Frank Frazetta: American Romantic

Lancer/Ace Edition (1967), cover art by Frank Frazetta

American artist Frank Frazetta (1928-2010) has almost single-handedly defined the fantasy genre from the late ’60s on. Even if you haven’t heard his name before, you’ve seen many of his paintings (check them out here). I say almost single-handedly out of respect for J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Ray Harryhausen. John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian (1982), which capitalized on the Tolkien surge and the popularity of D&D, directly emulated the Frazetta style, as did almost all ’80s D&D art (Elmore, Parkinson, Easley) and a staggering amount of comic book art. Look at anything fantasy-related today and you’ll see Frazetta’s influence.

He’s probably best known for his spectacular Conan and Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan of the Apes, John Carter of Mars, At the Earth’s Core) paintings, which were commissioned by various publishers. The New York Times reported in 1977 that “Paperback publishers have been known to buy one of his paintings for use as a cover, then commission a writer to turn out a novel to go with it.” (The only illustrator I can think of who might have done as much for book sales was the 19th century artist/engraver Gustav Doré.) His work is intricately articulate, deeply colorful, weird, erotic, violent, almost Romantic. His heroes are grim and bloody, his heroines scantily clad but often anything but helpless.

Here’s the Conan vs. giant snake scene by a different artist around the same time:

Lancer Edition (1968), cover art by John Duillo

And here’s one of the original Conan covers:

Gnome Press Edition (1955), cover art by Ed Emshwiller

There’s just no comparison.

I was a little surprised to find out that Frazetta was in no way the artsy type. He grew up a Brooklyn tough, nearly became a pro baseball player, barely eked out a living as an artist, and in later life suffered multiple strokes before one finally killed him. (For more, see the 2003 documentary, Frazetta: Painting with Fire.)

The art establishment never paid him any respect and never will. But he transcended his genres. When I look at Frazetta’s work, I see shades of J.M.W. Turner, Henry Fuseli, Caspar David Friedrich, John Martin. When I look at contemporary art I see lines and shapes that have no heart and signify nothing.

3 Responses to “Frank Frazetta: American Romantic”

  1. 1 leftylimbo February 11, 2012 at 1:55 am

    I have an older cousin that had a few of those paperbacks in the ’70s. I definitely remember seeing that Moon Maid book on his shelf one time. Great art indeed.

    LoL, I can’t get over the difference between the art of Frazetta and the early ’55 version. The guy on the latter doesn’t even look like a barbarian! He looks like some kind of jolly prince laughing at his pet unicorn prancing in the field. =D

  1. 1 Ken Kelly Cover Art for Richard Avery’s The Expendables (1975-1976) | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on February 18, 2014 at 7:21 pm
  2. 2 Frank Frazetta Cover Art for Tales from the Crypt (Ballantine, 1964) | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on October 7, 2015 at 2:26 pm

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