In the realm of fantasy art, there is one name among 20th century practitioners that towers above the rest: Frazetta. And as of today, that name refers not to a living, breathing member of the art community, but to a legend of the past, a great master who will only live on in his work. Because Frank Frazetta passed away this morning in a hospital in Pennsylvania, leaving behind one of the most impressive collections of pop illustrations ever assembled, and a following of fans and artists who have been influenced by his amazing talent.
Frazetta is best known to genre fans for the breathtaking fantasy and adventure book covers he created, starting in the late 1960s, of characters like Conan, Tarzan and John Carter of Mars; as well as for the many Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella covers he painted for Warren Publications during that same period. He was a giant in the world of comic book art as well, with a resume that included EC Comics, DC (then known as National Periodicals) and more.
His original destiny seemed to have put him on a path to becoming more of a fine artist, having been groomed by the Italian painter Michael Falanga while studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in his native Brooklyn, New York as a teenager. But that destiny was derailed when Falanga died unexpectedly in 1944, leaving the young Frazetta to take whatever work he could get.
The loss to the high-brow world of fine art would be a gain for the low-brow world of pop art, in the form of a formidable new visionary. After working in comics during the 1950s on such titles as Famous Funnies (for which he did Buck Rogers covers) and in comic strips working on Lil' Abner with the renowned Al Capp and Flash Gordon with Dan Barry, Frazetta was discovered by Hollywood and began making serious money doing movie posters. He would eventually do posters for such films as What's New Pussycat (1965), The Secret of My Success (1965), Hammer's The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) and Rankin Bass' Mad Monster Party (1969).
The poster work put him on the map, and helped expose his prodigious abilities to the world. From then on, Frazetta would find steady work doing a consistent stream of paintings in both oil and watercolor, many of which would be used for fantasy, adventure and horror paperbacks. His imaginative approach to the subject matter is credited with having a direct effect on the development of the visual aspect of the sword and sorcery subgenre, which enjoyed something of a renaissance during the 1970s.
Countless artists from the 1970s and onward would be directly inspired by the unmistakable Frazetta style, including the likes of Boris Vallejo and Jeff Jones. His continued book cover work, as well as the eye-catching material he was producing for Warren Publications' line of magazine-sized horror comics, helped create a very grim, rugged and decidedly masculine aesthetic that redefined fantasy art.
Beyond his commercial work, Frazetta was also able to produce many completely independent oil and watercolor paintings, amassing a great collection of works coveted by collectors everywhere. Many of them have even been used as album covers by bands such as Nazareth and Molly Hatchet.
Over the last decade, the aging Frazetta had suffered a series of strokes that prevented him from using his hand to paint, leading him to teach himself to paint with the other. He established a small museum to showcase his personal collection of work on the grounds of his 67-acre estate in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, and was the subject of a 2003 documentary entitled Frank Frazetta: Painting with Fire.
Were it not for Frazetta, there are many fantasy, science fiction and horror illustrators who might not even be plying their craft today, at least not using their talents to explore the subject matter they do. As much as any writer of tales, or maker of movies, Frank Frazetta helped build the modern look and feel of fantasy adventure as we now know it. His unique vision is something to be treasured by fans of speculative fiction and film the world over.
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