Frank Frazetta (born February 9, 1928) is an American fantasy and science fiction artist, noted for his Buck Rogers comic book covers for Famous Funnies and paperback book cover paintings on series' such as Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard. His paintings gained added popularity in the 1970's, appearing in books, posters, prints, record covers, and various other merchandise. He is the subject of the 2003 nationally televised American film documentary Frank Frazetta, Painting with Fire.
Frazetta was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of eight, with the insistence of his school teachers, Frazetta's parents enrolled 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. Falanga was struck by Frazetta's significant talent. Frazetta's abilities flourished under Falanga, who dreamed of sending Frazetta to Europe, at his own expense, to further his studies. Unfortunately, Falanga died suddenly in 1944 and with him, his dream. As the school closed about a year after Falanga's passing, Frazetta was forced to find work to earn a living.
At 16, Frazetta started drawing for comic books that varied in themes: westerns, fantasy, mysteries, histories and other contemporary themes. Some of his earliest work was in funny animal comics, which he signed as "Fritz". During this period he turned down job offers from giants such as Walt Disney. In the early 1950s, he worked for EC Comics, National Comics (including the superhero feature "Shining Knight"), Avon and several other comic book companies. Much of his work in comic books was done in collaboration with friends Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel.
Through the work on the Buck Rogers covers for Famous Funnies, Frazetta started working with Al Capp on his Li'l Abner comic strip. Frazetta was also producing his own strip, Johnny Comet at this time, as well as assisting Dan Barry on the Flash Gordon daily strip. In 1961, after nine years with Capp, Frazetta returned to regular comics. Having emulated Capp's style for so long, Frazetta's own work during this period looked a bit awkward as his own style struggled to reemerge.
Work in comics for Frazetta was hard to find, however. Comics had changed during his period with Capp and his style was deemed antiquated. Eventually he joined Harvey Kurtzman doing the parody strip Little Annie Fanny in Playboy magazine.
Frazetta attributes much of the violence and brutality of his later paintings to his actual experiences as a young man defending himself from the street gangs of Brooklyn, who most likely unwisely targeted a man who in all probability traveled with a baseball bat. It was also during this time that he turned down an offer from a talent scout to play for the New York Giants.
In 1964, Frazetta's painting of Ringo Starr for a Mad Magazine ad parody caught the eye of United Artists studios. He was approached to do the movie poster for What's New Pussycat? and earned the equivalent of his yearly salary in one afternoon. He did several other movie posters (see notable works). Frazetta also started producing paintings for paperback editions of adventure books. His cover for the sword-and-sorcery collection Conan the Adventurer by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp (Lancer 1966) caused a sensation—numerous people bought the book for its cover alone. This interpretation of Conan essentially redefined the genre of Sword and Sorcery visually and had an enormous influence on succeeding generations of artists. From this point on, Frazetta's work was in great demand. During this period he also did covers for other paperback editions of classic Edgar Rice Burroughs books, such as those from the Tarzan and Barsoom (John Carter of Mars) series. He also did several pen and ink illustrations for many of these books.
Since this time, most of Frazetta's work has been commercial in nature, providing paintings and illustrations from things such as movie posters to book jackets to calendars. Many of his paintings are uncommissioned but have nonetheless become highly sought after commercially.
Frazetta's commercial work includes several cover paintings and a few comic stories for the Warren Publishing horror magazines Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.
Frazetta's work has long been admired by many Hollywood personalities. Clint Eastwood, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Sylvester Stallone are fans and friends of Frazetta's, and most have commissioned works from him for their movie projects. During the '70s and '80s, the popularity of painted buses and conversion vans led to many artists emulating Frazetta's artistic style by adding graphics to the exterior panels of the vehicles. The murals often depicted wizards and sorcerers, and were the next form of automotive customizing after the flame and racing stripe styles of the '50s and '60s.
Once he secured a reputation, movie studios started trying to lure him to work on animated movies. Most, however, would give him participation in name only—most of the creative control would be held by others. Finally, in the early 1980s, a movie deal was offered which would give him most creative control. Frazetta worked with animated movie producer Ralph Bakshi on the feature Fire and Ice, released in 1983. Many of the characters and most of the story were Frazetta's creations. The movie proved a commercial disappointment, however, as Frazetta's fantastic imagery could not be sufficiently reproduced via then-current animation technology and methods. Frazetta soon returned to his roots in painting and pen and ink illustrations. His son, Bill, graduated high school in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania in 1978, and Frank supplied the cover artwork for the yearbook.
Frazetta's paintings have been used by a number of recording artists as cover art for their albums. Molly Hatchet's first two albums feature "The Death Dealer" and "Dark Kingdom" respectively. Dust's second album, Hard Attack, features "Snow Giants". Nazareth used "The Brain" for their 1977 album Expect No Mercy. Frazetta also created brand new cover artwork that appeared on "Buddy Bought The Farm", the second CD of the surf horror band "The Dead Elvi", making them the only known band Frazetta has created brand new cover art for. Recently, Wolfmother used "The Sea Witch" as the cover for their self-titled debut. Wolfmother has also used other Frazetta paintings for the covers of their singles and for some of their merchandise, such as t-shirts. Wolfmother's second studio album, rumored to be titled "Mammoth", is believed to use another Frank Frazetta painting, entitled "The Mammoth", for its cover.
Costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers noted her design for Leia's "metal bikini" costume from Return of the Jedi was inspired by Frazetta.
Frazetta is frequently asked about his secret to painting, but he believes talent and perseverance are what really count and that a talented person can excel at whatever they're interested in.
Today, Frazetta's work is so highly regarded that even incomplete sketches of his sell for thousands of dollars. Frazetta's primary commercial works are in oil, but he also works with watercolor, ink and pencil alone. He currently lives with his wife Ellie on a 67-acre (271,000 m²) estate in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. They maintain a small museum, open to the public, on the estate. Some of Frazetta's sons make a living selling reproductions of his artwork.
In his later life, Frazetta has been plagued by a variety of health problems, including a thyroid condition that went untreated for many years. Recently, a series of strokes has impaired Frazetta's manual dexterity to a degree that he has switched to drawing and painting with his left hand. He still continues to find an outlet through sculpture and other means.
In 2003, a feature film documenting the life and career of Frazetta was released entitled, Frazetta: Painting With Fire.
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