a quarter page illustration for a “Looie Lazybones” story about the same time. The response to Looie persuaded Standard to create an ongoing series. And, of course, they gave Frazetta the job to draw them. These stories are credited as the ones that caught Al Capp’s attention and eventually resulted in Frazetta ghosting the LI’L ABNER newspaper strip for nine years.

HITTING HIS STRIDE
The period of 1948 through 1951 was undoubtedly the most productive in the young artist’s comic career as other companies were introduced to his work. Not only did he continue working for Standard’s humor and adventure titles, D.S. Publishing offered him a seven page story in OUTLAW # 9. This was the first of many western stories Frazetta would eventually do. The publishing company Magazine Entertainment contacted Frank to help on their A-1 line of books. The popularity of TRAIL COLT, Frazetta’s first work for A-1, quickly led to the production of another A-1 western title, THE DURANGO KID. This book introduced Dan Brand “The White Indian” and Tipi his Indian sidekick. It continued well into 1952 with sixteen issues. This particular run of stories best illustrates the growing development of Frazetta’s early drawing style.
By early 1950 Frank was doing stuff for such companies as D.C.’s ADVENTURE COMICS, Toby Press’ JOHN WAYNE ADVENTURE (with Al Williamson), and E.C.’s sci-fi title WEIRD FANTASY (also with Williamson). 1950 was the first year that showcased Frazetta’s finer art style. his work within the more serious titles grew while his funny animal illustrations dramatically fell. By 1951 the anthropomorphic work had completely disappeared from his schedule. Still, his production output in 1951 easily matched that of 1950 because he continued to supply art for some of the industry’s leading publications.

QUALITY TIME
Nineteen fifty-two was the year Frazetta’s popularity really exploded. It seemed every publisher in the industry wanted what Frazetta had to offer. For the first time Frank was able to pick his projects. He had always wanted to do a Tarzan feature, so when THUN’DA, KING OF THE CONGO was pitched his way he immediately grabbed it. It’s a watershed period in the history of Frazetta’s career. It’s the only book entirely penciled and inked by Frazetta. The only other book that comes close is a LI’L ABNER giveaway where Frazetta penciled and inked the interior. Thun’da allowed Frank a chance to do the Tarzanesque feature, a dream of Frazetta’s that was finally fulfilled.

Newspaper Strips
Nineteen fifty-two also marked a time where Frazetta decided to branch out from the comic book medium and try his hand at newspaper strips. JOHNNY COMET first appeared in the papers Monday, January 28 written by Earl Baldwin and illustrated by Frank Frazetta. It was an adventure yarn about a young racecar driver living fast and driving hard while dealing with smugglers and the other usual bad guys found within the strips back then. Originally, writing credits were given to Peter DePaolo, the winner of the 1925 Indianapolis 500. This was probably done to help sell the strip and lend credence to the stories. JOHNNY COMET (which later became ACE McCOY) eventually ran out of gas and, in early 1954, the strip folded. It was at this time Al Capp jumped in to ask Frazetta to work with him on LI’L ABNER. Capp’s offer was readily accepted.
It was due to his work on LI’L ABNER that created a drop in his comic book output for the next few years. A drop in quantity yes, but the quality of Frank’s comic output was unrivaled. Basically his work for LI’L ABNER allowed Frazetta the opportunity to draw a weeks worth of strips in a couple of days and that left him the rest of the week to do what he wished. Usually he played baseball or hung around with his friends AKA “The Fleegle Gang” (Angelo Torres, Al Williamson, Nick Meglin, Roy Krenkel, and George Woodbridge). But sometimes he’d get the creative urge to sit down and draw. Usually Frazetta would draw something just for the sake of creating but sometimes he’d take on a comic book project. Relaxed with the knowledge that there was no rush to complete it, Frazetta created some truly beautiful comic stories. For instance, his work for PERSONAL LOVE immediately springs to mind.
Frank Frazetta’s work for the comic PERSONAL LOVE started in late 1953. Only 5 stories were illustrated by the artist. Each one appearing within a different issue. The fifth story, entitled “Untamed Love” Has been unanimously decreed by Frazetta collectors as the greatest story illustration done for comics. His cover art for eight issues of FAMOUS FUNNIES, also created around this time, is yet another testament to Frazetta’s illustration prowess.
The years 1954 and 55 show a generous handful of well-crafted covers and stories for E.C. Comics. This includes “Squeeze Play”, Frank’s only solo story for the publisher. Another E.C. publication, WEIRD SCIENCE-FANTASY # 29 appeared on the racks. For one dime you could purchase what is now considered by many to be the finest piece of comic book cover art ever produced.

A NEW DIRECTION
Frazetta’s work on comic books between the years 1956-1962 is virtually non-existent. He credits this to mere laziness, after all, Capp continued to pay well and there was no end to the work. After his stint with Capp was over in 1962, times became a bit lean for a couple of years. Frank had to resort to doing odd jobs for various men’s magazines like the “Little Annie Fannie” strips for PLAYBOY or the beautiful inkwash pieces done for the MIDWOOD paperbacks. His comic book work restarted in 1964 when Jim Warren had an idea for a magazine that mirrored the old E.C. format. CREEPY # 1 debuted on the stands boasting a Jack Davis cover and seven stories inside. One story, “Werewolf” is Frazetta’s first of many contributions to the magazine. “Werewolf” has been cited as the last comic story done by the artist. Technically this isn’t true. Issues # 2 and 7 each contain a one page feature illustrated by Frazetta. It can be said, by definition, they are stories. And, in May, 1966, he drew an anti-smoking advertisement in the form of a six-panel strip for Eerie # 3.
Thirty-two covers were painted for Warren’s stockade of magazines (BLAZING COMBAT, CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA). Frazetta fondly remembers this period of his career as one of the happiest. Not only was he given the freedom to create with almost no restriction, he was also allowed to keep all the originals. His having so much fun was the only reason he worked on these magazines through the sixties. He could have easily done paperback covers or movie posters but that wouldn’t have been half as fun, or creative.

PAPERBACKS AND MOVIE POSTERS
While it was his comic illustration that gave Frank Frazetta his career throughout the forties and fifties. It was his work in the sixties that helped push his career toward the realm of legend.
The early sixties was a time of experimentation for Frazetta. His techniques in oil and his work with brush and ink became even more exquisite. But, despite Frazetta’s obvious talent, things didn’t fall into place right away.
When Frazetta left Al Capp’s studio in early 1961 he thought it would be no problem to land another illustration job. And so, with portfolio in hand, he went searching. But it seemed his work had become poison to any publisher he showed it to. His best stuff was rejected as being too “old style”. He honestly believed he’d been blacklisted because of the way he left Capp’s studio on such a negative note.
This down time in Frazetta’s career can best be illustrated with the brushstrokes of his own Self Portrait (early 1962). The story goes that he painted it after yet another exhaustive day of searching for work. Look closely at the painting and you can see his frustration not only in his eyes but also in the explosive, staccato brushstrokes he used. It captures well the look of the troubled artist at the time. Ellie, Frank’s wife, recalled the time. “He walked into the apartment, kissed me and went immediately into his small studio. A few hours later, the painting was finished.” Ellie continued. “Look closely at that painting, look at the mouth. You can see a slight smirk of self confidence as if Frank is saying to the world I don’t care what you think. I’m going to make it anyways.”
Frazetta wasn’t completely out of work. He just wasn’t able to do the jobs he wanted to do. His work for the year of 1961 consisted basically of men’s magazine illustrations. He worked for magazines such as GENT and CAVALCADE producing spot illustrations to punctuate the stories. These baudy drawings led Frank to work for a company called Midwood. There, he created beautiful illustrations to highlight the spicy stories within. Books of that type were meant as throw away items back then. To find one today can command prices of up to fifty dollars or more apiece.

FINALLY – TARZAN!
The latter part of 1962 marked another watershed period in Frazetta’s life when he was asked to provide interior illustrations for the Canaveral Press edition of TARZAN AT THE EARTH’S CORE.
His illustrative style best reflected the original editions illustrated by J. Allen St. John (an icon of Frazetta’s). It seemed the illustrators “old style”, rejected by everyone else, was just the technique Canaveral Press was looking for. He was offered the book and Canaveral promised more work to come.

THE ACE YEARS
His good friend (and fellow Fleagle) Roy Krenkel came to Frank in late 1963 to ask for assistance. Ace books hired Krenkel to paint covers and provide interior illustrations for their entire line of Edgar Rice Burroughs books. Krenkel was quickly overwhelmed with the task and asked Frazetta to help him out. The two have been friends going way back to the fifties when they worked for E.C. Publications together. Krenkel was Frazetta’s foot in the door and no sooner had Frank entered Ace Publications, he’d made himself at home. Between the years of 1963-65 Frazetta produced twenty-five covers and twenty-two interior illustrations for Ace. Toward the end of 1965 his paperback contributions dwindled to a few pieces. However there was an explosion in other facets of his career. The most notable of these is the work on his first movie poster, “WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT?”. He quickly learned that a single movie poster could pull an income equal to almost an entire year’s worth of paperback work.
In 1964 Frank began his stint for Lancer Books when he produced the cover for THE SECRET PEOPLE and for Fawcett when he provided them the cover for THE REASSEMBLED MAN.
He returned to Canaveral Press in 1965 when they asked him to provide illustrations for three more Burroughs books (TARZAN AND THE CASTAWAYS, AT THE EARTH’S CORE and PELLUCIDAR). Frank readily accepted the job. Only TARZAN AND THE CASTAWAYS saw print in its intended form. The other two book projects were shelved. Eventually, a few of the shelved illustrations appeared when Canaveral released EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS, MASTER OF ADVENTURE. What Frazetta created for those four books was a series of brush and ink drawings that, to this day, challenges anyone to outdo. His only other book contributions that year was for Ballantine when he sold them four covers. Three of those books reprinted stories from E.C. Comics.
His cover and illustrative work continued sporadically through 1966 with just a handful of contributions. He sold a couple illustrations to House of Greystoke Publications for their books THE GIRL FROM FARRIS’ and THE EFFICIENCY EXPERT. Frank also provided a single cover to Lancer for Ted White’s book PHOENIX PRIME and, also in 1966 he first worked for Doubleday Books when he sold them a wrap-around cover and six interior illustrations for their double-size Burroughs book SWORDS OF MARS and SYNTHETIC MEN OF MARS.

CONAN
Nineteen sixty-seven and sixty-eight showed Frazetta back in full swing of paperback work when he was commissioned by Lancer to paint covers for their series of Robert E. Howard CONAN books. Many claim it was the covers that made the books popular. This is partially true. The covers caught the eye of the modern reader introducing them for the first time to the world of Howard. But the stories within have withstood the test of generations long before the Lancer editions ever saw print. Giants walked the Earth when Frazetta teamed with the posthumous Howard.
The work Frazetta did for Lancer was of far greater quality than the work provided to Ace. Suddenly he was being paid more money per cover and he was allowed to keep the originals. Ace, on the other hand, would keep Frazetta’s originals and eventually sell them for multiples of what Frank was paid for them. Frazetta worked almost exclusively for Lancer in 1967-68 but also sold work to Popular Library, Avon and Paperback Library.
In 1969 he finished his stint with Lancer when he sold them a painted cover for KAVIN’S WORLD and two very rare photo covers for THE MAN FROM S.T.U.D. He ended ties with Paperback Library with the cover for BRAK THE BARBARIAN VS. THE SOECERESS. He began work for Dell Books with the cover for Robert E. Howard’s BRAN MAK MORN.
In 1970 Doubleday again confronted Frazetta about continuing work on their line of Burroughs reprints for their book club. He sold Doubleday three covers and three illustrations that year. Frank sold Dell another cover (ETERNAL CHAMPION) and provided Popular Library a total of four covers. He also worked for Pinnacle Books when he painted the cover for THE GODMAKERS. The painting for that book is truly bizarre. Look closely and you see a mass orgy of intertwining arms and legs culminating toward a single female found at the tip of the human knot.

SLOWING DOWN
The years 1971-72 showed very little paperback work. He sold four covers and a handful of interiors to Doubleday Books and also began work on the Doubleday Book Club promo material. He did a cover for the Fawcett publication, CHILD OF THE SUN and another cover for Pinnacle: TO CATCH A CROOKED GIRL, one of the rarest paperbacks out there.
His cover work continued well into the seventies when Ace re-enlisted Frank to paint covers and provide frontispiece illustrations for yet another reissue series of the Burroughs novels. Though this time Frank kept the Ace originals. He also provided a few more paintings for Dell Books. A couple of these paintings (Death Dealer for FLASHING SWORDS # 2 and Silver Warrior for SILVER WARRIORS) stand as two of the most popular paintings to come from the artist’s brush. Frazetta then moved on to Warner Books to provide seven covers for their company one of which (Dark Kingdom for DARK CRUSADE) was later turned into an album cover for Molly Hatchet.
It was around 1975 when he started slowing down the output of his paperback work. Not only was he established as one of the most talented artists in the history of heroic-fantasy he was also deemed one of the hardest working having provided covers and illustrations for well over one hundred-fifty different books in the span of twelve years. Add to this the fact he was also doing movie and magazine work and you might agree it was time to relax a bit and perhaps reap some well-deserved benefits.

Comments On Style

Influences

Personality

Anecdotes

Ellie, Frank’s wife has to lock Frank out of his own museum to prevent him from sneaking in and retouching some of his old classic paintings

Miscellaneous

Filmography

FIRE AND ICE – Co-creator, Primary Design Consultant – 1983 – Ralph Bakshi, Director

PAINTING WITH FIRE – A Frank Frazetta documentary – 2001 – Cinemachine – Lance Laspina, Director

Honors

Related Links

http://www.animationarchive.org/2008/07/cappital-ideas-modus-operandi-of-lil.html


http://www.animationarchive.org/2008/06/biography-al-capp-3-recapp-bio-of.html

Bibliographic References

Contributors To This Listing

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