"Stop trying to paint like Frazetta! There's only one Frazetta and he's it!"
--Burne Hogarth to his students (1)
For many years, from the 1960s and into the '70s and early '80s, Frank Frazetta was the fantasy artist against whom most young fantasy artists measured themselves. Some never escaped the novice's desire to copy their master's work. Some built careers on emulating if not exactly copying Frazetta. Others worked in reaction to him, an approach that still acknowledges in some way Frazetta's importance as an artist. Frank Frazetta has his detractors to be sure, but if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then his flatterers and admirers far outnumber his detractors. Here is a quote from Harvey Kurtzman:
Frazetta's strength was never in continuity storytelling, but rather in the startling tableau. His cover and poster work is mesmerizing, always focusing on an instant of action and mystery. (2)
I would add that Frazetta's focus was not just on an instant of action and mystery but on the height of action and mystery. If you were a young artist when Frazetta was at his peak, you were probably mesmerized by his work as Kurtzman said, and you probably worked at capturing that same level of action and mystery in your own art. As I said, some artists have never escaped that desire to be Frazetta by copying Frazetta (just have some writers have never escaped the desire to be H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, or Raymond Chandler). I suppose they don't care to be themselves as artists, that is, to be their own artists vs. being someone else. They make their swipes without shame, imagining perhaps that they have become Frazetta by copying some small part of his work. (3) In any case, I showed a few swipes the other day and I would like to show some more now. Read on.
|I have shown this image of the Italian Kothar e la Spada Magica (1990) before in my biography of Gardner Fox. I alluded to two Frazetta swipes on the cover but didn't show the sources. (4) Here they are:|
|As you can see, the artist on the Italian edition of Kothar swiped three figures from Frazetta's painting of Conan going about his business. I believe this is a reworked version of a painting that no longer exists in its original form:|
|The cover art for Conan the Buccaneer (1971), the text of which is itself a pastiche of Robert E. Howard's work. To paraphrase Burne Hogarth, "There was only one Robert E. Howard and he was it!"|
|The other swipe from the cover of Kothar e La Spada Magica is from this painting by Frazetta (1967), a tour de force of speed and improvisation: the background is bare masonite.|
|You might recognize this image, taken from an advertisement for Dave's Bigfoot Show . . .|
|If you happen to have seen this Frazetta painting for the cover of Creepy #15 (June 1967) before.|
|Still on the subject of cavemen: Here is the cover of an Italian magazine, Pompea Cimiteria (date unknown), with a Frazetta swipe hiding in the lower left corner.|
|It came from this painting by Frank Frazetta, used on the cover of the Doubleday edition of The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1971).|
This only scratches the surface of swipes other artists have made from the work of Frank Frazetta. I'm sure this business of swiping from Frazetta will continue for a long time to come. I would just say to the artists and writers of this world: Be yourself. Be the artist and the writer that you are instead of trying to be someone else. There are lots of reasons for saying that, but the biggest is probably this: If you try to be someone else, you will always, always fail. Finally, Frank Frazetta was born on February 9, 1928. In eight days, if he had lived, he would have celebrated his eighty-sixth birthday. So Happy Birthday, Frank Frazetta.
(1) That quote is a paraphrase. I'm still looking for the original source. I believe I first read it in The Comics Journal special editions.
(2) From the book From Aargh! to Zap: Harvey Kurtzman's Visual History of the Comics (1991), p. 36.
(3) That same desire--to be someone else or to take some part in the creation or ownership of someone else's work--is afoot on the Internet today. You will see it whenever the person who just happens to have scanned a piece of artwork initials it or places a watermark on it, as if to say, "This is mine." At best, that's laughable--pitiful; at worst, it's an infringement on the rights of the artist.
(4) The swordsman here kind of looks like John Fogarty.
Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley