Frank Frazetta 1928-2010

Sad news today as word filters down that artist and illustrator Frank Frazetta passed away at the age of 82, from a stroke. In the years leading up to his death, Frazetta had already suffered one stroke and the death of his wife, Ellie. What will happen to his extensive, and valuable, collection of work — housed at the Frazetta Museum in East Stroudsburg, PA — remains to be seen. A feud between his children had erupted over it in December of last year but has since ended.

Frazetta’s career spanned roughly four decades. He began in comics in the late 40s, doing work for EC and National before landing a job as an assistant to Al Capp in 1952. He worked for Capp for nine years, and worked on Capp’s seminal strip, Lil Abner for seven of those.

It was his work doing book covers, beginning in the 60s, that would cement him as one of the foremost illustrators of the modern era. His covers for Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and John Carter of Mars books are some of the most iconic pulp images in science fiction and fantasy and defined the characters for generations of readers. It didn’t even matter that they rarely, if ever, depicted imagery found in their pages. In reference to Conan in particular Frazetta had this to say (on the occasion of the sale of his painting Conan the Conqueror which went for the princely sum of one million dollars):

I didn’t read any of it. It was too opposite of what I do. I told them that. So, 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.

In the end the subject matter was only important for, perhaps, all the wrong reasons. It is too easy to dismiss a work when it features mounted warriors brooding over piles of their slain enemies or muscled, enraged men protecting voluptuous half naked women from giant snakes.

(Oh, those women. The women in Frazetta paintings are the antithesis of the women one would see on the covers of these books today. Very few illustrators would bestow upon their nymphs such generous posteriors, let alone be brave enough to render cellulite dimpling their alabaster skin.)

Such a shame that would be, too. Frazetta’s paintings are masterpieces of energy and color, a combination of his cartooning roots and the classic illustrations of artists like N.C. Wyeth. His understanding of light was leagues beyond anyone at the time and his compositions have been copied for decades now.

Frank Frazetta’s legacy casts a long shadow and his paintings helped to shape an entire genre of fiction. Few artists can claim as much. He will be missed.

11 Responses to “Frank Frazetta 1928-2010”

  1. RIP Frank Frazetta | Technoccult Says:

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  2. Shay Says:

    Oh noesssss

  3. Vivacious_G Says:

    I have one of his beautiful books. So wonderful.

  4. Tequila Says:

    A sad day but also one that pushes many of us to reflect on just how deep Frank’s work has cut into our lives. I have clear memories of his paintings in poster form adorning the rooms of my uncles & older cousins. His paintings had a mood and life to them that didn’t just make me go “wow awesome” but actually made me afraid to be in the room with them alone. I Loved that. A lot of fantasy art looks great but Frank’s paintings just hit you on a gut level be it their power, seduction, or sheer beauty.

    None have painted women as he does. You want them to be alive so bad when you’re a teen (hell even as an adult.) They play the damsel and heroes focus but in may of his paintings they also come off as a bit ambiguous. Like they could doom you as much as any creature or monster. I loved that too.

    As I got older and started to draw his work was always something that made one want to go farther. Can’t say I ever graduated to anything beyond amateur level work in that vein but his influence in how to look at the body and more importantly give motion to things remain lessons I keep trying to master.

    His work has influenced so many and the great documentary on him Painting With Fire illustrates that point well. He’ll be missed without question but his hand is in so much both large and small he’ll always be actively around. He was a master of not just oils but ink & pencil too. His ink drawings are my favorite of any artist and the skill in them continues to fascinate.

    RIP Frank…

  5. Andy Havens Says:

    Now I am sad. Such a great talent and so intertwined with many books I loved (and love).

    Frank in the world’s libraries here:

  6. R. Says:

    This week is further falling into Suckville. This is sad news.

  7. Valentina Says:

    he was a true boss. I appreciate this article. This documentary, Painting with Fire, has a good interview:

  8. pencilpusher Says:

    Truth be told, I wept a little. One of the true greats of illustration is gone. The pantheon of illustration gods is feeling a bit empty now. I wonder if there is someone out there that can be considered his successor..?

  9. Antonio Gallegos Says:

    I was wondering if you guys had a website. Glad I found it. I truly admire you collective taste in the arts, fashion, & culture. Please contact me if it is possible to purchase the magazine here in the Los Angeles area. I have only one issue and would love to support your efforts if only a little.

  10. Bunny Greene Says:

    he will never be forgotten.

    i really hope his paintings will be housed where all can appreciate them, the prints never do the work in its true beauty and ferocity.

  11. Tequila Says:

    @pencilpusher…He did inspire a sea of imitators. Many tried hard to emulate Frazetta’s style with varying degrees of success. Not necessarily a bad thing really. Some like Boris Vallejo & Julie Bell were no doubt influenced but then went on to carve out their own visions. Plus there was such a high demand from publishers to find artists who could push books & merch in the same way. Just in the pages of Heavy Metal alone you could see a near endless stream of that. In a weird way people have been trying to be or find his successor for at least 30 years now. I don’t think there can really be one and that’s half the fun of it. In a field with such a high talent pool we all win out as a result.