Tuesday 11 May 2010

The Passing of a God

While much of the world obsesses about on again/off again economic armageddon and the navel gazing antics of failed politicians, matters of real import slide by, not least of which was the passing of arguably one of the twentieth century's greatest artists Frank Frazetta who died yesterday following a stroke at the age of 82.

His work speaks for itself, he simply was the best when it came to creating raw, visceral and passionate artwork, an artist of many imitators but unequalled in the power and majesty of his creations.

I'm going to resist the urge to post some of his stunning paintings but instead share with you a truly beautiful strip entitled, "Empty Heart" from Personal Love 28 published in 1954 when the as yet unknown Elvis Presley was first stepping through the door of Sam Phillip's Recording Studio and the world was indeed a very different place.


  1. That's a great choice of strip, Peter, because it reminds us that Frazetta's talent went a lot further than the archetypal dark fantasy for which he's most famous.

  2. Speaking of which, check out that heavily foregrounded wild/fantastical ornamentation in the last couple of pages. Frazetta saying "I'm not too shabby at this sort of thing either, you know."

  3. Oh yes - and the symbolism! (Tooth-n-claw conflict in last panel on page 5, an erotic statuette promising athletic delights to come in the "I love you" panel on page 6.)

  4. Have you guys seen the complete "Came The Dawn" Frazetta drew for Shock Illustrated No. 4?

    The reason I ask is Nelson and Dave's observations reminded me that there is more of this sort of thing going on in the panels of this story.

    The artwork which is complete as regards the pages but incomplete in terms of rendering was eventually published in Russ Cochran's Complete Picto Fiction.

  5. No, I haven't seen it, Peter. Tomorrow's post, maybe? This could be Frazetta Week!

  6. This is such sad news, but Frank's last few years had been plagued with illness and humiliating family troubles that must have seemed especially hard for someone who used to revel so much in his own physicality. In many ways the male lead of 'Empty Heart' is an accurate reflection of his younger self (as were many of his heroes), and seeing it again I can't help but hope that he's somewhere out there even now - once more strong and handsome, confidently stepping out into a brand new world like John Carter himself!

    Looking at that gorgeous artwork it almost defies belief that, when seeking employment in 1961 he showed his portfolio to an editor at DC, he was promptly informed that his work style too old-fashioned!

    There can't be many American comic artists who saw Frazetta's work in the 1950s without being influenced by it in some way. What's perhaps less well known, however, is the fact that his newspaper strip 'Johnny Comet' actually appeared in the UK as well (in Reveille I think) - leading to the fascinating possibility that he could have also caught the eye of artists like Frank Bellamy and Ron Embleton just as they were developing their own styles.

    ...BTW Peter, I also own a copy of the Complete Picto Fiction and am only too happy to confirm that it's everything you say...and just the sort of thing Dave's credit card was made for. :-)

  7. But Phil, I'm so concerned about the state of Dave's credit card as it lies in ITU with lots of wires and monitors affixed to it's sadly reduced frame, that I'm going to attempt to scan in "Came The Dawn" to help conserve it's feeble pulse.

    Interestingly the guy that was a little under-awed by Frazetta's folio was Donald Wollheim, who Dave used to correspond with when he were but a lad.

  8. You guys are much better than Wiki :) I had no idea, for example, that Don Wollheim had been at DC. Mind you, I thought of myself as a firm Marvel supporter in those days (while sneaking across the fence for the occasional Showcase, Spectre, Batman... er, House of Mystery, Swamp Thing...) so just as well I never mentioned it to him.

    My credit card lies bloodied but proud now that the Steranko volume has finally turned up (a rare mix-up for Amazon). I am trying not to let it get a whiff of Complete Pinto Fiction, Phil, as you're right that it would jump right back into the fray.

  9. Ooops! Slight errata as I skimmed over the crucial reference to D.C., the thumbs down I had in mind was from Wollheim when he was editor at Ace Paperbacks and Frazetta via an introduction by Roy Krenkel had showed him his folio.

    What had happened (to contextualize this story) was that Frazetta had finally got to the stage where he couldn't stomach working as Al Capp's dogsbody and had upped and left. Couldn't get work at D.C. or anywhere apart from his very good friend artist George Evans who gave him some jobs to ink.

    Meanwhile Wollheim had commissioned Krenkel (who Wollheim regarded as the reincarnation of J.Allen St. John) to paint a series of ERB covers. It was Roy Krenkel who suggested to his good friend Frank that he ought to go and show his wares to Wollheim.

    Came the meeting and Wollheim treated Frazetta like a schmuck and wouldn't give him any work. Frazetta's opportunity came when Krenkel's work output failed to keep up with the deadlines and with considerable reluctance Ace gave him a few covers to do.

    The books of course flew off the shelves and the rest as they say is history.

  10. Ah, the pieces start to fall into place to some extent, because Wollheim was a big supporter of Jack Gaughan's art in the '60s, believing him (and in the '70s people like Tim Kirk) to represent a modern trend in fantasy/SF illustration. But in that case it seems odd that he would like Krenkel's work and not Frazetta's - they were clearly working out of very similar traditions. A mystery.

  11. ...'Steranko volume???' They haven't finally got round to issuing that promised 'Chandler' reprint have they? If so my own credit card might end up being admitted to intensive care in the very near future! :-(

  12. Such a wonderful story. Everything seems so "right" with the composition, drawing and rendering. Nowhere is there an awkward passage.

    I'm sure you guys have seen the Frazetta documentary where Frank is drawing with his left hand And the sketch he turns out is gorgeous! For me that was very inspiring.

    A note about Wollheim: Legend has it that he did not like Frank's handsome, confident, Brooklyn guy aspect.

  13. Hi Phil, not Chandler I'm afraid - I meant the Marvel Masterworks Nick Fury book, which I bought after being seduced by yet another of Peter's posts.

    Jack, I think you may be right that the problem was a clash of personalities. I never met Don Wollheim in the flesh, but I got the impression he was kind of a bookish geeky type of guy rather than a man's man like Frazetta. On a trip to Oxford with mystery fan Ethel Lindsay, he marched from bookshop to bookshop while Ethel complained that it was crazy to come all that way and not look round any of the colleges. So he went into the next college they passed, took one look and turned round, saying, "Okay, I looked at a college. Where's the next bookshop?"