Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Frazetta In San Diego 1995

(The following essay appeared in the Fenner/Underwood art volume TESTAMENT back in 2000. Arnie Fenner asked me to contribute a short piece on Frank's appearance at the San Diego Comic Con. At some point in the future I plan to expand the essay. So much happened.)

I have been a close friend of Frank Frazetta for over 20 years. Periodic visits and weekly phone calls have provided me with a wealth of fascinating conversations and interesting experiences. One of the most interesting was the 1995 SanDiego Comic Convention which Frank decided to attend along with his wife, Ellie. At the time, Frank was recovering from exploratory chest surgery. Luckily, it was a cancer scare that turned out to be nothing at all. Most people would take it easy for several weeks. Frazetta’s answer was to attend the biggest comic con in the world. It was the first major con that Frazetta attended in over 20 years, and it was unannounced. Frank and Ellie arrived as private attendees in order to avoid the “official” pressures of panels and autograph sessions.

The rumors of Frazetta’s presence sent shockwaves throughout the immense hall. So much for Frank’s thoughts about a quiet, leisurely stroll through the aisles! Frank was immediately accorded the status of visiting superstar celebrity. Everyone wanted to see him, be near him. His presence was electric. Curious reactions appeared. People would walk-up to Frank and start to tremble and shake; one young girl started to cry in such an extreme fashion that she almost collapsed. Many people simply wanted to shake Frank’s hand and say “thank you”. Most people did not realize how deeply Frazetta had affected their lives, how intimately they had been touched by the magic power of his art. The brutal shock of seeing Frank in person unleashed torrents of honest emotion. Frank was quite moved by all the adulation, awe, and respect.

Even the professionals got excited: Dave Stevens ran to the hallway to call his parents and let them know that he’d met Frank. Mike Kaluta made sure he showed Frank his latest watercolors. Bill Stout made sure his son met Frank and got his autograph. The Hildebrandt Brothers bowed upon meeting Frank. Other artists and pros flocked around Frank: Joe Jusko (who bought a great pencil of a cat from Ellie), Julie Bell (who spoke extensively with Frank in Dave Stevens’ booth), Danzig (who got Frank to do a spirited autograph signing at his Verotik booths), Simon Bisley (who attended a high-energy dinner with Frank and Ellie; they were fascinated by Simon’s distinctive humor and character), Clayburn Moore, Chris Achilleos (who said “such life, such life; he is the maestro”.), Mark Schultz, Sergio Aragones, and many more. Upon seeing and meeting Frazetta for the first time, Boris Vallejo said: “You are the ultimate master; there will never be another greater than you.” Kind and gracious words, indeed- a real touch of class on the part of Boris.

Frank bypassed an offer to dine “on the house” by the owners of the local PLANET HOLLYWOOD restaurant in order to spend time with more fans. Members of the creative team from JURASSIC PARK showed Frank their sketchbooks in his hotel room. Frank was constantly bombarded with sketchbooks and autograph requests. These reflections literally scratch the surface of an intense 4-day period.

One more story: Frank, Ellie, and I went to the world-famous SanDiego Zoo early one morning. It was a cold, dreary, and misty day. In almost mystical fashion, the animals awoke from their morning slumber as Frazetta walked by. The big cats roared; the monkeys screamed. The Kings of the jungle paying tribute to one of their own? The memory is vivid, unsettling, and strange. Frazetta is a most unusual man, a force of nature, a genuine living American treasure.

Dr. Dave Winiewicz (c)2000