Frank Frazetta is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential, if not the most influential artists in the fantasy art world. His impact can be seen not only throughout fantasy and fantasy erotica, but also in comics, Hollywood movies and commercial illustration.
Frazetta was born in Brooklyn in 1928 and showed prodigious talent from a very early age. His kindergarten teachers were amazed that he could draw better than most 10-year olds, and at the age of 8 he began studying in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts with Italian fine artist Michael Falanga. It was here that is talent was encouraged and cultivated.
The academy closed when Falanga died, but Frank’s future in art was set. At the age of 16 he began doing illustrations for Standard Publishing. That led to work in the comic book industry for several different publishers. He produced work for a variety of mysteries, westerns, fantasies and histories and even published his own comic, Snowman, which he initially conceived of and began drawing while still in grade school. Some of his best works of this time are the covers for the Buck Rogers comics which he did for “Famous Funnies,” as well as his work with Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.
The Buck Rogers covers gained the attention of Li’l Abner creator Al Capp, who hired Frazetta to work with him on this most famous comic strip but also on his own Johnny Comet strip. They worked together for nine years, after which they had a falling out and Frank reentered the world of regular comic books. This was a difficult period, as Frank’s style was awkward after so many years of imitating Al Capp.
The artist did find work eventually, particularly for men’s magazines. He provided erotic illustrations for Gent and Dude, which have now become collector’s items in their own right because of their rarity. He also drew the comic strip parody Lil’ Annie Fannie for Playboy Magazine.
In the mid-60s Frazetta’s talent was recognized in Hollywood and the publishing industry. He left comic work behind for the most part and emerged more fully as a painter. At this time he produced many of the book covers for which he is now most famous. He did Tarzan and John Carter of Mars among many others. Most importantly, his interpretation of Conan left an indelible mark on the entire fantasy genre. His work was now in very high demand.
His work with Hollywood was primarily restricted to painting movie posters, although he received several invitations to take on larger roles in many productions. His only real foray into was as creative director of Fire and Ice, released in 1983, which failed commercially mostly because the animation technology of the time was not powerful enough to translate Frazetta’s ideas to the big screen.
Yet his popularity in Hollywood is unquestionable. He has attracted the attention of many Hollywood celebrities, including Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Francis Ford Coppola, Marlon Brando, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dick Clark and Orson Welles. George Lucas credits Frazetta’s Buck Rogers covers with inspiring his Star Wars series, and Princess Leia’s metal bikini costume in Return of the Jedi is drawn directly from Frazetta’s work.
The full-figured bikini-clad wielding a spear, sword, dagger or other primitive weapon while confronting or taming a wild beast is classic Frank Frazetta. There are Amazonian goddesses and Egyptian queens, voluptuous warrioresses and trophy princesses. The eroticism is raw and savage while still rivaling the fine artistry of anything by Reubens.
Frazetta’s paintings are done primarily with oil, although he has continued to work with watercolor, pen, ink and pencil throughout his career. One of the most amazing things about Frank’s work is speed. He becomes completely immersed in his work and can produce a complete masterpiece within a day. According to modern legend, he earned a full year’s salary in a single afternoon with his first movie poster, for the 1965 film What’s New Pussycat?
It is difficult to overstate Frank Frazetta’s influence in the world of fantasy, science fiction and erotic art. The “Frazetta style” can be seen in the works of artists such as Boris Vallejo, Don Maitz, Simon Bisley, Michael Walen, and Jeff Jones.
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Frank’s personal life began with violence on the streets of Brooklyn and included a solid reputation as a handsome, athletic and charming ladies man. At the age of 24, however, he found stability and love in the form of 17-year old Eleanor Kelly. They were married after a four-year courtship and eventually found their way to the modest acreage in Pennsylvania where they live to this day, raising a large family and enjoying country life.
Their acreage is home to a museum of Frazetta’s work which attracts fans from all over the world. The artist enjoys his old age and his family although his work is somewhat limited by health problems such as a thyroid condition and the effects of several strokes.
- illustrations for a great variety of comic books, including Buck Rogers, Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella
- book covers for numerous fantasy book series, including Tarzan, Conan the Barbarian and John Carter of Mars
- movie posters for What’s New Pussycat, Fearless Vampire Killers, Mad Monster Party, Mad Max, and Fire and Ice, among many others
- three Chesley Awards from the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists
- Hugo Award
- Spectrum Grand Master of Fantastic Art Award