Over the years I have collected a few books on the art of science fiction and fantasy and as they are probably now out of print, I feel I need to share some of this lovely imagery from the days before computer-designed art.
My first featured illustrator was sci-fi great Frank Kelly Freas. My second great illustrator, whose realm was fantasy, is Frank Frazetta. The timing of this post is made more poignant by the fact that he died a week ago and I have only just found out.
Frank Frazzetta (he later removed one Z) was born in Brooklyn on February 9, 1928. He died on May 10, 2010, aged 82.
I bought the book The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta (Pan 1975) for £2.95, which does not now seem a lot of money. In fact it is still available, used, on Amazon from £8 to £30 – and it STILL doesn’t seem like a lot of cash. The foreword is by Betty Ballantyne and it is from this I take most of my biographical information…
Frazetta was selling his art to family by the age of three and by the age of eight he was so wedded to a career in art that his teachers persuaded his parents to send him to the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts, a small but exclusive school for all ages.
Here he was mentored for eight years by the fine Italian classical artist Michael Falanga. As Ballantyne puts it “The young artist’s eye was put firmly on the path of reality – but never at the cost of the bouncing, ebullient life which is a hallmark of Frazetta’s work.”
When Frank was 16, Falanga died and the young man became an assistant to John Giunta, doing fill-in work on comic books. He also persuaded Giunta to produce a comic Frazetta had created as a child. This was published under the title “Snowman” in Tally-ho Comics in December 1944.
For two decades Frazetta worked on comic books and comic strips, “everything from the ‘funny- animal’ comic to the western, from adventure of all kinds to mystery and creepies, from fantasy to historical.”
By 1949 he was working for three comic-book publishers . in 1952 he added another publisher, Entertaining Comics, and another of his own ideas, “Thun’Da” – the first issue is a collector’s item as it was the only one done by Frazetta himself.
He was doing covers for the comics and created the famous Buck Rogers series in the early 1950s. Just after that he was working on newspaper strips and worked on “L’il Abner” for nine years.
Although it’s not fine art, comic strips have produced many fine artists because drawing in such a restricted space and medium is a demanding discipline. “The inescapable box must accommodate not only a storyline but an incredible amount of active, lively, appealing, striking action which itself tells a story.”
According to Betty Ballantyne, the Frazetta woman of his paintings is uniquely his own, “small of stature but lushly rounded and curved. She is recognizable just about anywhere, whether over the withers of a horse, or over the shoulder of a large human male, or sometimes contesting with gigantic creatures from paleolithic times or imperiously commanding a swamp monster , or controlling some fantastic creature of the deep. She is a sorceress, a child, a woman; she is erotic, she is lovely and very much alive.”
Personally, I am grateful for the fact that Frazetta managed to make his women appear almost “decent” in their attire, even when naked! So as a female myself I can appreciate them much in the way of classical sculpture. His paintings seem full of sensuality but in some strange way not sexuality.
I love his animals, too. Great cats, reptiles, horses, all showing tremendous energy and power, usually in battle situations.
Quoting Ballantyne again, “the writhing roots and branches of trees, the ebb and flow and swirl of water – nothing in the typical Frazetta painting is really still. His work is all sinuosity and movement”.
One of the reasons I am not showing much of Frazetta’s black-and-white pen-and-ink work here is that I so love the colour schemes of his paintings and the subtlety of his backgrounds and props – the texture of marble, or metal, or leather, fabric, fur and hair.
Frazetta’s primary commercial works were in oil, but he also worked with watercolor, ink, and pencil alone.
I feel sure his imagery was in my mind when I started reading fantasy in my teens – I had been reading sci-fi from the age of about six, but fantasy came later, starting with Tolkien. As far as I know he never illustrated The Lord of the Rings, but if he had, that would have been some book!
According to Wikipedia, from the 1960s to the 1990s Frazetta did much commercial work, such as album sleeves and movie posters, but in his later life, he was plagued by a variety of health problems, including a thyroid condition that went untreated for many years. In the 2000s, a series of strokes impaired his manual dexterity to a degree that he switched to drawing and painting with his left hand.
The great Frank Frazetta died of a final stroke in hospital in Florida on May 10, 2010. His wife and business partner Eleanor “Ellie” Frazetta had died in July 2009. They leave four children, Alfonso Frank Frazetta, Billy Frazetta, Holly Frazetta Taylor and Heidi Grabin.
Frazetta influenced the whole genre of fantasy painting and the later artist whose work probably most closely resembles Frazetta’s is Boris Vallejo. Although Vallejo’s fantasy work has, in my view, become more photographic and less textured in recent years.
Here are some more links to Frazetta and his work:
New York Times obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/11/arts/artsspecial/11frazetta.html?src=mv
Washington Post obituary: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/12/AR2010051204875.html
Unofficial Frank Frazetta site: http://frankfrazetta.org/
Frank Frazetta on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Frazetta