Frank Frazetta

1998 Hall of Fame Inductee: Frank Frazetta

The work of Frank Frazetta is atypical as his approach to it. Unlike most artists, Frazetta prefers to work in a vacuum, free of influences and unencumbered by reality. He creates a new world with each painting and doesn’t want facts (what’s so) to interfere with fiction (what isn’t so). That way his magical brush can bridge the span between two diametrically opposed perceptions.

With only his imagination as reference, Franzetta paints with such persuasive accuracy that the viewer often accepts one of his landscapes as if it were the camera’s vision. And it is executed with such craft that none can doubt the artist had painted that vista on-the-spot, regardless of its inter-planetary location.

How he reached the level of excellence and acceptance that made him the dominant artist of his genre is a question that addresses Frazetta’s natural drawing ability and not his formal art education, since he had none of the latter as an adult. Brooklyn born and raised, as a youth Frazetta displayed an astonishing talent for drawing. Between the ages of eight and twelve, he attended private painting lessons from a local artist. That proved to be the only training he experiences. All that followed can be accurately labeled “self-taught.”

His early years as a cartoonist proved invaluable to the development of his phenomenal visual imagination. At age sixteen his animated comics caught the attention of Walt Disney Studios, but Frazetta never considered leaving the neighborhood baseball diamonds where his exploits were also catching the attention of professional scouts. At nineteen, Frazetta as named Most Valuable Player of the Parade Grounds League, a highly regarded minor league. He burned up the league with a .487 batting average.

Despite baseball sharing equal passion, it was his art that Frazetta knew would be his life’s work. It was more a rational decision than an emotional one. Factoring in equal success as a professional at the top of each of the respective fields, he’d obviously enjoy more longevity as an artist while still having fun as an athlete. His legions of fans and followers still applaud his decision.

As he became more involved in the representational comic form, Frazetta realized that his extraordinary drawing skill alone wasn’t enough to satisfy his need as a storyteller. Exaggerated action, dramatic lighting, dynamic composition, and an imaginative and highly personal color sense all played a part in depicting the quintessential moment of a larger-than-life scene that became his illustration hallmark.

Frazetta’s career exploded when at long last the perfect subject matter was given to the perfect artist to depict it. Starting with new editions of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan adventures, Ace Publishers were ecstatic with the success of their series brandishing Frazetta covers. Lancer Books enjoyed similar success with their own Conan the Barbarian series.

The Society of Illustrators gave Frank Frazetta an Award of Excellence in their 15th Annual Exhibition of American Illustration.

To Frazetta, the blank canvas is not a proving ground for his remarkable ability as much as it is an undiscovered planet to explore- a place to discover what imagery it has to offer. When not bridled with an actual subject to depict, as a book cover, for example, he will begin a new work “somewhere in the middle” of an action, mood, or composition, either referring to a quick thumbnail sketch representing his first pass at storytelling, or by letting his imagination guide the path of his light pencil work or direct thinned oil line. As in all his art, Frazetta maintains no set work procedure, relying on mood, music, or whim to determine that day’s approach. From these minute beginnings evolve works that appear to have been labored over for many months, despite the fact that most were completed overnight, others within two or three days.

Materials have always been held with minimal consideration by the artist. Many of his bristle and sable brushes date before the oldest before the oldest of his four children was born, still serviceable by Frazetta’s standards, despite the wear. More amazing is the watercolor set used to execute all of his early work in that medium. Also still in use today, Frazetta is concerned that nothing currently available in stores “match the vibrancy of that Mickey Mouse 12-color set” he has cherished all these years.

Obviously, the art of Frank Frazetta has little to do with methods and techniques and all to do with natural talent. The ability to transform the unbelievable and accessible can’t be taught. Only imitated. And, as usual in the case of the those often imitated, never equaled.

Nick Meglin