Tuesday, May 11, 2010

RIP - Frank Frazetta

A legend passed away yesterday, as the master of fantasy illustration, Frank Frazetta, died at the age of 82. His visceral, violent, yet somehow refined, oil paintings for the covers of paperback editions of the adventures of Conan, Tarzan, John Carter of Mars and others in the 1960s singlehandedly redefined the look of fantasy adventure, and made him one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century.

He was born in 1928, and raised in Brooklyn. His talent was recognized as early as eight years old, when he enrolled in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts. Sadly, Frazetta's patron and mentor died eight years later, and the school's subsequent closure changed Frazetta's career path.

Not an "arty type", Frazetta was a physical man for most of his life. He was a good enough baseball player to nearly sign with the New York Giants. He was easily as muscular as some of the warriors he would gain fame depicting, and he had a long-standing love affair with motorcycles.

From the late 1940s and into the 1950s, he made his name in the comic book world through solid work on countless books of all types, doing Westerns, funny animal books, The Shining Knight features for DC and classic Buck Rogers covers for Famous Funnies. He did some fill-in work for Al Capp on Lil Abner. He worked with Harvey Kurtzman on the Little Annie Fanny comic strip in Playboy, and his painting of Ringo Starr for Mad led to his creating the movie poster for the woody Allen-scripted, Peter Sellers-starring film What's New Pussycat? He also began working for Warren Publishing, providing art for their horror magazines Creepie, Eerie and Vampirella.

But it was his cover for a paperback pulp book called Conan the Adventurer that made him a legend. With that single painting, he began a body of work that would redefine what fantasy could look like; he brought an earthy, sexy, bloody reality to his painting that still managed to retain a fierce beauty. Publishers would commission artwork from him and then have authors build a story around the result. Books would sell simply because they had one of his covers.

In the 1970s, his fame and influence reached their zenith, as his style merged perfectly with the rise of the Heavy Metal genre. He would paint album covers for bands such as Molly Hatchet and Nazareth, continuing to do album covers until 2006, when he painted Wolfmother's debut album.
Frazetta would continue to work well into the later 1990s, when a series of strokes made his work progressively difficult. He would switch to using his left hand, and become the focus of a documentary about his life. His wife Ellie, whom he married in 1956 and who had been his model often, passed in 2009. He is survived by his four children, two sisters and 11 grandchildren.

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