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 Frank Frazetta  (1928 - 2010)

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Lived/Active: New York/Florida      Known for: fantasy paperback illustration, cartoons, comics

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Ad Code: 2
Frank Frazetta
from Auction House Records.
Vampirella #5 Cover Painting "Cornered" Original Art (Warren Publishing, 1970).
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Frank Frazetta, an internationally known illustrator of fantasy art and comics, was born on February 9, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York.  It has been reported that his art career began at age three and that some of his works were sold by age eight, to his grandmother, for one cent.  Her interest encouraged him to pursue his interest in art. Frank was the oldest of four children, and when he was only in kindergarten his teacher was impressed that his drawing abilities were better than 10 year olds. Frazetta created comic books throughout elementary school, with a "Snowman" and "The Red Devil and Goldy" as the main characters.  These characters still exist and exhibit a high level of sophistication, especially considering his age.

When he was eight, Frazetta was enrolled into the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts. One of thirty students at the time, the youngest pupil was asked by his teacher to draw something complex.  Frazetta thought he was in trouble when the teacher, Michael Falanga, returned to view the results and an excited exclamation of "Mama Mia!" was heard.  The Italian teacher, well known in his home country, was impressed with Frank's natural ability and thought highly of his potential.  Falanga thought Frazetta's potential was great enough that he was soon to send Frank to Italy to study art. Falanga felt Frazetta was wasting his time with comics, and that his talents should be directed towards higher levels of art.

At the age of sixteen, Tally Ho comics displayed Frazetta's first professional comic work. This exposure provided the stepping-stone for him to go on to do illustrations of funny animals for text stories seen in Coo Coo and Happy comics.  He also created stories for "Heroic Comics" and eight highly acclaimed illustrations for "Shining Knight" stories for DC (formerly National).  Two of Comic's greatest talents, Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel, inspired and influenced Frazetta, and led him to employment for companies such as Standard, Lev Gleason, and at Toby with Williamson, and later at M.E., where he drew "White Indian" and "Thun'da", his only complete comic book. "Thun'da" was derived from Edgar Rice Burrough's "Tarzan", and was considered to be a great achievement.

One of his greatest stories, "50 Girls 50", resulted from involvement with Bill Gaines at EC Comics, together with collaboration with Williamson and Krenkel. Another story included "Squeeze Play".  He contributed to some of the most respected comic book covers ever created, including seven covers for the Famous Funnies (Buck Rogers) comic in the early fifties. These covers later overwhelmed George Lucas, who has claimed they were the inspiration for the Star Wars Saga.

Frazetta's famous "Johnny Comet" and "Ace McCoy" comics were created in 1952, but lasted less than two years.  Beginning at this time Frank also began assisting Al Capp for about ten years on the "Lil Abner" comic strip.  He then worked for paperback publishers doing interior illustrations before landing at Warren Publications.  There many EC artists would gather to work on Creey, Eerie, Blazing Combat and Vampirella. Some of the most memorable pieces for members of the baby boomer generation would include "Egyption Princess" (Eerie #23), "Sorcerer" (Eerie #2), "Wolfman" (Creepy #5), "Sea Monster" (Eerie #3), and others. While at Warren, he also drew a "Creepy's Loathsome Lore" page and another famous story, which some regard as his best comic story, "Werewolf", the story of a crazed wolf-hunter who is himself the hunted.  These five pages by Frazetta are considered a pinnacle of achievement for the comic medium.

Canaveral Press and Doubleday Books commissioned Frazetta for E.R. Burrough's stories, including Tarzan and the Mars series. The response from the public was overwhelming. Other paperback companies started noticing. United Artist's Film Studios, had Frazetta do the poster for 'What's New Pussycat'. Also highly noted is his incarnation of Lancer Book's "Conan the Barbarian". Frank's single greatest achievement is considered to be his painting for the cover of the first book in that series, "Conan the Barbarian". It became one of the greatest selling series in history, more than 10 million copies.

During the 1970s, Frank and his wife, Ellie, concentrated on raising their four children on Long Island. However, they later decided to move back to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, to be closer to family. Ellie began a small business called Frazetta Prints. She worked with distributors on five of her husband's prints, attempting to place Frank's work in the public's eye. Years later, this business would pertain to all aspects of Frank's art, including over 150 different prints, books, and lithographs. After a year and a half in Sheepshead Bay, and desiring privacy and open space, the Frazettas began looking for the proverbial old farmhouse with lots of acreage. They found a run down farmhouse with nearly 70 acres of land outside Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Now a beautiful estate, this site has became 'home' to their children and grandchildren, as well as the Frazetta Art Museum.

Several of Frazetta's works made it to auction at Sotheby's and Christie's in the 1990s, resulting in high five-figure numbers.  With this renewed interest came new projects and ideas.  Frank was convinced to assist Randy Bowen co-create a bronze sculpture of Frazetta's signature oil, 'The Death Dealer'.  Frank was also commissioned to produce a book of pencil drawings for Glenn Danzig.  This volume was entitled, 'Illustrations Arcanum', and immediately became a hit, re-energizing Frazetta's name in the art world.  A series of Death Dealer comics followed, as well as other fantasy-supernatural theme productions such as a series of sculptures based on Frank's 'Fire and Ice' models, and a new character called Jaguar God.

A documentary of the life and art of Frank Frazetta entitled, "Frazetta: Painting with Fire" was directed by Lance Laspina and produced by Cinemachine.

Source:
Dr. David Winiewicz, "Frank Frazetta: The Creative Moment", Illustration magazine, July 2003, p. 52

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is the obituary of the artist from The New York Times, May 11, 2010

Frank Frazetta, Illustrator, Dies at 82; Helped Define Comic Book Heroes
By Bruce Weber and Dave Itzkoff

Frank Frazetta, an illustrator of comic books, movie posters and paperback book covers whose visions of musclebound men fighting with swords and axes to defend scantily dressed women helped define fantasy heroes like Conan, Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, died on Monday in Fort Myers, Fla.  He was 82.

The cause was complications from a stroke, said Rob Pistella and Stephen Ferzoco, Mr. Frazetta’s business managers.

Mr. Frazetta was a versatile and prolific comic book artist who, in the 1940s and ’50s, 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.

A satirical advertisement Mr. Frazetta drew for Mad earned him his first Hollywood job, the movie poster for “What’s New Pussycat?” (1965), a sex farce written by Woody Allen that starred Peter Sellers.  In 1983 he collaborated with the director Ralph Bakshi to produce the animated film “Fire and Ice.”

His most prominent work, however, was on the cover of book jackets, where his signature images were of strikingly fierce, hard-bodied heroes and bosomy, callipygian damsels in distress.  In 1966, his cover of “Conan the Adventurer,” a collection of four fantasy short stories written by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp, depicted a brawny long-haired warrior standing in repose on top of a pile of skeletons and other detritus, his sword thrust downward into the mound, an apparently naked young woman lying at his feet, hugging his ankle.

The cover created a new look for fantasy adventure novels and established Mr. Frazetta as an artist who could sell books.  He illustrated many more Conan books (including “Conan the Conqueror,” “Conan the Usurper” and “Conan the Avenger”) and works by Edgar Rice Burroughs (including “John Carter and the Savage Apes of Mars” and “Tarzan and the Antmen”).

“Paperback publishers have been known to buy one of his paintings for use as a cover, then commission a writer to turn out a novel to go with it,” The New York Times reported in 1977, the same year that a collection of his drawings, “The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta,” sold more than 300,000 copies.

Frank Frazzetta was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 9, 1928, and as a boy studied painting at a local art school. (Early in his career, he excised one z from his last name because “with one z it just looked better,” Mr. Pistella said. “He said the two z’s and two t’s was too clumsy.”)

Mr. Frazetta began drawing for comic books of all stripes — westerns, mysteries, fantasies — when he was still a teenager.  He was also a good enough baseball player to try out for the New York Giants.

The popularity of Mr. Frazetta’s work coincided with the rise of heavy metal in the early 1970s, and his otherworldly imagery showed up on a number of album covers, including Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster” and Nazareth’s “Expect No Mercy.” Last year, Kirk Hammett, the lead guitarist for Metallica, bought Mr. Frazetta’s cover artwork for the paperback reissue of Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Conqueror” for $1 million.

Mr. Frazetta married Eleanor Kelly, known as Ellie, in 1956.  She served as his occasional model and as his business partner; in 2000 she started a small museum of her husband’s work on their property in East Stroudsburg, Pa.  She died last year.

Mr. Frazetta is survived by three sisters, Carol, Adel and Jeanie; two sons, Alfonso Frank Frazetta, known as Frank Jr., and William Frazetta, both of East Stroudsburg; two daughters, Heidi Grabin, of Englewood, Fla., and Holly Frazetta, of Boca Grande, Fla.; and 11 grandchildren.

After Ellie Frazetta’s death, her children became embroiled in a custodial dispute over their father’s work, and in December, Frank Jr. was arrested on charges of breaking into the family museum and attempting to remove 90 paintings that had been insured for $20 million.  In April, the family said the dispute over the paintings had been resolved, and the Monroe County, Pa., district attorney said he would drop the charges.

Added note:
In July 2010, two months after the artist's death, a private collector bought the painting Conan the Destroyer for $1.5 million from a family trust.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in l928 in Brooklyn, New York, Frank Frazetta was an artistic and physically gifted child.  At the age of six he began drawing his own comic books.  He was to become an internationally known illustrator of fantasy art and comics.

At the urging of his teachers, Frank was enrolled at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts when he was eight years old.  Under the tutelage of Michael Fulanga, he learned brush technique and perspective.

During his teen years, he excelled at baseball and drawing.  The New York Giants farm squad offered Frank a position but he had no desire to leave Brooklyn for Texas.  He made the decision at this time that a career as an artist would last longer than a ball player's.  At the age of sixteen, the comic artist John Quinta hired Frank to draw comics.

By l952, he had his own comic strip, Johnny Comet at the Mc Naught Syndicate. When that comic strip was canceled, Al Capp hired Frank as a ghost artist for the popular Li'l Abner comic; a job he had from l955 to l961.  During this time he worked for various comics publishers including Mad Magazine and Playboy, drawing animals, westerns, mysteries, and fantasy.

Frank's career took a new direction in l964 when he was hired to paint book covers for the "Tarzan" stories.  His big break came when Lancer books approached him in l965 with a commission for Conan the Adventurer covers.  These covers have his trademark erotic tension and dramatic composition, exploring the theme "Beauty and the Beast".  The cover art Frank did during the sixties has influenced the whole school of fantasy artists.

In l965, Frank was offered a very lucrative commission from United Artists. He was to create poster art for the comedy, What's New Pussycat.  He made a year's salary from this painting.  Other poster commissions followed: After the Fox, Hotel Paradiso, The Busy Body, and Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers.

From that time on Frank did not have to scramble for clients, he could pick and choose assignments.  Art work he had already done was often matched to an appropriate book, story, or project by art directors.

Having a reclusive nature, Frank moved with his wife and four children from Long Island to a remote house on sixty-seven acres in the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania in l971.  In l985, the family opened the Frazetta Museum in East Shroudsburg, Pennsylvania, showing originals of Frazetta's work.

A thyroid malfunction afflicted Frank during the years l986 to l994.  His recovery sparked a creative renewal.  He allowed a few of his originals to be sold at Christie's and Sotheby's for high five figure sums.  In l994 he had his first New York Gallery exhibition.

Frank has said of his work. " An enormous influence in my life, which I think you can see in my work is the film King Kong. The total work of art, the hazy, misty wonderful quality of it is something I always shoot for.  That mystery, that sense of wonder that's what I try to capture."

Frank Frazetta is the winner of the Spectrum Grand Master Awards and the Hugo Award for best artist.


Source:
William Stout, "Frank Frazetta: Power and Vision", California Art Club Newsletter, February 2004, p. 6
Ron Goulart, American Comics, p. 142

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