Today the interwebby will be full of tributes and remembrances of Frank Frazetta, who passed away at the age of 82 yesterday… ones that will be much more eloquent and personal than anything I could say (including this one by my pal Ed Steckley). I never met the man, but I am like so many who were in awe of and inspired by the work of this master artist. As a young reader of the Robert E. Howard “Conan” stories (and the pastiches of Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp that were camouflaged among Howard’s actual tales), the cover paintings of the Ace paperbacks were my first real exposure to the work of Frazetta. Frazetta’s fantasy illustrations were so charged with mood, savagery and movement they literally seethed and smoldered from the cover of these books. As beautifully rendered as the other cover illustrations of Boris Vallejo were, there was always something elemental and primal that put Frazetta’s work on a level all its own.
The piece above was always one of my favorites of those covers, depicting a scene from Howard’s “Rogues in the House”. In the tale a young Conan, set free from jail and hired by a local statesman to assassinate a priest who is a political rival (and who also happens to be a minor sorcerer) named Nabonidus, ends up trapped in the priest’s mansion with two unlikely companions… one is the statesman who hired him in the first place who, having been wrongly informed that Conan’s escape had not happened, went to kill Nabonidus on his own. The second was Nabonidus himself, whom they find unconscious in the dungeons of the building. Nabonidus explains that his giant ape-like servant Thak suddenly went wild and attacked him, casting him into the dungeons, killing his other servants and now haunts the halls of his house wearing his own scarlet robes. The creature has rudimentary intelligence, and is immensely strong and quick, able to tear a human being limb from limb in a flash. Half crazed with fear, Conan leaps upon the back of this impossibly powerful, ape-like being with nothing but a single knife as a weapon in an all-or-nothing attempt to kill and get free. Frazetta’s painting captures the ferocity and power of Thak and the battle frenzied terror of Conan in mid attack with seemingly effortless strokes of the paintbrush.
Frazetta was a contemporary and good friend of several MAD artists and collaborators including Nick Meglin, George Woodbridge and Angelo Torres, being one of the members of the “Fleagle Gang” as these guys called themselves. Despite being good friends with several involved with the magazine, Frank only did four pieces for MAD, three back covers and a front one in later years… mainly because of Gaines’ work-for-hire arrangement and policy of keeping all originals. Here’s my favorite of the Frazetta MAD jobs:
The world lost one of the true greats yesterday. However as with all the really great artists they never really leave us. Frazetta’s work with continue to inspire new artists forever… it’s as close to immortality as humans can get.
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