A Look Back at the Work of Frank Frazetta
The character of of Conan was created by science fiction / fantasy writer Robert E. Howard in 1932 for the pulp magazine Weird Tales. Howard is often regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery genre. Although Conan the Barbarian is probably his best know character, Howard is also responsible for the creation of several classic pulp science fiction characters like Kull of Atlantis, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn (both Kull and Solomon Kane have also given film treatments.) After his death, the copyright of the Conan stories passed through several hands. Horward's original stories were expurgated, revised, edited and rewritten. Other writers even contributed new stories.
However, it wasn't until the Lancer/Ace paper editions of the 60's and 70's that the Conan stories reached their peak of popularity. A large part of the popularity of these books came from the dynamic cover images provided by artist Frank Frazeta. Numerous people bought the books solely based on the covers alone. Frazetta's paintings are widely considered the definitive depiction of Conan. All portrayals since have been heavily influenced by the cover paintings of this series. In fact most peoples impression of Conan come not from the Howard's writings, but from Frazetta's paintings.
Born in Brooklyn in 1928, Frank showed a natural artistic ability at an early age, and was enrolled in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts, a small art school run by instructor Michael Falanga. He began his professional career as a comic book artist working in various genres, including westerns, fantasy, mystery, historical drama, and funny animal comics . In the 1940s and 50s, he drew for comic strips like Al Capp’s “Lil’ Abner” and comic books like “Famous Funnies,” for which he contributed a series of covers depicting the futuristic adventurer Buck Rogers and Flash Gordan. He also had his own newspaper strip that ran from 1952 to 1953, called “Johnny Comet.”
In the 60's Frank moved on to more prosperous line of work designing movie posters for films like "What's New Pussycat?" (1964) and "The Secret of My Success" (1965). It is also around this time that he began producing paintings for the cover-art to paper back editions of adventure books series such as Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan and Barsoom (John Carter of Mars) and of coarse Robert E. Howard's Conan.
From this point on Frazetta work was in great demand. His work appeared on everything from movies posters like Roman Polanski's "The Fearless Vampire Killers" and Clint Eastwoood's "The Gauntlet", to album covers for bands like Molly Hatchet, Dust, Narareth, and The Dead Elvi, as well as horror magazines covers like Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. The U.S Army III Coprs even adopted Frazetta's "Death Dealer" character as their mascot.
In the early 80's Frazetta worked with producer Ralph Bakshi on the animated feature "Fire and Ice". The film attempted to recreate Franks unique detailed realistic style by using the technique of retoscoping, which involves the filming of scenes in live-action to later be traced over frame by frame by animators. However the film was still unable to complete capture the look Frazetta's artwork. Released in 1983 the film was not a success at box office. It has been released on DVD and Blueray, along with the bonus feature of excellent 2003 documentary on Frazetta, "Frank Frazetta: Painting with Fire."
Also around the same time in the early 80's, Frazetta created a gallery, Frazetta's Fantasy Corner, on the upper floors of former Masonic building at the corner of South Courtland and Washington streets in East Stroudsburg, PA. The building also housed a Frazzeta art museum for the displaying of both his artwork and, in a separate gallery, the work of other artists.
A variety of health problems began to plague Frazetta later in his life, including a long undiagnosed, untreated thyroid condition and a series of series of strokes in 1995 impaired his manual dexterity in his right hand. Undaunted, the right-handed artist began retraining himself to draw and paint with his left hand.
By 2009 he and his wife were living in a 67 acre estate in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. On July, 17 2009 his wife of 53 years , Eleanor "Ellie" Kelly Frazetta, who had also served as his business partner, passed away after a year long battle with cancer. In 2000 She had established a small museum on the Poconos property, to house and display her husband's work. After her death, their children (Billy, Holly, Heidi, and Frank Jr.) fought over the custodial rights to Frazetta's works. On December 9, 2009, Frazzetta's son, Frank Frazetta Jr. was arrested in an attempt to remove 90 of his father's paintings from the family museum.
Frazetta sided with his other three children, who had formed a limited partnership for estate planning. He told the Poconos Record that one of the paintings Frank Jr. had removed was unfinished. On April 23, 2010, the family released a public statement saying that the dispute had been resolved through mediation and that the charges against Frank Jr. had been dropped.
On May 10, 2010, Frank Frazetta died of a stroke in a hospital near his residence in Florida.
His impact on the world of illustration, comic and concept art is undeniable. Widely regarded as the godfather of fantasty illustration, Frazetta influenced an entire generation of artists and filmmakers with powerful images. It's nearly impossible to walk into a game studio, visual-effects house, comics convention or film set without finding someone who had been influenced by Frazetta's work.
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