Frank Frazetta a débuté comme dessinateur de comic strips, mais c'est son iconographie de héros musclés, parmi lesquels Conan le Barbare, qui a fait date ; elle inspira des générations d'adolescents.
Né en 1928 à Brooklyn, Frank Frazetta devient en 1944 l'assistant de John Giunta sur "Snowman". En 1946, pour les éditions Pines, il anime "Funny Animals" tout en travaillant pour Prize, Fiction House, Anon, Standard, et beaucoup d'autres éditeurs. Puis, pour Fawcett, il crée "Golden Arrow", et part ensuite chez DC avec le titre "Shinning Knight". En 1949, commence sa collaboration, chez Toby, avec Al Williamson sur un comic consacré à John Wayne. En 1951, chez Magazine Enterprise, paraît sa première grande série, "White Indian", qu'il abandonne dès l'année suivante pour lancer"Thunga of the Congo" sur des textes de Gardner Fox. Pour le McNaught Syndicate, il réalise le strip de "Johnny Comet" d'abord avec Earl Boldwin, puis avec Peter de Paolo.
Après avoir travaillé toute l'année 1953 sur "Flash Gordon" avec Dan Barry, il devient l'assistant d'Al Capp sur "L'il Abner", collaboration qui durera neuf ans. 1962 voit le début de sa carrière d'illustrateur : il livre des dessins à "Play-Boy", "Gent", "Duke" entre autres, et à partir de 1964 aux revues de Jim Warren. Il continuera encore un peu la production de comics avec des noms célèbres comme "Buck Rogers", "Conan le barbare" ou "Vampirella", série auxquelles il apporte son talent de dessinateur reconnu.
S'il signe encore sa dernière BD dans le premier numéro de "Creepy", il abandonne presque complètement le genre pour l'illustration et la peinture dont plusieurs recueils sont sortis. Voir aussi le film d'animation La glace et le feu avec Ralph Bakshi reprenant ses thèmes graphiques. Le Death Dealer est une icône qui eut tellement de succès qu'elle fut illustrée plusieurs fois en raison de sa popularité auprès du public de Frazetta qui adulait ce guerrier sombre, et le personnage fut lui-même romancé. De plus, nombre d'artistes plus jeunes que lui ont été influencés pas son art et ont créé le style d'illustration heroic fantasy. Les livres "The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta" en cinq volumes se sont vendus à plus d'un million d'exemplaires.
Early life and career
Frazetta was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York City. At the age of eight, with the insistence of his school teachers Frazetta's parents enrolled him in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts. He attended the academy for eight years under the tutelage of Michael Falanga, an Italian fine artist. Falanga was struck by Frazetta's significant talent. Frazetta's abilities flourished under Falanga, who dreamed of sending Frazetta to Europe, at his own expense, to further his studies,but Falanga died suddenly in 1944. When the school closed about a year later, Frazetta was forced to find work to earn a living.
At 16, Frazetta started drawing for comic books in various genres: westerns, fantasy, mysteries, histories, and other contemporary themes. Some of his earliest work was in funny animal comics, which he signed as "Fritz." During this period he turned down job offers from giants such as Walt Disney. In the early 1950s, he worked for EC Comics, National Comics, (including the superhero feature "Shining Knight"), Avon, and several other comic book companies. Much of his work in comic books was done in collaboration with friend Al Williamson and mentor Roy Krenkel.
Noticed because of his work on the Buck Rogers covers for Famous Funnies, Frazetta started working with Al Capp on his Li'l Abner comic strip. Frazetta was also producing his own strip, Johnny Comet at this time, as well as assisting Dan Barry on the Flash Gordon daily strip. In 1961, after nine years with Capp, Frazetta returned to regular comics. Having emulated Capp's style for so long, Frazetta's own work during this period looked a bit awkward as his own style struggled to reemerge.
Work in comics was hard to find, however. Comics had changed during his period with Capp, and his style was deemed antiquated. Eventually he joined Harvey Kurtzman, doing the parody strip Little Annie Fanny in Playboy magazine.
Hollywood and book covers
In 1964, Frazetta's painting of Beatle Ringo Starr for a Mad Magazine ad parody caught the eye of United Artists studios. He was approached to do the movie poster for What's New Pussycat?, and earned the equivalent of his yearly salary in one afternoon. He did several other movie posters (see notable works). Frazetta also produced paintings for paperback editions of adventure books. This interpretation of Conan essentially redefined the genre of Sword and Sorcery visually, and had an enormous influence on succeeding generations of artists. From this point on, Frazetta's work was in great demand. During this period he also did covers for other paperback editions of classic Edgar Rice Burroughs books, such as those from the Tarzan and Barsoom (John Carter of Mars) series. He also did several pen and ink illustrations for many of these books. Frazetta attributes much of the violence and brutality of these paintings to his actual experiences as a young man defending himself from the street gangs of Brooklyn. It was also during this time that he turned down an offer from a talent scout to play for the New York Giants.
Since this time, most of Frazetta's work has been commercial in nature, providing paintings and illustrations for movie posters, book jackets, and calendars.Frazetta's commercial work includes several cover paintings and a few comic stories for the Warren Publishing horror magazines Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella.
Once he secured a reputation, movie studios started trying to lure him to work on animated movies. Most, however, would give him participation in name only, with creative control held by others. In the early 1980s, a movie deal was offered which would give him most creative control. Frazetta worked with animated movie producer Ralph Bakshi on the feature Fire and Ice, released in 1983. Many of the characters and most of the story were Frazetta's creations. The movie proved a commercial disappointment, and Frazetta returned to his roots in painting and pen-and-ink illustrations.
Frazetta's paintings have been used by a number of recording artists as cover art for their albums. Molly Hatchet's first two albums feature "The Death Dealer" and "Dark Kingdom" respectively. Dust's second album, Hard Attack, features "Snow Giants". Nazareth used "The Brain" for their 1977 album Expect No Mercy. Frazetta also created brand new cover artwork that appeared on "Buddy Bought The Farm", the second CD of the surf horror band "The Dead Elvi". Recently, Wolfmother used "The Sea Witch" as the cover for their self-titled debut. Wolfmother has also used other Frazetta paintings for the covers of their singles and for some of their merchandise, such as t-shirts.
Frazetta's primary commercial works are in oil, but he also works with watercolor, ink and pencil alone. In his later life, Frazetta has been plagued by a variety of health problems, including a thyroid condition that went untreated for many years. Recently, a series of strokes has impaired Frazetta's manual dexterity to a degree that he has switched to drawing and painting with his left hand. He still continues to find an outlet through sculpture and other means. In 2003, a feature film documenting the life and career of Frazetta was released, entitled, Frank Frazetta: Painting With Fire.
As of 2009, Frazetta lives with his wife Ellie on a 67-acre (271,000 m²) estate in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. They maintain a small museum, open to the public, on the estate. Some of Frazetta's sons make a living selling reproductions of his artwork. One son, Bill, graduated high school in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania in 1978, and Frazetta supplied the cover artwork for the yearbook. Frazetta has had a major and lasting influence on many artists within the genre of fantasy and science fiction, such as Simon Bisley. Boris Vallejo is another fantasy artist with a style broadly similar to Frazetta's along with the fact that he also painted several paperback covers of some of the same science fiction/fantasy characters (e.g., Conan the barbarian, Tarzan) as Frazetta.