famed for a fantastic formula of hot bods and hard creeps,
expresses his opinions to GEORGE PETROS

Like a Black Sabbath song come to life, nearly naked warriors mount mountain peaks, avenging axes in hand. Voluptuous vixens threaten from icy crags, luring onlookers to dates with death. Beautiful abstract backgrounds swirl, ready to absorb these frightening figures. Behold the signature style of FRANK FRAZETTA.

Brooklyn born and bred, Frank comes across as a normal everyday guy. He likes baseball, family, cats, and motorcycles. One would never suspect this peaceful-looking septuagenarian of creating high art. But within his head lurk sexy superhuman brutes and beauties. Elemental forces made flesh, they battle giant snakes, killer aliens, demons, and each other. On canvas, they fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Frank also painted scantily-clad chicks cartoon-style for saucy movie marquee posters (including racy likenesses of Sharon Tate and Britt Ekland). Promotional posters for 60s sex farces such as What’s New, Pussycat?, The Night They Raided Minsky’s, and Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers got the Frazetta treatment. He did the first, and quintessential, rendering of Vampirella, everybody’s favorite undead bitch.

It’s all in a day’s work for the reluctant grandmaster of heroic horror (who claims, “It’s not horror, but it is scary…”). At his home, hidden among Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, he listens to Phillies games, hangs out with wife Eleanor, and avoids legions of fans. Asked what’s important about his art, he replies, “Nothing, really. I just do it as I please and when I please, and that’s it. I’m not like one of these guys hiding in their little cave and doing their thing. I fool around, play with the kids, and have a good time.” No idiosyncrasies, painterly fashions, or self-promotion belie his alchemical proclivities. “What you see is what you get,” he proclaims. “There’s nothing complicated about it. But, if you see deeper into it, far be it from me to say anything different.”

Of course, upon interrogation the artist reveals a submerged ego as big as anyone’s. “People like my stuff for good reason,” he states. Of his fans he says, “They worship me. They praise the earth I walk on.” And of his work’s well-muscled men and women, he declares, “They grab ya by the heartstrings! And the females — they’re delicious, aren’t they?”

Cathy and Arnie Fenner, editors of books about Frank’s work, act as “go-betweens” for the sometimes-difficult artist and publisher Underwood Books. Arnie explains, “Frank’s a natural talent who only draws what he wants to draw. The art comes so naturally to him — he really doesn’t think about it a whole lot. That’s why, when you talk to him, he can’t really tell you how or why he did something. He just did it. He’s not into the gallery scene; he never hustled for work.”

Frazetta historian and long-time friend Dave Winiewicz tells us, “He did not care about the overall art culture. He didn’t care about Madison Avenue or public relations; all he cared about was producing his art. When people wanted Frazetta art, they had to come to him.”

Frank was born in 1928. “When I was a kid, I did artwork that the teachers were much impressed with, and I just went on from there.” His parents enrolled him in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts at age eight. While honing his drawing and painting chops, he also engaged that classic American artform, the comic book. Tally-Ho Comics employed him at age sixteen; he drew his own comic, Snowman, among other duties.

Frank excelled at athletics. The Brooklyn Dodgers recruited him, but he didn’t want to travel with their Texas farm team, The Fort Worth Cats. In fact, he didn’t want to play in the minor leagues — he wanted to go straight to the top. That did not occur; otherwise, FF would be in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown instead of in Juxtapoz. “I was active in sports. I loved it dearly. The New York Giants also thought I was pretty good.” Frank, you seem to understand the body as a machine. “That’s what I’d like to think.”

He landed a lucrative gig as ghost artist on Lil‘ Abner, credited to syndicated cartoonist Al Capp (whom Frank describes as “a miserable s.o.b.”). Eight years later, a famous falling-out ensued. Subsequent clients included sleazy men’s mags such as Cavalcade, Gent, and Dude, and softcore paperback publisher Tower. Playboy brought him on board to paint bodies for the cartoon “Little Annie Fanny.”

Frank: “In 1962 I started doing Tarzan paperback covers for Ace Books. Fans caught it, and they wrote in, and more wrote in, and before you knew it, I was the only way to go. That certain style I have seemed to grab ’em.” What influenced that style? “Everything.”

From 1964 Frank painted covers for publisher James Warren’s classic comic magazines Creepy, Eerie, Blazing Combat, and Vampirella — genuinely creepy mags full of gruesome death and veiled sexual tension. Upon those beloved covers Frank found his artistic equilibrium, utilizing fabulous colors and romantic figures to create foul atmospheres. His fusion of fine art and comic art exploded from magazine racks during an exciting era. He joined the ranks of great American illustrator/painters such as Howard Pyle and Maxfield Parrish. He also did stuff for Mad magazine, and continued cranking out Tarzan covers. His versatility, his alternating humor and gravity, put him in a league of his own. Frank, you painted such cool covers. “Yeah, I did some good ones.” What about Vampirella? “It’s just a girl.” Did you get turned on drawing her? “No. I did all that stuff very easily. I don’t understand what the big deal was.”

In 1965 Lancer Books hired him to do covers for their Conan series. Author Robert E. Howard, a Texan who committed suicide at age thirty, had created a character who killed and kicked ass, transcending the well-behaved Tarzan. Those Conan covers cemented Frank’s fame — in 1994 he told interviewer Steven Cerio, “I predicted it would turn the world of illustration upside down. Kind of arrogant, isn’t it? I knew it was a new look; nobody had seen anything like it.” Ultimately, the series’ success institutionalized Conan and provided Arnold Schwartzenegger a vehicle to film stardom (the actor starred in John Milius’ 1982 film Conan the Barbarian). Hey Frank, Arnold owes his career to you. “How did you know that? You know too much. He wrote me a letter.” Did he thank you for inspiration? “Oh yeah.” (Frank didn’t think Arnold fit the part; he preferred Charles Bronson.) The artist produces a copy of Joe Weider’s Muscle Magazine from February 1979, which features a photo of Schwartzenegger looking at Frazetta paintings. The caption reads, “Having posed for Wyeth and Warhol, will Arnold flex for Frank Frazetta next?” Did he ever pose for ya? “Nah. Who’d want any part of it? It’s stupid.”

Did you read Conan? “I didn’t read any of it. It was too opposite of what I do. I told them that. So, I drew him my way. It was really rugged. And, it caught on.” It sure did. “I didn’t care about what people thought. People who bought the books never complained about it. They probably didn’t read them.” Probably not. You put Robert E. Howard on the map. “Yeah. I did it my way. If you don’t like it, get someone else. I’m not affected by what’s out there. What’s good I enjoy, but I still did my thing. I never got an itch to do what another guy did. I couldn’t care less. I did it my way.”

Also in ’65, the brass at United Artists saw Frank’s funny portrait of Ringo Starr in Mad and hired the artist to do a poster for What’s New, Pussycat? The result was a hilarious hyper-cartoon in which nubile starlets and hot dudes romp, clothing askew. “They wanted it in a hurry, and they got it in a hurry. In those days I got maybe two or three hundred dollars for a cover. I got four grand for this.” More movie commissions followed, culminating in his 1977 pseudo-heroic interpretation of Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke for The Gauntlet.

Throughout the 60s and 70s, Frank’s images adorned countless vans and motorcycles. Dormitories and crash pads displayed raunchy Frazetta posters. Kids drew enthusiastic approximations on notebooks. Ballantine Books’ compendiums became required reading. In 1978 his paintings appeared in TV Guide promoting Battlestar Galactica.

No artist completes a career without the requisite movie of one’s own, and sure enough, Frank made his. The forgettable 1982 collaboration with animator Ralph Bakshi, Fire and Ice, languishes in obscurity, echoing the end of that 70s visionary fantasy thing exemplified by Heavy Metal magazine, Roger Dean’s album covers for Yes, and Frank Frazetta.

Frank, perhaps wisely, never did an album cover per se, but two prominent bands managed to snag his art for their covers. The following snippet tells the whole story:

Q: The Molly Hatchet cover —

A: They would have paid anything. They had to have it.

Q: Did you listen to their music?

A: Who cares? It had nothing to do with my painting.

Q: How about Dust? Did you listen to them?

A: Nope. It’s nonsense.

Q: What other rock bands tried to get covers out of you?

A: All of ’em. They all tried. Some of ’em got to me and some didn’t.

Q; Did you like anything about rock?

A: No. Not a bit.

Frank, you reputedly have instant visualization. “So it seems. I just imagine something, and boom! — it comes out as vividly as I saw it. I bashed ’em out in one day.” Tell us about your creative process. “I simply have oils right in front of me — I just find the one I want, I smear it, and I go. I do it so easily, so fast, that most guys don’t believe me. But my friends all see me do it. I’m very quick. Most paintings took a day each.” Isn’t oil a difficult medium for a fast painter? “I use a cobalt dryer that speeds up the drying process. I don’t recommend it.” Are you a night or day painter? “Night painter. I started working at dusk. By the next morning — done. Before you knew it, the time was gone, and I was finished.” (Winiewicz notes: “Frank’s art represents the essence of creative imagination. Without using models or photographs, he digs deep into his imagination and, by sheer intensity of intellect and virtuosity of technique, brings his dreams into reality.”)

Did you drink? “Nope. No dope, nothing.” Were you offered drugs? “You bet. Every single day. My answer was, ‘No thanks,’ I didn’t need it.” Did it occur to you that many of your fans did drugs? “That’s their problem.” Did people say your work was psychedelic? “They can think what they want, I don’t care. There’s nothing really complicated about my work — it’s the fight between the good guy and the bad guy.”

Where is this fantastic netherworld you so often depict? “Look around you. I enjoy making beautiful pictures so that people can see life for what it is. I paint it the way I see it. Don’t you see it that way?”

After Fire and Ice, history relegated Frank to the status of cult idol, important painter, and expander of minds — but the newly-minted punk-rockers just weren’t sporting his stuff on their leather jackets.

A Frank Frazetta museum opened, in Marshall’s Creek, Pennsylvania. The Society of Illustrators inducted him into their Hall of Fame. He received the first Spectrum Grand Master of Fantastic Art award. Glen Danzig’s imprint Verotik published a book of his drawings, and Underwood Books produced lavish volumes of his work. Pop entrepreneurs hit him up for art, for projects that rarely see the light of day. Fans pay big bucks for autographs. His images inspire countless tattoos. Frank, there’re many Frazetta imitators out there. “I’m afraid so. I started a whole line of them.”

The artist suffered debilitating health problems (on his website he writes, “It was almost as if Death had entered…”). He now paints with his left hand — “I switched when I couldn’t use my right hand.” One cannot immediately tell the difference between works executed with either hand. The lovely Eleanor Frazetta, always by his side, assumes more and more business responsibilities as Frank chills out.

He paints over his old paintings, adding figures to what were once abstract vistas, filling the backgrounds with life. Frank, how has art changed since you started out? “It hasn’t changed, really. I feel that life is a little rougher than what you see in most illustration these days. There should be more violence in art. It’s a violent world; everything poses a threat.”

What do you want to say to half a million hip art fans? “You should learn to do your own thing. You never know what you really got. You could be wonderful! Why can’t you at least reach out and grab what you think you see? You don’t have to see it; just think you see it. Who am I to just come along and take the world by storm? It’s silly.”

Are you happy with the way things turned out? “Sure, I just wish I had a lot longer life.” Would you do it again? “I might.” Let’s hope so.

See more of Frazetta’s art AND get directions to his museum at www.frankfrazetta.com