Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Frazetta 1977 Exhibit

(The following essay was contributed by longtime collector Charlie Roberts. All the text and photos are (c)2008 by Charlie Roberts. We owe Charlie a debt of gratitude for taking the time to record his reminicences about those early golden days of fandom.)

I first saw Frank Frazetta's art in "Heroic Comics" as a kid in the early 1950's, then in the late 1960's on the newstands which carried Warren magazines with those incredible Frazetta covers which seemed to appear magically almost every month. The photos here are from the 1969 "New York Comic Art Convention" which were put on annually at the Statler Hilton by New York school teacher Phil Seuling on July 4th week-ends for several years. Those were the glory days of comic conventions. Lifelong friendships began there, and everything was relatively inexpensive : Golden Age comics, original art, etc.. There were no "slabbed" comics or Mylar sleeves; if comics were protected at all they went in large plastic "baggies" bought at the grocery store. Original art dealers like Jim Ivey and Joe Parente smoked cigars in the dealers room and piled their original art in high loose stacks on table tops.
Frank was at the convention for the first Warren Magazine Awards ceremony, and couldn't have been nicer. His Dad watched proudly as Frank signed autographs after the awards ( Frank won Top honors and a trophy !). Ellie was excited, and the kids had fun as this special world unfolded before them.
I was living in Northern Virginia, and Gary Groth and Mike Catron began putting on "Metrocon" comic conventions in the Washington, D.C. area. Frank was scheduled as a guest at one in Washington in 1970 and didn't show up on Saturday, disappointing Gary and many fans. John Fantucchio, known for his "Buyer's Guide" and "Rocket's Blast" fanzine covers called Frank at home. Frank and Ellie drove down Sunday morning in their 1949 black Mercury ( cool guy, cool car !). Ellie sat on a chair in the hall with a stack of "Johnny Comet" original dailies for sale at $ 25 each, not selling too many, and Frank gave a talk for an hour or so to 30 or 40 of us in a side room. When they left that evening, Ellie invited all of us up to their house in East Stroudsburg. Wow ! We're friends of the Frazetta's (!) I vowed to follow up on that offer.
In 1973 I moved to Orlando, Florida and became a co-founder of "OrlandoCon" with Jim Ivey, Richard Kravitz, Rob Word, and Neil Austin. Guests at our first convention in September 1974 included Hal Foster, Roy Crane, C.C. Beck, and many other Florida cartoonists.
I moved to Pennsylvania in November 1974, and began putting on the "Lancaster Comic Art Convention" with collector friend Chuck Miller in 1975 in Lancaster, Pa. We did four shows with guests including : Harvey Kurtzman, Burne Hogarth, Jim Steranko, B.B. Sams, Robert Lewis, George Evans, and Kelly Freas.
I finally got up the nerve and called the Frazetta's (after all, they were friends and I had a personal invitation !) , and set up my first visit in February 1976. Needless to say, it was quite the interesting afternoon. I remember actually getting tears in my eyes when Frank showed me the cover art to "Famous Funnies" #211 with Buck Rogers protecting the girl from aliens. I'd been a meatcutter for several years, and wasn't prone to getting choked up at anything ( especially art !) but the brushwork on that cover was incredible. Then he pulled out "Golden Girl", which really got my attention. Frank told me how he listened to Frank Sinatra 78's on the record player as he worked, and we even drove golf balls on the property ( I managed to hit trees and everything else but the fairway). Ellie and the kids were incredible gracious, and it was quite a visit. The 150 mile trip home was filled with elation and a deep respect for these truly n ice people.
Collector friends Mark Feldman and John Taylor had begun putting on the "Maryland Funnybook Festival" just outside of D.C. in the mid 1970's, and had Ellie come down with Frank Jr. and a few paintings for a small exhibit in a hotel room where the convention was held. I went, and when I got home I talked to Chuck about possibly getting Frank as a guest at our convention in Pa.
We set up a visit to the Frazetta's, and went to see them in late 1976 about an all Frank Frazetta exhibit . Ellie said they didn't want to drive to Lancaster, but if we would put on the show in Stroudsburg that would be fine. Frank said he didn't want to attend from the beginning, but Ellie told us she'd try to talk him into it( the ever hopeful "plan B" !). We agreed to hold it at the Penn Stroud Hilton Inn on September 10 and 11 1977 and reserved the banquet room and a larger side room for the "Frazetta 77" exhibit. Chuck would be in charge of the dealer's room, and I was in charge of inviting guests and admission. Chuck made a solo trip to the Frazetta's and picked up some unpublished art and family photos for the shows souvenir booklet. As we laid out the book at Chuck's house I was amazed at Frank's photography skills, and really wish somebody would do a book of his photographs. He's as great a photographer as he is an artist. We tried to combine art and photographs from front to back so they flowed, with minimal text except the title "Memory Book". Intended as a modest black and white showcase of Frank's family and art, Chuck had some 1358 copies printed with a matching cover envelope.
As for the guest list, I began by offering free admission to all students at the "Kubert School" and actually had to go see Joe Kubert at the school in New Jersey for his approval. We wound up with two busloads of eager art students. Guests included : Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, Jerry Robinson, Burne Hogarth, Bernie Wrightson, Steve Hickman, Mike Kaluta, Charles Vess, Ian and Betty Ballantine, and Ken Kelley.
Advance admissions from the public included Dave Winiewicz (# 2 !) Wally Harrington, Bill Turner, John and Mary Fantuchhio, and fanzine publisher Bill Wilson.
The exhibit included 40 paintings, the "Famous Funnies" covers, "Weird Science-Fantasy" # 29, and numerous pen & inks. Ellie had us hire a 24 guard, and valued the whole exhibit at One Million Dollars. As a point of reference, the Frazetta's were offering just the cover to "Weird Science-Fantasy" #29 for One Million Dollars at the opening of "Geppi's Entertainment Museum" in Baltimore in 2006.
Frank lived up to his word and didn't attend the exhibit; in fact, he fertilized the lawn at the house the Saturday of the show ! We had a panel with Will Eisner, Jerry Robinson, and Burne Hogarth, but Hogarth dominated the lecture when he found out there were art students in the audience. Later that day the three of them visited Frank to discuss collector Richard Pryor's " Collector's Press" art print portfolio. Ellie, Harvey Kurtzman, Bernie Wrightson and Steve Hickman were on another panel.
It's hard to beleive that 31 years have passed since the exhibit. I continue to be in awe of Frank's art and photographs, and grateful to Dave for presenting this showcase of his work. Frank Frazetta continues to be an amazing presence in the art world, and it was quite an honor to be involved with "Frazetta 77".

PHOTO COLLAGE description: Shown left to right, top to bottom : Frank with Warren Magazine's Artist of the Year trophy and Bernie Wrightson ; Frank's Dad ; Frank and Jim Warren at trophy presentation ceremony ; Ellie with Frank Junior, Billy, and Holly ; Frank signing autographs as Jim Warren watches ; and Frank talking to Al Williamson.



Rich Dannys said...

I'm glad to see that you've enabled the Comments secton once again, Dave.. It was sorely missed, from my perspective. As it allows others to "add" to each Post. Oftentimes, in interesting ways..
A few bad apples can spoil the barrel, occasionally. But with the Moderation feature turned on.. you should do fine!

Wow!! What a great story.. I had no idea you were involved in all of these Conventions, thru the years!
The old photos of the show are outstanding. And getting the behind-the-scenes viewpoint, made for a very engaging read!

Mind-boggling that the 'Johnny Comet' strips would be a slow seller, at $25 a pop?!!

I was lucky enough to buy one of the 1358 'Memory Book' publications (with envelope) from the late Harry Kremer, at a local convention here, many many moons ago.. He ran Kitchener Ontario's NOW & THEN BOOKS shop.
It's still a treasured collectible for me.. As it has stuff in there, that isn't included in any of the recent Frazetta collections..

What is your take on the upcoming 'Frazetta Comic Art' book, from Underwood? Do you have a rundown of what will all be included?

Richard said...

again thank you SO much for doing a HUGE fan of Franks work having a place like this is extremely enjoyable.


richard friend.