Monday, May 10, 2010

Farewell, Frank Frazetta...

The legendary Frank Frazetta passed away today. "Legendary" is one of those overworked terms, so much so it should probably be retired. But it's particularly apt in Frazetta's case, so I'm using it here. The legendary Frank Frazetta. He worked with Al Capp on Li'l Abner, did some gorgeous work for EC Comics, then turned towards commercial art where he could actually make money commensurate with his artistic skills. Along the way, he created the iconic visual representation of a little character by the name of Conan.

From what I understand, Conan is a sword-and-sorcery character of some popularity. You know, they ought to make a movie about him sometime. Or at least do a comic book series. I imagine a comic book series featuring a Conan that looks like Frank Frazetta's version would sell an issue or two. Do you agree?

To me, Frazetta is forever linked with airbrushed conversion vans driven by weightlifter dudes with shaggy, bleached hair and too many Ayn Rand books in their personal libraries for my comfort. Molly Hatchet album covers, stomach tattooes and that one guy in art classes who submitted barbarian paintings as a solution to every assignment and made chainmail in his spare time. I think I had a version of him every semester, from high school through graphic design school.

Frazetta's collaboration with Ralph Bakshi, Fire and Ice, is a dumber-than-dumb good versus evil story, although not nearly as sleazy as Bakshi's earlier flicks. Beyond serving as masturbation fodder for AD&D-playing teens, I could never figure out why Princess Teegra was writhing on her bed while talking to her tutor or handmaiden or whoever the hell that was supposed to be. Someone wanted to animate a Frazetta woman as though she were posing for a Playboy photo-spread, and rotoscoped a Playmate.

All these half-naked people with names like Larn, Nekron and Darkwolf crack me up.

But when Gladstone started their EC reprints, I found I loved Frazetta's beautiful, lush comic book stuff. I don't know if there's been a finer inker in the business, but he put those inks on top of amazing figure work. You can see his influence in diverse artists like Armando Gil, Bernie Wrightson, Sam Keith and Mark Schultz, among others. And his Creepy and Eerie covers? I could gaze at them for hours; their moody hues and painterly brushstroke flourishes nourish my hunger for the lurid and the weird. I have to thank Dark Horse once again for their Warren archive series and giving me the chance to experience some of Frazetta's coolest work. I'll never be too keen on barbarian paintings-- as much as I love the various Conan comic book series-- but I'll dote on Frazetta's horror work any day.

Through those and John Kricfalusi's championing of Frazetta's composition and rendering skills I eventually came to a new appreciation of the man as an artist. I learned I simply will never draw as well as Frazetta. There's not a sliver of a chance. And that's true for just about everyone who picks up a pencil or pen or Winsor-Newton brush to illustrate heroic adventure.

Comics and fantasy illustration both lost a giant today, and are diminished by his passing. A legend. They aren't making Frank Frazettas anymore, although his imitators will continue churning out the beef and cheesecake for generations to come.

No comments: