Frank Frazetta, 1928-2010

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Jason Sacks

It's hard to believe some people could ever die. Their grip on life seems so passionate; their intense love of their everyday life seems so strong, that it seems they will live forever.

One of those men was Frank Frazetta, who died this afternoon at the age of 82 in Fort Myers, Florida, reportedly after suffering a stroke on Sunday night. Frazetta was one of the finest and most famous painters of fantasy and science fiction art ever to work professionally. His work illustrating the covers of the Conan novels in the 1960s and '70s, along with many other intense and gorgeous paintings, is legendary for its power and majesty, and helped to make his sterling reputation.

Frazetta seems like one of those people who was simply born to draw, enrolling in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts at the age of eight in 1936. Frazetta had eight years of apprenticeship at the Academy before moving into comics work in 1944.

During his time working in comics, Frank Frazetta drew a wide variety of stories, including work for Barnyard Comics, All-Star Western and Happy Comics. Much of his early work was sublimated to house styles during that era, but there was no way to keep Frazetta's powerful style down. He quickly began standing out among his peers, with eyepopping work on such series as Thun'da, "Shining Knight", and the comic strips Li'l Abner and Flash Gordon.

Among the publishers for which Frazetta worked was EC Comics. In fact, his cover to Weird Science-Fantasy #29 is one of his most famous and spectacular pieces. Frazetta also collaborated frequently with his best friends, fellow fine-line artists Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel, producing some of the most amazing artwork ever to appear on a comics page.

During those years, Frazetta and his friends savored their single lives, having fantastic adventures in New York city meeting women, drinking and having a great time. Frazetta's roguish good looks, immense self-confidence and athletic build had to have helped him in his efforts.

Frazetta moved on to assisting the legendary Harvey Kurtzman on the outrageous "Little Annie Fanny" for Playboy magazine before he got perhaps his biggest break: a commission to paint the movie poster for the 1964 Peter Sellers comedy What’s New Pussycat, for which he made close to his annual salary.

From there, Frazetta's move away from comics seemed preordained, and he moved full-bore into painting. Frazetta's version of Conan the Barbarian is legendary for its intensity and power, and was a key contributor to the popular revival of the Cimmerian during the '60s. The artist also painted covers for works by Edgar Rice Burroughs, including Tarzan and John Carter of Mars.

Though his covers were popular, Frazetta didn't actually read the stories inside the books: "I didn't read any of it... I drew him my way. It was really rugged. And it caught on. I didn't care about what people thought. People who bought the books never complained about it. They probably didn't read them."

But the publishers didn't care; the cover art sold books by the case, and Frazetta quickly became a legend.

Frazetta's middle age was filled with a fruitful and fulfilling professional life. He made tremendous amounts of money painting book covers, album covers and posters. More importantly for him, Frazetta's art became increasingly valuable. The artist found himself able to sell his art for tens of thousands of dollars – in fact, his cover art to Escape On Venus sold for $251,000 in 2008.

By all accounts, Frazetta was a man who seemed thoroughly full of life, a generous and passionate man who loved his friends and family deeply. His rich and energetic work betrayed an vigorous and joyful life that inspired and excited many of his fans. He will be deeply missed by his millions of fans.

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