Monday, May 10, 2010
The Passing of a Legend
Cliff called me a few minutes ago to let me know that Frank Frazetta passed away today at age 82. Sitting here now, I'm remembering not only what a massive talent Frazetta was, but how much his work meant to me as a child. Frazetta was a major part of my fascination with sword & sorcery. His images of Conan are still the ones I think about as I read the stories, despite the legion of fine artists who have followed him in illustrating the adventures of the big Cimmerian. But more than that, I think Frazetta defined what most of us think of when we think of sword & sorcery. The power and the savagery and the sensual nature. That's what sword & sorcery looks like.
I can remember buying the Ballantine Art of Frank Frazetta books and just sitting there and staring at the paintings. Some of them were covers of books I had read. Others hinted at stories I'd never heard of and those fired my imagination, making me wonder what events had led to the supreme moment of tension that Frazetta always seemed to depict. Jeez I loved those paintings. My favorite is the cover from the Lancer (later Ace) book titled simply Conan. The painting shows a scene from the Robert E. Howard story Rogues in the House where Conan is leaping onto the back of the ape-like creature Thak, armed with only a knife, which hardly seems enough steel for such a formidable looking foe. A swath of deep red marks the swirling path of the stolen cloak Thak wears.
The cover of Conan the Adventurer is perhaps better known and more iconic, with Conan standing amidst fallen foes while a girl cowers at his feet, but for my money, the cover of Conan was far better. Most of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books I was reading around the same time had Frazetta covers. Dinosaurs, cavemen, saber tooth tigers, and creatures never seen on Earth were all rendered with skill and vitality. In various interviews with Frazetta he said that he often painted those images in a sitting, starting with a blank canvas and pulling an all-niter, not stopping until the painting was complete. He said it was the only way he could get the kind of immediacy and energy that defined his work into his paintings. Looking at the work now, I can believe it.
I could go on and on about Frazetta's art. How no one drew more heroic heroes or more beautiful women or more savage foes or more fearsome monsters. But if you know the name Frazetta, then you know all that already. Enough to say, without exaggeration, that a legend has passed away today. So be at peace Frank, and thanks for all the amazing paintings, from a wild eyed boy of twelve and from the man he became.