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.