Saturday, January 25, 2014

Man, Woman, and Animal

I remember a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey:

In that first wordless sequence, before men become men by discovering tools, weapons, and murder, they, as primitive anthropoids, huddle together, listening with fear in their eyes to the growling, yawping, and shrieking of unseen animals awake in the night. That fear is still with us. It's why we're afraid of the dark, why we hide under the covers and lay still, petrified in fear, when we hear strange sounds in the room, in the house, or somewhere beyond. We still fear those first animals, for we were their prey. We have also forgotten them. Our fear is an atavism. In our imaginations, we have replaced those long-ago creatures--most of which are now extinct--with monsters. As children, our monsters resemble the animals we feared when we still lived in trees, caves, and huts. They are hairy or scaly or slick. They have fangs, spikes, and claws. They creep and slither and crawl. As adults, our fear of the animal becomes a fear of the human, hence of the true monster. But if we retrace our fear, we find that the first monsters were animals. Before we knew of good and evil, we feared them. It was only after the apple that the true monster--a being with a capacity for evil--could exist in our imaginations.

In Weird Tales, the relationship of man and woman to animal is often very much like the relationship of man and woman to monster. In other words, animal and monster can be interchangeable. But the animal can also be a servant or a helper, for good or evil. Certain animals are usually symbols of evil, especially snakes. Animals are sometimes on the side of human beings and sometimes against them. The tigers in two separate images below are obvious examples. Several related categories will follow in this system of categorizing cover images. First though: man, woman, and animal.

Weird Tales, December 1925. Cover story: "The Tenants of Broussac" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Joseph Doolin. There are lots of snakes on the cover of Weird Tales. Usually they're trying to kill somebody. Here, the woman looks like she is enjoying the snake's company. Even so, I suspect the man is trying to rescue her. She is obviously in thrall to the serpent that coils around her. Note the presence of the same elements as in the category of man, woman, and monster: a) Man; b) Woman; c) Monster, in this case a monstrous serpent; and d) Weapon. Note also the sexual symbolism, unintended or not.
The previous picture reminds me of this one in which, again, the woman and the snake are friends. No matter what you think of Frank Frazetta, you have to admit this is an arresting image.

Weird Tales, March 1930. Cover story: "Drums of Damballah" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. The theme of snake and woman continues. This time the woman seems to be commanding the snake instead of the other way around. The man, an unfortunate racial stereotype, is merely incidental to the picture except perhaps in some sexually symbolic way. Note that the man's loin cloth and the snake are the same color. Note also where the distal end of the snake is positioned in relationship to the man's body. On the other hand, maybe I'm making something of nothing. Strangely, the woman lacks nipples.

The excuse for racial stereotypes is that they were a product of their own time. I don't accept that excuse. Stereotypes are an offense against humanity, but they are also an offense against art. They are in other words a failure of the imagination. There are examples of art from that period--paintings, drawings, novels, movies--in which the artist of vision and courage did not fall back on stereotypes but portrayed human beings as human beings, regardless of their skin color. There isn't any reason why every artist should not have done the same thing.

Weird Tales, June 1931. Cover story: "Tam, Son of Tiger" (part 1 of 6). Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. First I have to apologize for the image. Evidently this is not a very popular cover of Weird Tales because it's not plastered all over the Internet. This is the largest and clearest version I could find. In any case, all the elements from the first image above are back but combined in a slightly different way. The animal is not protecting the woman but attacking her. The man (enter stage right) attempts to intervene, sword in hand, as before.

Weird Tales, October 1931. Cover story: "Tam Son of the Tiger" by Otis Adelbert Kline. Cover art by C.C. Senf. The woman is small, but she's there in the background being abducted by giant spider monkeys.

Weird Tales, April 1933. Cover story: "Golden Blood" (part 1 of 6). Cover art by J. Allen St. John. Another tiger but in a different role, this time as a mount for the man and woman and a threat to the riders on camelback on the lower left.

Weird Tales, August 1934. Cover story: "The Devil in Iron" by Robert E. Howard. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. Here the man's life is at risk and he must defend himself rather than the woman from attack. But then the artist was a woman. That makes three Conan covers by Margaret Brundage in which the hero is threatened or helpless while the woman rescues him, shields him, or simply looks on.
I grew up looking at Frank Frazetta's artwork. I go back to him again and again. For instance, the previous image, by Margaret Brundage, reminds me of this one, by Frazetta, from thirty years later. Again, the hero is in a fight for his life. Again he wields a curved sword. The woman is in a much different situation however. 
Here's the whole picture, perhaps original and perhaps revised, but looking a little washed out compared to the paperback cover. I wanted to show it because of its similarity to the next image:  
When I saw this cover of Double Comics from 1941, drawn by Malcolm Kildale, I couldn't help thinking of Frazetta's cover for Wolfshead. The composition is very similar, with the action taking place on the left side of the page, while the right side recedes towards a set of stairs and a fallen figure. There is even a brazier in the room. If you think I'm done with Frazetta, think again.
Here is Frazetta's cover for Kavin's World by David Mason (1969). If you reverse the female figure and put her arm down at her side, she is more or less the same as Kildale's female figure from a quarter century before.

So did Frank Frazetta swipe elements of his two paintings from a then twenty-five-year-old comic book? Or is the resemblance merely coincidental? If they're swipes, were they done consciously or unconsciously? We should remember that in 1941 Frazetta was only thirteen years old and probably reading (and drawing) comic books every day. Malcom Kildale's cover might have stuck in his head. It is after all a striking and memorable image. Even if the swipe was conscious, I think we can forgive Frank, for he was far from alone in swiping from other cartoonists. Still, I don't like to find Frazetta implicated in a swipe. (M.D. Jackson at Amazing Stories and James Gurney on his blog, Gurney Journey, have found other instances.)


Frank Frazetta was far more often the victim of a swipe. (A better word might be theft.) Too many artists have copied from him absolutely shamelessly, so many in fact that Burne Hogarth had to tell his students, "Quit trying to paint like Frazetta! There's only one Frazetta and he's it!" So it's one thing to copy another artist when you're learning to draw. It's quite another to be a professional artist and to steal outright from him. As everyone knows, Frazetta imitated Hal Foster and even his friend Roy G. Krenkel to some degree. But he became his own artist as every artist should. (My advice to every artist is to be the artist that you are. Do not try to be someone else. Burne Hogarth had it right.) In the end, in his defense, I can say that when Frazetta swiped from another artist, it wasn't very obvious and he put his signature on his work, figuratively and literally. But when others swipe from Frazetta, their work is obviously a swipe and it still has Frazetta's signature on it. You can't copy Frazetta without looking like you're copying Frazetta.

Finally, I would just like to say what a shame it was that Frank Frazetta never drew anything for Weird Tales. Now that would have been something to see.
Or maybe Frazetta did draw something for Weird Tales, he just did it through the hand of another artist.

Weird Tales, Feb. 1936. Cover story: "Coils of the Silver Serpent" by Forbes Parkhill. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. This image doesn't quite go in the category of man, woman, and animal. The reason is that there is another man in the picture. I have included it here because it shows a figure in the coils of a snake, like the pictures above. The animal is the immediate threat, the villain secondary. You will see this image again soon among the other snake covers.

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

2 comments:

  1. Frazetta swiped the reclining female in "Green Death" from some black-and-white skin mag from the '60s. It was posted on Mike Hoffman's old site (along with other photos Frank used for his paintings). Frazetta referenced all the time.

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    1. Dear Anonymous,

      From your comment I assume that the website is gone and so is the reference to the original source. Is that correct? I did a quick search and didn't find anything.

      Thanks for writing.

      TH

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