Frank Frazetta 1928–2010

Right now I have one of the most horrific series of deadlines of my career but I couldn’t let the passing this morning of Frank Frazetta go without at least some brief comment here.

I have just learned of the death of one of the most important and influential artists of this last century, my friend, Frank Frazetta.

Frank’s art inspired and launched thousands of careers, including my own. I patterned many of my choices as to what fields of illustration to pursue after what Frank had done. I learned from his successes; I learned from his mistakes.

I am very glad that Frank’s long and ugly family dispute got resolved (just days) before his passing, although I can’t help but think that the stress of what he was put through was a major contributing factor to his sudden demise.

Frank was always kind and generous to me; I felt it was important to treat him in the same manner. I first spoke to him in 1972 when I was living in the New York area working for Harvey Kurtzman and Willy Elder on Little Annie Fanny for Playboy. One of the reasons I accepted Kurtzman’s offer was because Frazetta had also assisted them on the strip. It was another path of Frazetta footsteps that I could follow. I called Frank up when I got to New York. We hit it off. Within minutes of speaking to him, he offered to get me work painting paperback covers. I was stunned by his generosity. Eventually I learned of Frank’s deep passion for the music of Frank Sinatra (Frazetta knew Sinatra’s body of work like Frazetta’s most rabid fans know Frazetta’s every piece). This gave me a chance to finally reciprocate; over the years I sent Frank annotated CD collections of everything Sinatra ever recorded.

When Frank was living in Florida, he learned I was going to be a guest at Orlando’s MegaCon. He drove across the state to see me. We were invited on a tour of Disney studios. A Q & A was scheduled after our tour. Amazingly, the only artist the Disney employees wanted to hear from was Todd MacFarlane. After sitting there questionless for some time, Frank and I decided to duck out and explore the Disney studio on our own. We saw lots of cool stuff and had a great time together.

Once Frank moved back to Pennsylvania, Frank made me promise that if I ever got back east again that I would visit him. I took him up on his offer when I was in New Jersey for a Chiller Theatre convention. After Chiller I stayed back east for awhile. After visiting my oldest son at Yale I headed for East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where Frank and his family lived on over 60 gorgeous acres in the Poconos. Upon my arrival, Frank lit up. We spent the whole evening talking about everything imaginable. He showed me what he was working on as well as work he had around the house. Frank proudly showed me his ribald watercolor comic masterpiece Toolonga (which I was devastated to hear he destroyed recently). He asked if I would return in the morning. I happily agreed. The following morning I loaded him up with a set of my sketchbooks, something I thought he could enjoy at his leisure after I’d left. To my amazement, he sat down and looked at every single picture on every page of every book.

“Have you seen my lake?”

“No; it was dark when I got here last night.”

Frank took me outside. He was very proud of his lake. While quietly sitting on the edge of the lake, watching the morning mist rise from its surface, Frank whispered to me.

“Slowly turn around.”

A deer and her fawns silently walked right past us. Frank broke into a big grin.

“It’s always like this.”

I asked Frank what he wanted to do.

“Can we go see my grandkids?”

“Of course we can see your grandkids, Frank. I’ll drive.”

I drove Frank in my Hertz rental to each of the houses on the Frazetta compound. Frank’s grandkids were the delight of his life. It was Halloween day. The kids were all trying on their costumes. I did dinosaur drawings for each of the little tykes. I could tell Frank was in heaven. It felt so good to give back to the guy who had provided me with such artistic inspiration over the years.

For my money, Frank Frazetta was the ultimate line man of all time. In my opinion (one that was shared by Frank) his pen and brush work for his Edgar Rice Burroughs line illustrations in the early 1960s were the finest images he ever created. Mark Schultz and I still gaze upon those pieces in awe. We have spent decades aspiring to rise to their level — and still do. Frazetta’s famous paintings are wonderful — but no artist has surpassed Frank’s line work.

Hopefully, his work will be preserved forever and it will find its way into the great museums of the world for all the public to appreciate.

Frank was a scrapper who grew up on the mean streets of Brooklyn. His talent revealed itself at an early age. Frank was like an artistic sponge with a photographic memory. Fortunately, he had Roy Krenkel and Al Williamson as friends in his formative teens and early 20’s. They gave Frank an incredible art education, using their vast collections to expose him to the finest art and illustration of the 19th and 20th centuries. Frazetta soaked up everything he was shown. Somehow he managed to absorb and filter all of this great art and have it subsequently come out through Frank’s brushes as pure Frazetta. I know it was hard work, but Frank made it look so damn natural and easy.

Frank always marched to his own drummer. Like his hero, Frank Sinatra, Frazetta did it His Way.

You’ll be missed, Frank — but you will never be gone. Your rich artistic legacy will live forever.

Rest in Peace, my friend.

39 Responses to “Frank Frazetta 1928–2010”

  1. filmfan says:

    Man, that is bad news. I thought that guy would be around for at least another hundred years. You are right about his pen and brush work being the best stuff of his fantastic body of artwork. His paintings are awesome, but the ink work is just unsurpassed. What I have always admired about his paintings is that they seem to be a glimpse into someone’s imagination or dream, full of vivid imagery and passion, but not too much detail to make them seem like an illustration, and the figures in them never look static or posed.

  2. Norm says:

    …everyone has to go…..but I wish it could have been at a better time in regard to his family life.
    Hopefully there was better stuff going personally, that wasn’t all over the news….and that he could go out with some good feelings.

  3. Norm says:

    Sorry, I read your post in a bit of a daze…and I missed the part about things getting resolved. That really is good news.

  4. Bill says:

    Hi Norm,
    Yes, that family mess got resolved. I wish I could say it was happily resolved to everyone’s satisfaction — but it wasn’t, although Frank Jr. was not sent to prison, thank god.

  5. Joe Jusko says:

    Absolutely wonderful tribute, Bill. While we all knew this day was imminent it still so hard to accept that he is truly gone. It is a very, very sad day.

  6. Jackie says:

    Thanks for the tribute. Hard to believe he’s gone. 🙁

  7. Scott Conner says:

    I knew when I got home and saw a lot of message waiting that it wasn’t going to be good news.
    What a wonderful comment, Bill. Thank you for sharing that with us.

  8. Bill says:

    You’re welcome. For me, it feels as if King Kong has died. Frank Frazetta was a giant among giants. He dramatically changed the world of art. I (and many, many others) stand on his mighty shoulders nearly every single day.

    All my best wishes and love go out to his family.

  9. Tom Ortega says:

    My son, just sent me an e-mail with the news and I knew I had to turn to your page for the details. Thank you for the posting.

    I feel just as stunned as when Jack Kirby passed away. Frank’s was larger than life to me.

    My first exposure to his art were the Lancer Conan’s. The paintings litteraly stopped me in my tracks.

    Up to this point all my reading outside of school was made up completely of comics. This paperback experience was new to me. I was reading books without illustrations (except for the cover, but WHAT A COVER). The character depicted was MAGICAL. I remember reading the Robert E. Howard stories with a constant flipping of the pages to glance at the cover image.

    Next I got the Edgar Rice Burrough’s covers, and the search for more art continued. Each new discovery just as fantastic as the last one. Imagine how startling it was to find out that this NEW discovery had a stellar history predating my naive awareness.

    My prayers go for continued family peace.

  10. Bill says:

    I still remember with absolute laser beam clarity the first time I saw a Frazetta Conan cover. I was in high school, visiting my local drug store after school to see what new comics had come out. There it was, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Adventurer, sitting on the paperback rack. It stopped me dead in my tracks; my heart immediately began to race. I couldn’t buy it fast enough.

    The painting sucked me right in. I was already a huge Frazetta fan but this new work of his was on a completely different level from his other paintings. Everything about this painting was astounding. That feeling of excitement over Frank’s best work has never left me.

    And MORE great Frazetta paintings were still to come!

    Weren’t we blessed by his presence in our lives…

  11. Rick Tucker says:

    What a pair of days. Lena Horne passed awy yesterday and Frank Frazetta, today is gone.
    Thanks for sharing your experience with him. Those of us lucky enough to have met and talked with the man will always have those memories but the people I envy will always be those who are discovering his work for the first time. That sense of wonder and excitement is nothing to be taken lightly. He provided me with a life long obsession. His passing doesn’t change that.
    It’s been years since we talked and I knew that when Ellie passed after her fight with cancer my opportunity to talk with him was gone. Unlike you, Frank and I hit it off but never to the point that I could circumvent Ellie, but I know her heart was in the right place. Still, I always felt like I was having to go through someone’s mom to talk to Frank.
    Frank and Ellie were the best. They’ve left a big hole in the art and illustration world. Still, we were lucky to have lived in a time when this art was made and the changes they made on the business which finally brought the artist the recognition for their efforts. Thanks to Frank and Ellie following the artist has never been easier.

    Rick

  12. Bill,

    Thanks for sharing your memories of Frank. I was earlier this year plotting how I would make a trip to his museum. I never met him but his work will be with me always. I probably first saw his Ballantine collections when in junior high. Each image had a direct and immediate impact. His influence on me kept changing. Originally it was the babes, monsters and dinosaurs, then his linework and spotting of blacks. Now it’s his design and color. In five years, it will be something else. It is some small consolation to know that his greatness was recognized within his lifetime and he got to see that. Every artist has that desire to know they “were right all along.” He was.

    Andy Mitchell

  13. Nina says:

    Delurking for a moment just to say that I feel as if I just lost a childhood friend. I didn’t expect to be so completely devastated over the death of someone I’ve never met.

    What a tremendous loss.

  14. bernardg says:

    Really beautiful eulogy you wrote here. What a fitting tribute to a true legend, grandmaster of fantasy art of our time.

  15. Sam F. Park says:

    Bill,

    Thank you so much for sharing your memories of Frazetta and thoughts about the man and his work. Yesterday upon hearing the news of his passing I spent the whole day feeling like my insides had been punched out. I was shocked at myself for feeling like I’d lost a relative. All the memories like everyone is sharing here flooded in concerning the first time I saw Frazetta’s work or the extraordinary effect different ones had on me. A friend of mine at USA TODAY was telling us in over at the Classic Horror Film Board how not many knew of Frank up in the editorial room but EVERY artist down in the art department was shocked upon hearing the news of his passing. Many cited Frazetta as the reason they became an artist. Your thoughts on his art education and how he filtered it into his work are spot on! I used his work back during my teaching days to explain design and yesterday I heard from students of twenty years ago saying how those examples woke them up to so much beyond his fantastic work and brought them into the greater world of art. There is so much to Frazetta that can be examined and discussed. I’m sure we all could talk for days and still find new things to share. I’ll leave with what I wrote on my Facebook wall.

    The heroic moment with its frenzied energy and savage desperation that Frazetta captured again and again during his career was nothing less than brilliant. I have stared at his paintings countless times looking over each brushstroke, each design element and studied the method of its technique and yet it has a power beyond a painter’s control and conscious understanding. Frazetta’s magic touch with a brush seized the essence of myth in a manner that made it seem so effortless and intimate that you could smell the blood and sweat of its epic struggle and yet at the same moment be awestruck by how the artist pulled the curtain of legend aside and allowed you, a mere mortal, to stare at gods and monsters battling for a universe.

  16. Truly a sad day and a tremendous loss to everyone who was ever moved and inspired by Frazetta’s work.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and fans.

    I really enjoyed reading your memories of Frank. Thank you for taking the time to share them with us. I had always hoped to meet him someday. Unfortunately I never did but your story gave me an indication of what kind of a person the artist was.

    I think we all knew that after Ellie passed, Frank would soon follow.

    Frazetta’s legacy will endure. He was the artist we all aspired to be like.
    May he rest in peace.

    To Bill and Mark, the torch has been passed.
    Make him proud.

  17. Benno says:

    Thanks for the amazing eulogy Bill. I was sitting at dinner with Karen last night trying to explain exactly what it was about Frazetta’s work that was so compelling to me. Its hard to explain that mix of technique and vision and what a powerful impact it had when I first saw his stuff in the late 60’s and why it made me follow his career with such intense interest. Those years of being able to go to a bookstore and continuously be amazed at what would appear next have been gone for a while, but the shiver of anticipation is something I won’t ever forget. For me, the cool thing was that even as he was producing new work, I was also able to keep delving backwards and find older material to sate that desire to see something “new”. My only real regret is one you don’t have-that I never got to meet him and tell him how much his work meant to me. Thankfully, I have had that opportunity with you and with many others whose work I have admired.

  18. Scott Rosema says:

    Hi Bill,

    If there are words to properly describe Frank and his work’s impact on all of us, I’m not wholly convinced they exist yet because I can’t find them. What I feel is another matter. My heart sings in celebration of his talent and yet mourns the passing of him from this world. We’ve all longed to visit similar worlds to those he created through our own talents and imaginations and have always found ourselves wanting, even though we might have been thrilled by the attempt. His was the unique touch of mastery, the absolute abandon of limits, the unbridled joy of pure creation, the sheer expression of personal power.

    Frank did the impossible… he guided the incredible harnessing of life’s energy as it bucked, swirled and kicked it’s way onto his papers and canvases, straining against the gall of a mere human to be captured, as it does to all artists. But Frank stood fast and tall in that kind of storm, his pencil and brush gripped in a sinewed attitude and his heart shouted out a command to that resisting energy “You will be as I tell you to be, you are mine to portray as I will!” And life’s energy bowed to that mighty talent and lives still to this day on those plains of paper, wood and canvas. Bowed but not broken, the life Frank captured is still vibrant and alive because his was a heart of as much love and as it was of commanding power.

    Those that knew him personally, like you Bill, are blessed with knowing this firsthand. And yet the loss for you is even keener than for us who could only look from afar. So, my heart sends comfort to you and prayers for Franks safe passage to Ellies arms and the eternal joy they will create together.

  19. Miguel Angel says:

    Por siempre Frank…

  20. monsterdavid says:

    he left the biggest. In Spain Frazetta fans are very hurt by the loss. Best regards and my sincere condolences from Spain.

    David Garcia

  21. Lee Hester says:

    That was a lovely tribute.

  22. Greg says:

    Thanks very much for your comments, including speaking about your personal contact with him.

    Your comments dovetail nicely with what I learned after reading this 1994 interview by Gary Groth. I’ve always liked Frazetta’s comic book work, but until now, sadly, I’d never learned much about Frazetta, the person. I wish I’d been able to meet him.
    http://www.tcj.com/interviews/frank-frazetta-interview

  23. Tim Davis says:

    I recall during the late 60’s and early 70’s joining the Science Fiction Book Club just so I could get my hands on some of Frank’s paintings on the dust jackets. I still remember the absolute thrill of getting “Swords of Mars/Synthetic Men of Mars” and finding line drawings interspersed throughout the book! Yes, Frank’s pen and ink art are still some of my favorites.
    I’m sure the baseball fields in Heaven are well maintained, so go ahead and hit a few wicked doubles past the shortstop for me, Frank!

  24. Zawisza says:

    Well done, Mr. Stout. Through your work, I eventually discovered Frazetta.

    Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

  25. Well said, Mr. Stout. I’m glad Frank had friends like you.

  26. a very good idea this tribute, i am a big fan and i don’t like the idea, that he’s gone, all the best to the family

  27. Douglas Gardner says:

    An eloquent and fitting tribute to the MAN thank you

  28. COOP says:

    Frazetta was always part of the culture to me – I was born in ’68, and by the time I was old enough to pay attention to such things, he had already made his mark just about everywhere. Movie posters, record and book covers, even custom vans with airbrushed versions of his art roamed the streets back then! As a kid, it was impossible to think of him as one guy painting in his studio – he seemed like an entire industry, just as Kirby, another titan, seemed the very embodiment of comic book superhero art.

    It wasn’t until I started to pursue my own work that I realized both artists were real people, and I began to trace their influence and body of work. I still remember digging out a Frazetta-covered Famous Funnies issue in a used book store (great find that) and being stunned by the realization that he had been doing this since the fifties! (Come to think of it, he was probably almost the same age when he drew that cover as I was when I unearthed it. ) Both inspiring AND depressing – I was not that talented then, and I’m still not that talented, 25+ years later!

  29. Mark Boyd says:

    Hey,

    Met you in Dallas a few years ago, but have always been a big fan of yours, and of course, Frank Frazetta.

    Not much to say except that there will always be only one of him; he was a genius.

    He will be missed,

    M

  30. William Wray says:

    Nice Bil,

    I eat anything up and Frank, I was so in awe of him I copied his work for years, so many embarrassing swipes, but I just couldn’t help it. He defined the first half of my career and ultimately made me want to be a painter.

    I was always to scared to try and meet him. I made half- hearted attempts to get Al Williamson to introduce me, but they were kind of going thru a strained period, Al’s wife had just died and Frank didn’t call him so meeting Frank was out the window.
    When I visited the first Frazetta Museum years later Ellie (rightly) cock blocked any chance of meeting him. Finally at a San Diego Con I shook his hand and briefly told him what he meant to me, he was very gracious, I have no idea what we talked about I was so nervous. Selfishly, I always wished he had gone beyond his Conan peak and explored bigger scale, more expressionistic work…
    it’s my own conceded opinion that his work went into a slow stall after the Silver Warriors stuff. I think he had done the barbarian thing a well as it could be done and he needed a new challenge, but was so defined by the fantasy Illustration thing he could only eat his tail, but it was still a tasty dish.

  31. anthony vance says:

    i remember when i was a young boy and jimmy stewart passed away..my mother was silently crying at the kitchen table ..she told me that all her childhood heroes..actors..movie stars ,singers and sports stars,were passing away..and it made her feel older ..and sad..
    i still have the copy of creepy my father had bought me with frank frazetta on its cover..i knew then..right then..this man was a one of a kind..his paintings drew you straight into his world..it never mattered to me ,as it does to alot of my artistic friends, that their skin wasnt made of marble and clarity ..the dark forbidden world of frazetta..was all about life..action and imagination..nobody stood completely still
    after my first child was born..i went to visit the frazetta musuem..ellie was so charmed by my son..she went to grab frank..and he came out side to meet little anthony..we chatted and walked around and he talked and i listened and let me stand with him holding my son, to be photographed..fitting ,for his love of cameras..
    frank grew up in brooklyn, just like my father had..and around the same hoods around the same time..i wondered if they had ever crossed paths..
    when i heard the news about ellie..i knew frank wouldnt be far behind ..as that is how it was for my mother and father..still he leaves behind a legacy..fit for a king..alone , i sit now..at my kitchen table…

  32. John F. Davies says:

    It saddens me that at this late date I find out that one of my artistic heroes has passed away. I knew already that Frank Frazetta had been in very ill health these last few years, what with his stroke and all. I’m sure the death of his wife Ellie, whom he was very close to, also had something to do with it. Being as he was my fathers’ age, it comes as no surprise to me that he has finally set his palette down for good.

    And yet, I do feel that America has lost one its giants in the world of art, and not just of one specific genre. I myself have found the way he could depict action and movement to be unparrallelled. Every time I saw his works I
    always learned something new.

    Requisat in pace, Piasano.
    John F. Davies

  33. Dave Hoover says:

    Hey Bill, found a link to your Frazetta eulogy on a facebook page somewhere, glad I found it and had a chance to read it. It seems the last time I tried to contact you was when Dave Stevens died, sorry for not contacting you when it’s just a happy day.

    I certainly share all your sentiments and feelings about Franks work. It was surely a dream come true for me when I got to work with Frank on the Fire and Ice movie, it was an experience I will treasure always, and I still marvel that it actually happened to me. These days I try to keep Franks art and memory alive with new students going to art school teaching at several places here in the East. Most are not familiar with his work, and it is gratifying when I introduce his work to a student who gets that same fire and hunger for more, just as I did many years ago.

    Hopefully one of these fine years I’ll make it to another Burroughs gathering when you are attending, and then I can pick up more of your sketchbooks. Hope you and yours are doing well. Take care. Dave

  34. Pat Lee says:

    Wonderful tribute to Frank Frazetta–you can tell what he meant to you and your work. Thanks Bill.

  35. Bill says:

    To Bill Wray,
    I, too, was disappointed that Frank, upon achieving world renown, didn’t push himself even harder with more demanding and more complex personal artistic challenges. I know, I know —- as if single-handedly creating and defining an entire art genre wasn’t enough…

    For that alone, I cut him all the slack in the world. He was a unique visionary who possessed the guts of steel necessary to always stick to his artistic guns.

  36. Dear Mr Stout: Another beautiful tribute from you! When I added to my comments on Arnold Friberg’s passing, I mentioned the wonderful DVD on Frank Frazetta. I did not realize we had lost him too at that moment, but soon found we had. One strange thing about his genius! He sometimes began to repaint some of his finest works, reworking them. As though he decided he had not captured exactly what he had hoped for earlier! Perfection on perfection!!! What a series of giants have peopled this wonderful field of illustrative & imaginative art. From Herriman,& Hogarth, & all the strip men whether comic or serious, something for everyone of all persuasions. John.

  37. The special collector’s edition, a double DVD in a metal box with lenticular 3.d cover art of the documentary “Frank Frazetta: Painting With Fire” can be had for $29.95 US from http://www.Razor3Donline.com & their subsiduary company I-O Display Systems Llc. Highly recommended! John.

  38. Shu Groulx says:

    I leave a response when I appreciate a post on a site or I have something to valuable to contribute to the discussion. It’s triggered by the passion communicated in the article I read. And after this article Frank Frazetta 1928–2010 William Stout's Journal. I was actually moved enough to post a commenta response 😉 I do have 2 questions for you if it’s okay. Could it be only me or does it seem like a few of the remarks come across as if they are coming from brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are posting at additional online social sites, I’d like to follow you. Could you list every one of your public pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

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