Frank Frazetta: An Appreciation
Frank Frazetta ushered in a new era of cover painting with heavily muscled heroes and lush, voluptuous women, evolving the pulp magazine style for more contemporary audiences. His work proved influential to writers, artists, and musicians for decades.
Best known for his series of covers featuring Conan the Barbarian on the Lancer paperbacks of the 1960s, he went on to create moody and evocative paintings for the Warren Magazines.
A child of Brooklyn, his artistic talents were evident early and by age eight, he was sent to the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts. He was mentored by Italian painter Michael Falanga who died before he could send young Frazetta to perfect his craft in Europe.
As the school closed in 1944, Frazetta sought ways to earn a living and drifted into illustrating comic books with several memorable Buck Rogers covers for Famous Funnies. He also drew several Shining Knight stories for DC Comics and displayed range with numerous funny animal stories as well.
By the 1950s, Frazetta was lending his talents to EC Comics, where he, Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel formed a powerful triumvirate, capable of masterful science fiction or fantasy stories.
Frazetta was hired by Al Capp to assist him on the popular Li’l Abner comic strip and he went on to also work with Dan Barry on Flash Gordon. The artist harbored his desire for a feature of his own and sold the short-lived Johnny Comet to the syndicates.
It was during this productive period that Frazetta married Eleanor Kelly
and they raised a family consisting of Frank Jr., Billy, Holly and
By the 1960s, Frazetta was ready for other work and left Capp to join
Harvey Kurtzman in producing the lushly colored Little Annie Fanny
feature for Playboy, a long-running and popular assignment. He did other
work including some nifty portraits for Mad Magazine which led to being
offered one-sheet assignments beginning with Woody Allen’s What’s New
He began booking cover assignments for multiple publishers and in
addition to Conan, also lent his vision to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creations Tarzan, John Carter, and Pellucidar. His Warren covers during this period
also included the memorable cover to Vampirella #1, based on Trina
Robbins’ costume design.
Frazetta continued to do commercial work through the 1970s; his next
phase didn’t begin until the 1980s when he partnered with Ralph Bakshi
for the fantasy animated feature Fire & Ice. The 1983 film had a
strong visual sense, courtesy of Frazetta, but failed to find a box
Since then, Frazetta has licensed out his original characters, notably
the Death Dealer to be used by others including comic book adaptations.
He and Elly gathered his original artwork and opened the Frazetta Museum
in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania to showcase his work.
Frazetta suffered numerous physical ailments throughout the final two
decades of his life, including an untreated thyroid condition Frazetta
also endured several strokes robbing him of his ability to illustrate
with his right hand, leading him to do work left-handed. His life was
profiled in the engaging 2003 documentary
His final year was a stressful one as Ellie died July 17, 2009 and then
family issues caused a rift as Frank Jr. attempted to steal 90 paintings
from the museum in December. He was arrested and mediation in April led
to a successful conclusion to the matter.
Frazetta, who had been suffering from dementia for some time, was taken
to a hospital where he died from the final stroke.