Frank Frazetta was an amazing fantasy and science fiction artist who has had a profound influence on my artwork.

When Frank Frazetta passed away in May of 2010, I felt like my grandfather had died all over again.  In a time when MTV’s idiotic Jersey Shore represents the “finest” Italian Americans have to offer, it was very sad to lose such a great representative of my heritage.  Frazetta’s art is a huge influence on Gates, my comic, Heavy Metal’s first online venture.

Frazetta is where it starts and ends for me. His technique and his drawing ability are an inspiration as I work on the pages for Gates the online comic. Through Frank, I learned what it was to be an artist. Color theory, volume, form, lighting, perspective–all there in his work for everyone to see and learn from. He did everything right.

It is claimed by many people that Frank Frazetta’s interpretation of Conan visually redefined the genre of sword and sorcery and brought fantasy art into a whole other world of interpretation and commercial success. And there are many other artists out there like me, that Frank  had an enormous influence on.
gates the comic dedicates thei comic to frazetta
Frank Frazetta could draw. Man could he draw. I loved the way he rendered the human figure ever so eloquently, loosely and real while juxtaposing humanity in a dark and scary world of Fantasy. He was a master of the human figure. At the age of 15 he was drawing comics and during his career he worked on some really cool, classic titles like Buck Rodgers, Flash Gordon and Lil’ Abner. Frazetta’s line work was just incredible. Frank also drew a few comic stories for the Warren Publishing horror magazines Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella.

With his drawing ability as his underlying strength, Frazetta also wielded a magic paintbrush and using the techniques of the masters, he created some of the most significant paintings of the Twentieth Century. In 1964, Frazetta’s painting of Beatle Ringo Starr for a Mad magazine ad parody caught the eye of United Artists studios and he was approached to do the movie poster for the movie, What’s New Pussycat? This led to many more posters over the years and eventually led to Frank Frazetta’s claim to fame–Book Covers.

In his career Frazetta produced hundreds of paintings for paperback editions of adventure and fantasy books. His covers became very popular and were used for editions of classic Edgar Rice Burroughs books, such as those from the Tarzan and the John Carter of Mars series. Frazetta will forever be linked to Conan the Barbarian for the way he brought this character to life in his paintings. In addition to cover work, he also did several pen and ink illustrations for many of these books.  Frazetta has a great quote I found on Wikipedia about the paperback projects he worked on, “I didn’t read any of it… I drew him my way. It was really rugged. And it caught on. I didn’t care about what people thought. People who bought the books never complained about it. They probably didn’t read them.” 

Frazetta was a gifted painter who used techniques with turpentine to pull away areas of color to create a mystical, creepy mood in his paintings. He painted subtle details and accentuated the figure with high contrasts of dark and light to give depth and volume to his figures. Most of the time he painted in oil but he also worked with watercolor, ink, and pencil. These were his tools he used to draw voluptuous women with juicy boobs and round sexy asses.

In the early 1980s was when I first ran into Frazetta’s art. I was a kid who loved to watch anything animation and occasionally on Showtime and HBO I’d get lucky and they’d show some cool stuff. This is how I first saw Fire and Ice. I remember catching the end of it when I was like 10 or so and then didn’t see it again until I was around 17.  By the age of 17 I was paying attention to artists and once I realized Frazetta was the same guy who did all of the book covers I loved and all of the coolest painted album covers I had ever seen, I was obsessed. At a used bookstore in Utica, NY I picked up an old copy of a collection of Frazetta’s art by Bantam Books from 1975. It was amazing and I used it in conjunction with art school to tech me how to paint, draw, use color and most of all create depth in my work.   

And as I mentioned earlier, this book contained many of Frazetta’s most amazing album covers. Frazetta’s paintings have been used by a number of recording artists as cover art for their albums. Molly Hatchet’s first three albums feature “The Death Dealer”, “Dark Kingdom”, and “Berserker”, respectively. Dust’s second album, Hard Attack, features “Snow Giants”. Nazareth used “The Brain” for its 1977 album Expect No Mercy. Frazetta also created new cover artwork for Buddy Bought the Farm, the second CD of the surf horror band “The Dead Elvi”. And in a strange series of events even The U.S. Army III Corps adopted “The Death Dealer” as its mascot.

Fantasy, horror, Sci-Fi–Frazetta could do it all really well.

You can see Frazetta’s influence in many of today’s artists. Boris Valejo has been copying the style of Frazetta for years and making a very good living off of it. Many of his critics comment on his “boring” use of a posed reference photo as one of the glaring differences between Valejo and Frazetta though. Frazetta made every pose look like it was action packed even when it wasn’t and Valejo’s figures are often criticized as being stiff and unimaginative. Julie Bell, Valejo’s muse and protege is often knocked for the same things.

But others like Brom have taken Frazetta’s influence and advanced it one step further. Rather than knocking off his style or his work in general, Brom is an artist that has really used Frazetta as a starting point. I love Brom’s work and can see Frazetta peaking through all the time in his art. Brom also has an amazing drawing foundation and uses lighting well. And by looking at Brom’s work it makes me understand Frazetta even more.

When I graduated from college, it was Frank Frazetta that I clung to in order to continue my education. And boy did I learn so much. Though I never met Frank Frazetta personally, I feel like I knew him well. It is difficult to name another artist who has taught me more than Frazetta. Gates the comic could simply not have been made if it were not for the teachings of Frank Frazetta. So it is with great honor that I dedicate this online comic series, Gates,  to the memory of Frank Frazetta. It seems like an impossible task to say thank you in a way that truly honors all that he has done for me artistically.  This is the closest thing I can think of.  Because–without Frank Frazetta there is no Heavy Metal. Frazetta’s paintings embodied all that was right about that Heavy Metal feeling in art, erotica and fantasy.

Goodbye Frank and thank you for all you’ve done for me. Gates the comic, Heavy Metal’s first online comic would not be here today if it wasn’t for you. May you rest in peace and if the afterlife is anything like your paintings, I’ll see you in about 60 years!