The Art History Archive - Fantasy Art
Biography by Charles Moffat - Updated May 2010.
Born February 9th, 1928 – Died May 10th, 2010.
Fantasy artist Frank Frazzetta (he later would drop one of the Zs) was born February 9th, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York, the only boy in a family with 3 sisters. He is widely considered to be the most influential and most emulated fantasy artist in history.
Frazetta began drawing at the age of three and sold his first work soon after: He sold his first crayon drawing to Grandma for the tidy sum of one penny.
When he went to kindergarden his teachers were astonished that a five-year-old child was drawing better then ten-year-olds. At the age of 8 Frazetta's parents were encouraged and convinced by his school teachers to enroll him in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts. He attended the academy for eight years under the tutelage of Michael Falanga, an award-winning Italian fine artist. When the two first met Falanga sat the boy down with pencil and paper and asked him to copy a picture of a group of ducks. 30 minutes later he returned to check on Frazetta's progress, took one look at the drawing, grabbed it and leaped into the air shouting: "Mama Mia, Mama Mia! We have a genius here!"
By 1944, at the age of 16, Frank Frazetta published his first comic story "The Snowman" in Tally-Ho Comics.
Frazetta's abilities flourished under Falanga and the teacher thought of sending young Frazetta to Europe to further his studies, at his own expense. Falanga died suddenly in 1944 and the school closed a year later.
At age 16 Frazetta started looking for work and drawing illustrations for comic books: Westerns, fantasy, mysteries, histories and other contemporary themes. He later turned down multiple job offers from Walt Disney in the late 1940s.
In the early 1950s Frank Frazetta worked for EC Comics, National Comics (which featured the character "Shining Knight"), fantasy book company Avon and several other fantasy/comic book companies. Comic books included John Wayne Comics, Buck Rogers, Famous Funnies and Ghost Rider and a long list of others, a testament to Frank Frazetta's dedication, his playful energy and his diverse interests. George Lucas later claimed that Frazetta's artwork for Buck Rogers was the inspiration for the Star Wars Saga.
Handsome, muscular, and charismatic, Frazetta was popular with women and had a string of intense romances. In 1952, at the age of 24, Frazetta met petite seventeen-year-old Eleanor Kelly and his playboy days came to an end. "I sensed that she would be forever loyal and I never ever had that feeling about any other girl. I'd been involved with, " Frazetta says. "Sure, she had most of the physical attributes I looked for in a women, she was beautiful and athletic. But beyond that she was very sharp and alert and pert and she knew a lot of things I didn't know." After four years of dating they were married on November 17th 1956.
In 1952 Frazetta started working with Al Capp on his Li'l Abner comic strip, Dan Barry's Flash Gordon comic strip and was producing his own strip, Johnny Comet.
In 1961 Frazetta returned to regular comics and focused on his own style, a bit awkward after working for Al Capp for 9 years. An avid and skilled baseball player he turned down an offer to play baseball for the New York Giants. He found work with Harvey Kurtzman and worked on Little Annie Fanny for Playboy magazine.
Artwork by Frank Frazetta
In 1964 Frank Frazetta's painting of Ringo Starr for Mad Magazine caught the attention of United Artists (makers of James Bond) and was approached to do the movie poster for the 1965 film "What's New Pussycat?" and earned $4000 afternoon, roughly a years salary in those days.
Movie Posters by Frank Frazetta
What's New Pussycat? (1965)
In addition to movie posters Roy Krenkel convinced Frank Frazetta to started producing paintings for paperback book covers. His book cover "Conan the Adventurer" by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp in 1966 caused quite a stir in the fantasy art world. The series ended up selling approx. 10 million copies in a few short years (the 1960s equivalent of Harry Potter in terms of popuarlity). Frazetta redefined Conan's look and dramatically altered the visual look of the fantasy genre as hordes of artists started copying Frazzeta's style, influencing generations of fantasy artists. Jeff Jones, Berni Wrightson, Michael Whelan, Don Maitz, Boris Vallejo, Arthur Suydam, Simon Bisley and many others were inclined, inspired or instructed to paint in this new, dynamic "Frazetta" style.
Painting covers for fantasy books seemed to come naturally for Frank Frazetta and his work was in great demand. He did covers and interior illustrations for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan, John Carter of Mars and others.
The 1965 to 1973 period was explosive time for Frazetta and most of his seminal and famous images were done during this period. The speed at which he would start and finish a painting was breathtaking. He once did three book covers for Ace books in two days, working in almost frenzied state of concentration. On another occasion his son asked him when Frazetta's next painting would be started and Frazetta responded "Tonight" and by breakfast the painting "Neanderthal" was completed.
Sometimes he would spend days trying to perfect one specific part of a painting. He spent three days trying to fix the face of "The Egyptian Queen" and eventually had to set it aside for several months before returning and finishing it in a mere 5 minutes.
By the 1980s Frank Frazetta's fame was all encompassing. He was essentially the fantasy artist that everyone wanted. Clint Eastwood, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Sylvester Stallone all commissioned works for their various movie projects. Princess Leia Organa's "metal bikini" costume in "Return of the Jedi" was inspired by Frazetta's artwork according to costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Other people knocking on Frazetta's door includeded Francis Ford Copolla, Marlon Brando, Sandra Loche, Dino De Laurentiis, Tom Laughlin, Patrick Duffy, Charleton Heston, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Orson Welles, Cher, Dick Clark and John & Bo Derek (Frazetta did their corporate logo for their corporate logo "Svengali").
In 1983 Frank Frazetta was given creative control for the animated movie "Fire and Ice" (produced by Ralph Bakshi). Most of the characters and the plot was Frazetta's doing, but the movie was a commercial disappointment as the animation technology at the time was raw at best and the public was more interested in Star Wars at the time.
Frazetta's artwork also graced the covers of record albums. Molly Hatchet's first two albums feature "The Death Dealer" and "Dark Kingdom" respectively. Dust's album "Hard Attack" features the painting "Snow Giants", rock group Nazareth used "The Brain" for their 1977 album "Expect No Mercy" and Frazetta created new artwork that appeared on "Buddy Bought The Farm" by horror band "The Dead Elvi". More recently the band Wolfmother used "The Sea Witch" as the cover for their self-titled debut album used other Frazetta paintings for the covers of their singles and for some of their merchandise. In the late 1980s he was commissioned to paint the cover to "Battlefield Earth", written by L. Ron Hubbard.
Today Frazetta's work is so highly regarded and desired that even incomplete sketches of his sell for thousands of dollars. Frazetta's primary commercial works are in oil, but he also worked with watercolor, ink and pencil alone.
He currently lives with his wife Ellie on a modest 67-acre estate in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. They maintain a small museum on the estate showing hundreds of Frazetta's works.
Frank Frazetta has a variety of health problems, including a thyroid condition that went untreated for many years. In recent years he has had a series of strokes that have impaired his ability to paint with his right hand, causing him to switch to his left hand. He also enjoys making sculptures.
In 2003 a documentary film on the life and career of Frank Frazetta was released: "Frazetta: Painting With Fire".
Quotes by Frank Frazetta
"Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving were my big days. I guess I drew more Santa's, bunnies, and turkeys on blackboards than anyone could count. At the insistence of one of my teachers, my parents enrolled me in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts when I was eight. The Academy was little more than a one floor/three room affair with a total of thirty students ranging in age from eight–me!–to eighty. I still remember the Professor Michele [Michael] Falanga's look of skepticism as I signed in. He was rolling his eyes and you could almost see the thought balloon over his head, "Oh no! Not another child prodigy!" He sat me down with a pencil and paper and asked me to copy a postcard featuring a group of realistically rendered ducks. When he returned later to see how far I had progressed, he snatched up my drawing exclaiming, "Mama mia!" and ran off waving it in the air, calling everyone over to look at it. I thought I was in some kind of trouble." - Frank Frazetta.
"He [Falanga] died when I was twelve, right about the time he was making arrangements to send me off to Italy at his own expense to study fine art. I haven't the vaguest idea of whether it would have really affected my areas of interest. I don't know, but I doubt it. You see, we never had any great conversations. He might look over your shoulder and say. "Very nice, but perhaps if you did this or that..." He spoke very broken English and he kind of left you on your own. I think I learned more from my friends there, especially Albert Pucci. Falanga would look at some of the comics stuff I was doing and say, "What a waste, what a waste! You should be in Italy and paint the street scene and become a very famous fine artiste!" And that didn't thrill me! After he died the students tried to keep the school going; we had become such close friends that we couldn't bear to close up shop so we all chipped in and paid the rent and continued to hold classes. I did nude life drawings and still lifes; we'd paint outdoors. It was all totally different from the way I work now, but it taught me a lot about brush technique and perspective and helped me to develop my own style." - Frank Frazetta.
"I was involved with a girl at the time [that he was offered to play baseball professionally] and going down to Texas and sweating it out in the minors for a year didn't seem very appealing. You have to remember that at that time athletes weren't making the money they do today. They bussed you back and forth and it was just a big disgusting hassle. I remember that traveling to another state seemed like going to the end of the world, so I told them, maybe next year. Time went by and before I knew it I was too old. It was just my way of letting time make the decision for me. If I have any regrets it's that I didn't turn pro. If I was in my twenties and had it to do over - today, at today's salaries - you better bet I'd do it." - Frank Frazetta.
"When I was about 15 someone in my family introduced me to John Giunta. He was a professional artist who was working for Bernard Bailey's comics publishing company and he really wasn't a very personable guy. He was very aloof and self-conscious and hard for me to talk to, but he was really very talented. He had an exceptional ability, but it was coupled with a total lack of self-confidence and an inability to communicate with people. Being around him really opened up my eyes, though, because he was really that good. He had an interesting style, a good sense of spotting and his blacks worked well. You can see a lot of his influence even today in some of my ink work." - Frank Frazetta.
"When Ralph [Mayo] took over he pulled me aside and said, "Frank, you stuff is great, but you need to learn some anatomy." When I was in school with Falanga the emphasis was on feeling, not on the nuts and bolts, so I really didn't understand what he meant by 'anatomy.' So Ralph handed me an anatomy book and when I went home that night I had decided to learn anatomy. I started with page one and copied the entire book – everything in one night, from the skeleton up. I came back the next day like a dumb kid and said, "Thank you very much, I just learned my anatomy." Of course Ralph fell over and roared with laughter. "Frankie, you silly bastard! I've been studying for ten years and I still don't know anatomy, and you went home and learned it last night?!" But the thing was I had learned an awful lot. I had the ability to absorb things and he saw an improvement in my work right away. It amazed him and that meant a lot to me. From that point on I developed pretty rapidly: I started to do things with figures that made sense. I worked for Mayo and Standard for a few years, doing things like "Looie Laziebones" and all the funny animal stuff." - Frank Frazetta.
"I remember fans would approach me at conventions and say "What a fabulous cover. I read the entire book awaiting to read about the scene on the cover and never found it. So I read it again thinking I missed it, but no luck." Never judge a book by its cover." - Frank Frazetta.
"It [the Museum] was all Ellie's idea. We were always getting calls from the fans asking if they could come see the originals. The best we had done through the years was to have some exhibits at various conventions, but that got to be a risky hassle. We did the museum for all the people who have had fun with my art over the years. It wasn't for profit - if I wanted to make money I would've sold the originals. My joy is in showing the work." - Frank Frazetta.
"Good or bad, the one thing I can say about my art is, if I can quote Sinatra, I did it my way." - Frank Frazetta.
Death at the age of 82
Frank Frazetta died May 10th 2010 at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, Florida. He had suffered a stroke the night before.
His wife and life-long partner, Eleanor or Ellie, died July 2009 and Frank's health had been bad ever since. His deteriorating health set off a custory dispute among the Frazetta children concerning the ailing patriarch and his art collection, which by some estimates is worth $20 to $50 million USD.
“He’s going to be remembered as the most renowned fantasy illustrator of the 20th century,” said his manager Rob Pistella.
Frazetta is survived by two sons, Alfonso and William, two daughters, Heidi and Holly and 11 grandchildren.