Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Couple Of Minutes With Frazetta

This little piece of footage was shot in June, 2000. We are in Frank's studio along with the documentary crew. The first voice you hear is me followed by questions from Lance Laspina, the director of the documentary. The crew spent the entire week with Frank and the cameras were rolling throughout the whole time. Bear in mind that Frank had just recovered from several debilitating strokes and was currently suffering from a very bad sinus condition that caused his eye to swell. It was an absolute miracle to see him doing this well. His sense of humor was intact. He was always gracious and kind. Looking at this reminds me again of how much fun and pleasure he brought into everyone's life. I miss him deeply. We had so much fun for so many years.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Frazetta, Reality, and Presence

Let us consider a larger issue that lightly touches on aesthetics, a dab of philosophy, and a bit of critical thinking. Bear with me for a few paragraphs.

A friend was in the Louvre recently and showed me a little video he shot with his phone in the room displaying the MONA LISA. No one was looking at the oil. There were at least a hundred people in the room. Everyone was looking at his or her phones. Most were sending text messages. The MONA LISA was a secondary consideration at best. These people did not want to SEE the MONA LISA. They just wanted to SAY that they were there, in proximity to her. Hence, all the furious texting going on. I ask the question: Does the MONA LISA still exist as a world masterpiece charged with the energy of history’s opinion that it is a life-changing cultural monument for the ages? Do masterpieces still exist? Can they exist in this new cultural/technological, anti-intellectual climate? The great writer G.K Chesterton said, “Art is the signature of man.” If we lose the primal experience of art, then are we not losing our souls as men? Are we not being diminished?

This is a serious issue. I think that reality itself has become degraded.

The ability to see, to concentrate, to deliberate are becoming lost skills. The cultural formation provided by schools has become cheapened. Traditional education has been lost and obliterated, replaced by easy training and easier grades. Traditional concepts and values that can be traced back to Socrates have been replaced by a rampant ethical relativism and cheaply applied multiculturalism. A graduating class at Oxford University was recently told: “Your four years of education should teach you one thing, namely, the ability to distinguish between reality and bullshit.” The distinction between appearance and reality is a problem as old as humanity itself. All the great philosophers, writers, and poets deal with it constantly. It is critical now. Reality is being lost, replaced by a false reality with false values and hidden truths. Great men with vision and integrity have been replaced by a new breed of sophist with no respect for truth or tradition, self-aggrandizing and self-promoting pundits without character or substance. These are the leaders who are fabricating our new reality and manipulating our perceptions and values. The very meaning of what constitutes “culture” is changing before my horrified eyes. In the 1960’s, eminent scholar of culture and technology, Marshall McLuhan, predicted that the various forms of media would become increasingly dominant and transform all aspects of our lives. He has been proven true.

As video games become bigger, louder, more “real”, the nuances of nature herself become devalued and degraded. Our perception is changed; it is watered down; its compelling force is lost. Does anyone walk without an ipod or phone in their ear? Does anyone drive without being on the phone? Is anyone solidly “IN THE WORLD” any more? The meaning of time itself has been compromised. Time is a continuous parade of present moments. The past is a mountainous anchor; the future is something to hope for. The “present” is all we have; it is where we live. It is the rich juice of life that flows from the present moments we occupy. Art should force one to be “in the moment”, to exclude all else, to drink deeply of the richness presented. This is being lost with multi-tasking and the constant assault of data and communication. Aggrandizing data has fully replaced the intimate pleasure of richly experienced knowledge and wisdom. The present has been cut apart and distilled. Its rich energy replaced by cultural facsimiles. We are blasted by the incessant drumbeat of technological cacophony that directly destroys the integrity and full richness of the present moment. The present becomes distilled, fragmented, and denatured. The result? The art of living is being lost. We seem to be turning our backs on one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given. If I recall, the poet T.S Elliott asked: “Where is the life we have lost in living?” We are, indeed, living half-lives half-lived.

I was recently hiking in Monument Valley in Utah. A more magical place simply does not exist in the United States. The Navajo nation built a hotel right in the valley. It is a spectacular spot with amazing light, color, and vistas that constantly change. While standing there on the edge looking at this vast immense beauty I looked around me. All the other tourists were sitting down looking away from the valley and, once again, making phone calls or texting. To me it was almost a sacrilege. I felt profoundly sorry for all the people that could not muster really serious appreciation for this magical gift in front of them. Again, nature has been devalued and marginalized in human perception. I have stood in front of a Rembrandt self-portrait in the National Museum and been transfixed by its power. The psychological intensity present in that paint is nothing short of miraculous. During my graduate student days in Toronto I was graced to see Vermeer’s GIRL WITH PEARL EARRING as part of an exhibition at the ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO. I carry that haunting image with me every single day. It buried itself deeply into my soul. It is, at once, a deep pleasure and an enduring mystery. Often I use it as my wallpaper and deliberate upon its intensity and effect. Another example is the great CRUCIFIXION scene by El Greco in the CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART. It is a masterpiece that overwhelms the viewer. There is so much there, so much passion, symbolism, and resonances to the deep past. It is profoundly human, profoundly moving whether you are Christian or not. It is that mysterious quality that all great art has from the caves of Lascaux and Altamira to a great Frazetta Conan. Yes, of course, I place Frazetta in that great line of world-class creators.

The Frazetta sketch sheet I reproduce at the top of this essay is a masterpiece. It is alive! It is three dimensional, a living world to enter. Frank labels it as his favorite rough. It is the study he did for the MASTER OF ADVENTURE paperback cover. He was very pleased with the study. He even mentions it during Russ Cochran’s interview in volume 3 of the ERB LIBRARY OF ILLUSTRATION volume. The original explodes with energy and is steeped in atmosphere. The colors are subtle and carefully blended. It is a multi-media candy store of pencil, watercolor, gouache, and oils. Frank took great pains to get the figure of Tarzan bellowing at the moon just right. The composition is seamless perfection. When looking at it in the original, one can really feel the jungle and viscerally respond to Tarzan’s wild presence. The music Frank chose to mention at the top of the page was something he was listening to at the time of its creation. The music is very moody and mysterious, a perfect blend with the setting. The final painting is different. Frank added a bunch of animals. He clogged-up the visual space. It was not a success and he knew it. He quickly repainted the whole scene, keeping only the foreground limbs and adding a standing girl. It was very unusual for Frank to go from a perfect idea and have it lead to something so poorly expressed in the final stage. I never asked Frank about that. I assumed it was a sore point with him.

Can collectors and art lovers of the last few generations really appreciate a work such as this? The mindset now is clearly different. I have seen the changes and they are striking. Ebay has turned one-time serious collectors into flipper/dealers. Speculation and investment rule the discussions. The art takes a back seat to tertiary considerations. Intrinsic artistic quality is replaced by the soft comforts of pursuing nostalgia. If someone today holds onto a work of art for one year, it is almost miraculous. When the hunt is over the art loses its cache. Is the art less satisfying now? It’s no longer needed for aesthetic gratification. The pursuit and acquisition of art has replaced the supreme satisfaction of owning it and LOOKING AT IT! A quick profit and on to the next piece. A good scan will suffice, or a good xerox. The appeal of authenticity, the touch of the hand, the living applications of color, are being lost or, at the least, greatly compromised. The nature of art itself has become transformed. The Japanese had a phrase: That is a work of art one can die for. The meaning is that seeing that work of art is so completely satisfying that death would not seem wrong after seeing it. Today, that type of aesthetic intensity has been replaced by a quick museum walk-through and a few side-glances, or, perhaps, a completely mitigated experience replete with museum talking sticks spouting generic patter to the dutiful, wooden-eyed listeners. That type of environment does sicken me greatly. Critical thinking, cognitive attentiveness, and intense concentration become transformed. The great French philosopher, Etienne Gilson, has said that a human being can only appreciate one or, perhaps, two masterpieces in a given day. That level of concentration, contemplation and deliberation is long gone. And, of course, most modern art is not deserving of that time investment anyway. Frazetta is the exception here.

Back to our main point…big or little, sketch or finished oil, a masterpiece can be defined as the amount of pure authentic life is transferred to the viewer. If art can be considered a flow of soul from the depths of the artist’s imagination to the paper or canvas, then a masterpiece is present if that work is pure, not derivative, and sings with the powerful imaginative voice of the artist. It is an artist discovering perfection within himself and giving birth to that perfection in his studio. As another great French philosopher Jacques Maritain explains, an artist has a flash of creative intuition within him that generates the birth of art. Life is born and, at the same time, new beauty is given to the world. The world becomes enlarged by this. Human life has been touched, expanded, deepened, and transformed. Great art is fully transformative. Frazetta has done this on many occasions. He has achieved perfection. I have seen people cry once they entered the old Frazetta Museum. They were so immediately and profoundly touched, that their emotions were spontaneously unleashed. It is an amazing sight to see. I’ve seen it happen several times. Great art has a special “presence”. There is no other word that describes it better. Art engages us; its presence exerts a hold on us; it penetrates us and thoroughly enhances our lives. Thomas Aquinas describes it this way: “Actualitas rei est quoddam lumen ipsius. The actuality/reality of a thing is, in a way, its light.” Beautifully expressed is it not? The actuality, the very reality of something, is a light that reveals the world in its majesty and beauty and truth. Yes, it is mysterious. We are talking about a phenomenon that really does transcend language. Words are but one type of communication. Truth is transmitted by many different modes of communication, i.e. sculpture, poetry, music, etc. We are on the outside looking in, trying to express something that cannot be logically explained. Thank God for the mysteries around us. We must be sensitive to them, cherish them. They push us to a creative apprehension of life. We cannot lose that. If we lose the world, then we also lose our basic humanity, our magical souls. The great German poet Holderlin summarizes it quite succinctly:

“Poetically man dwells.”

©2011 Dr. Dave Winiewicz

Sunday, October 23, 2011

One Quiet Night...Frazetta Begins To Dream

The arc of a life is composed of many deliberate decisions and many moments of sheer serendipity that profoundly influence the ultimate outcomes within an individual’s life. Frank Frazetta has had a very long career in the art field and he has had many important moments within that sixty years. The decision to assist John Giunta and enter the comic book field and the decision to leave comics and join Al Capp as a ghost artist on L’il Abner are but two examples of defining moments in his career that had long term implications. However, as I consider the long expanse of Frank’s career, there is one moment that stands out as absolutely critical. In the fall of 1960, Frank doesn’t remember the exact month; he retired to his studio after the family had gone to bed. The night was quiet and a bit cool. He made himself a cup of coffee and was ready to watch TV. He glanced at the chaos of his drawing table and noticed some colored pencils. Suddenly, he had an urge to draw. He grabbed the pencils and found a small, cheap notebook. He decided to put on some classical music. He left the studio, grabbed the coffee, and sat down on the far left side of his faux zebra skin sofa near to the light. He took a sip of coffee and started to dream. His mind opened and a torrent of images raced through his consciousness. He was alert and inspired. He started to draw. The images just jumped onto the paper. He conjured up different scenes…cowboys, cavemen fighting, a graceful nude, prehistoric scenes, a Masai warrior ritual, and a Tarzan-like image of a warrior delicately balanced in jungle foliage. He did another scene with a large-breasted totally-nude Queen on her throne with lion and servant (This image has never been published). Frank remembers that these images appeared as if by magic. They were relentless in leaping out of his imagination. The art was flawless, beautifully colored, with elegant designs. All executed with color pencils. The blended tints are a foreshadowing of what would appear in his oils.

Frank doesn’t recall if these drawings were done over the course of one or several nights. It doesn’t matter. Frank needed to draw these images. Something called to him and he responded. After all those years of picking up a check, raising a family, and drawing bigfoot comic characters for Al Capp, Frank needed to look inside of himself to see what was there. There was plenty! Frazetta had begun to dream again, the seed was planted; the real Frazetta was being reborn in those quiet evening hours. Bear in mind that Frazetta did very little personal creative work during his tenure with Al Capp. On two or three occasions he did attend a life-drawing class with Al Williamson, Roy Krenkel, and others. This happened in 1957. He drew over a hundred drawings. Interesting work, but it pales in comparison to the creative work he did during 1944-1955. Roy Krenkel knew that Frank was wasting his talent by limiting himself to ghosting chores for Capp. Roy knew that there was greatness in Frank waiting to re-emerge. This little series of colored pencil drawings was the catalyst for Frank’s emergence.

Later, he finished off this flow of creativity by attempting a work that was a bit bigger and more ambitious. This drawing was first published on the cover to FRAZETTA FANZINE #1 in 1969 (although drawn in 1960). It was published in B/W, but the fans were still in awe. What a piece of art! Where did this come from? It is a little piece of perfection and it opened the door for Frazetta to emerge with all his formidable power and irrepressible imagination. The “Lion Queen” exhibits all the major elements that would define Frazetta’s later worldbeater career: delicately drawn vegetation, an incredible lion companion, a mysterious palace/fortress engulfed in strange mists, and a drop dead sensual Frazetta female replete with glowing thighs and knockout body. Every element of Frank’s artistic personality can be found in this image. This piece is as good as anything Frank ever did. One could rhapsodize about this creation for pages. There is so much there, so much to be seen and felt:

"for more than a few moments. It’s one of those magical places wise people like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true, is that, once you’ve been there, you’re there forever. "
Mary Oliver, b.1935 American Poet

It is a majestic work and its importance to the coming career of Frazetta cannot be overstated. This was the piece that gave him confidence and launched him into his future. From here, it was a short leap to the world of paperbacks and the other oils and watercolors that influenced generations of artists and redefined the standards for artistic excellence.

All because one night Frank had the urge to draw, to dream, to go back and recapture the essence of his childhood pleasure. Thank God for those colored pencils!

Dr. Dave Winiewicz

A thank you to Rich Dannys for the image of the battling dinosaurs. This was another unseen treasure that only recently emerged from a private collection.

Posted by docdave
at 6:48 AM


Jason Moore said...
Hi Dave,
I see not many have commented on your blog, so I would like to take a moment to do so. I wanted to let you know that I am really enjoying your commentary and insight into Frazetta's work. I have been a fan ever since I was a teen and he has really influenced my work. My dream is to one day be able to visit the Frazetta Museum and one day to possibly meet Frank somehow lol.
Again, thanks alot for your insights and I am looking forward to reading much more!
May 23, 2008 8:27 AM

Excellent piece. Frazetta's work has astonished me since a boy, and had an enormous influence on my own artistic explorations. Thanks for returning to your writing concerning this prodigious creator.

May 23, 2008 12:33 PM

Tracy said...

Ever since seeing some of these in the early Ballantine books I have always loved the soft and subtler shadings and feelings of these images. I had no idea of the story you just told, but it makes me love them even more.

Even as much as I love his oils, these like the pencils seem to always gravitate to my favourite spots. It would have been cool to see him do something along these lines in the oils. There is so much more to these than the oils could ever bring in my opinion.

Thanks Dave!

May 24, 2008 7:42 AM

Scott Rosema said...
Hi Dave,

Thanks very much for your insightful essays on Frazetta's work. It's truly a "co-inspiration" along with Frank's work itself. 

I can feel the creativity growing inside me as well. 

I'd like Frank, Ellie, their family and yourself to know how very, very much I appreciate the presence in my life all of you, through Frank's work and inspiration, represent.

Please enjoy my work as well. When you have a moment, look over my web site pages at: 
Tell Frank of me and help me to let him know how much his work has truly been a foundation for me to pursue my own visions of beauty.

I hope he understands what it means to have his work "live" in others. I know it does in me; and that is something that defies all meanings of worth or value. It is something that goes beyond influence or flattery. 

I believe it borders on something very close to immortality; or, dare I say, divinity? What, after all, is the bigger pursuit in life than the expression of truth and beauty?

Franks work has always had those qualities; in absolute abundance.

Any truly great artist does. 

Thanks very much for any help you can give me in getting these words to Frank.

I'm excited to hear your next essay.

Thanks again! I do my own dreaming on those kind of quiet nights.

Take care!
Scott Rosema
May 26, 2008 9:12 PM

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Frazetta's Death Dealer Unmasked

Tor paperbacks contacted Frazetta in the 1980’s with the idea of producing a series of Death Dealer novels. They wanted some new oils to place on the covers. Frank liked the idea and immediately set to work to find a writer and he started doing a series of Death Dealer watercolor studies in a fresh new sketchbook. He numbered the studies consecutively as he finished them. Jim Silke was hired to write the books and Jim incorporated a lot of imagery from all the other works in the Frazetta body of art. After a number of these books were published Frank thought that it might be necessary to reveal the Death Dealer without his helmet. Frank said: “If this thing takes off, then the fans will want to see him. You can’t have him with his helmet on all the time. At some point the mystery has to end. I wanted to have the Death Dealer as a no-nonsense no-bullshit kind of guy. A hero with very strong features, sunken eyes, prominent cheekbones, just very strong features…hard, intense, intimidating. This is a guy who will kick your ass at a moment’s notice, like a jungle cat seeing his prey and IMMEDIATELY pouncing. No holding back…pure animal intensity. I only did the one drawing. It turned out pretty nice. I was happy with it.”

Alas, the books faded. I’m not sure if there were other money considerations at play in the demise of the series. It did motivate Frank to paint some incredible works. We should all be thankful for that. All the watercolor studies were given life as oils except for two. Those two studies have never been published. Frank never got around to painting them. One of the Death Dealer studies was painted as a left-handed oil during his last years. It has never been published or seen.

©2011 DocDave Winiewicz

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Another Hidden Frazetta Female

The illustrations executed for the Doubleday Series in the early to mid-1970’s are very uneven in quality. Frank said that he was just trying to draw some interesting designs. He had no great ambitions for this series. The best of the lot are the ones containing full female images. No surprise, is it? Frank has a hard time drawing a female poorly. The image I am reproducing with this essay was buried in a collection for 35 years. The collector bought it from Russ Cochran in the 1970’s and kept it all these years as a constant source of joy and satisfaction. How many originals these days will bring that type of long term aesthetic joy? Very few, indeed.

The girl in this drawing is all pen except for the daubs on the hair. Frank used a little brush on the slab figure. He wanted the form on the slab to be a bit softer to the eye. The female form is simply exquisite. She stops, looks, experiences shock, then gently lifts her left arm and hand in a gesture of sympathetic emotion. Her right hand goes to her mouth in seeing the horror. A delicate response and a movement caught at just the right moment. Beautiful. Like all Frazetta women, she is soft, and invitingly erotic. The published version added a skirt to cover her buttock area. How typically puritanical of the art editor: crappy publishing quality along with heavy-handed censorship. And yet, if the truth is told, we still loved the books and the art. It gave birth to a vigorous cottage industry of bootleg publications. The fans just wanted more and more Frazetta of any sort.

We still do!

©2011 Doc Dave Winiewicz

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The POWER of Frazetta

I want to thank everybody who has been supporting this website. Amazingly, one of the essays from last week received 57,000 viewings. This is an unbelievable number and it indicates the power Frazetta and how much people enjoy reading about Frazetta. The number of people enjoying this site appears to be growing exponentially. I have attached a crop from the data overview portion of this blog. I don't want anyone to think that I'm exaggerating.

I've been approached to do advertising on this site, but I refused everyone. I don't want this page to look like a NASCAR ad. I want to keep it simple and keep it on point.



Saturday, October 15, 2011

Frazetta And Krenkel

There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about the relationship between Frazetta and Roy Krenkel. What is completely clear is that Frank thought the world of Roy. They were very dear friends. Roy reciprocated their unconditional friendship. The dynamic of the "fleagles" looked like this: Frank was very close with Roy, Nick Meglin, and Angelo Torres. He was less close with Al Williamson. There are many reasons for this. Most people think that Frank and Al were always extremely close. Not true. They were hang-around buddies, but Frank felt closest to Roy. Al was very best friends with Roy. The basic unease between Frank and Al can be traced to the very early 50’s. It’s a long story and not something I want to pursue right now. I heard both sides of the story from Frank and Al. They agreed on the facts and the results.

Many people think that Frank was influenced by Roy’s artwork. Not true at all. I asked Frank about this on several occasions.

Frank said clearly: "Roy was my friend, real good friends. I’d do anything for him. We had great times. He was always showing me books that he picked up. He loved all the artists. He copied all of them. He would copy and copy, sketch and sketch. I yelled at him. Do your own work! Forget those guys! Show them all what YOU have. He lacked confidence. He was insecure. I don’t know why. We gave up trying to figure him out. We tried to set him up on dates. Many times. Nice girls, no dogs. He never once accepted. Not once. Ellie used to sit on his lap and flirt with him. He turned redder than a beet. I think he died a virgin. Everyone was getting laid but Roy. He just didn’t care. He loved drawing those fat women of his. It drove us crazy. We started to draw them too. I don’t know where THAT came from.

My approach to art was different. His style had no affect on me. Nothing. I did my own art. I enjoyed making it up. I tried to help him. I couldn’t teach him. I tried. We had a sketchbook where I would draw a page, and then Roy would draw a page. We would compare them and talk about the differences. Remember that sketch sheet I gave you where Roy and I drew some cats. We even talked about how the whiskers should be added to the face. We both loved cats, big cats.

He liked to collect things, to find new artists. Every week he showed me someone new. He proclaimed him the greatest this or that. Al would get wrapped up in all that too. They drove me nuts. I looked at it and saw nothing. I could do better and did. We did help one another with jobs. We all needed dough and we all helped out one another. It was fun. All night sessions of drawing and joking. Good laughs, good times.”

The above drawing is from the great 1954 sketchbook. Frank is doing a spoof on Roy’s “fatties”. The lively and idiosyncratic animation of Roy’s figure is pure Frazetta. Tremendous energy and ribald subject-matter fill the page. Frank was having some fun here. And Frank manages to misspell Roy’s name TWICE!!!

© 2011 Dr. Dave Winiewicz

All art © the Frazetta Estate and cannot be used without permission.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Frazetta's Fine Lines

Everyone considers Frank Frazetta to be one of the world’s great painters. This fact is clear and unquestioned. However, more attention needs to be paid to his pen-and-brush linework because, in my opinion (and I am not alone in this thought), Frazetta is the finest draftsman who has ever lived. Frazetta has far surpassed the greatest of those who preceded him, e.g. Daniel Vierge, Mariano Fortuny, Joseph Clement Coll, Alex Raymond, and Hal Foster. That is a group of distinguished illustrators with huge, well-deserved reputations. Frazetta, however, is in a class all by himself. Frazetta utilizes a varied approach to drawing depending on his ultimate end, be it sketchwork or finished illustration. There is no set pattern that he uses. Consider his sketchwork. Most of Frazetta’s sketches are done simply for the joy of drawing. Sometimes, he will lightly draw lines in pencil and then ink over this. Often he will simply allow the pen to play and see where it leads him. Frazetta’s line is really one of the wonders of the world and has never been matched. Consider the exceptional sketch of a fight scene with its loose lines and vibrant energy. Frazetta's line appears to sing and dance and play all over the page. This free-flowing doodle is really the visual armature for a more finished drawing. These lines are used as a dynamic reference map from which he will choose defining lines and patterns of movement. Now consider the sketch of the barbarian and female supplicant. This sketch is very finished, yet full of vitality and subtlety. Frazetta’s linework is loose and seemingly spontaneous, yet he captures the subject in all its power and nuances. The soft lines and lighting of the girl (not to exclude the provocatively upturned breast and visually tantalizing nipple) are dynamically opposed to the rough, gritty hardness of the barbarian with his overwhelming rocklike girth and imperiously gesturing arm. The phallus-like scabbard is a typically inspired Frazetta “touch” that engages our imaginations and fuels speculation about the precise nature of this tableaux. What’s going on here? Is the girl his mistress? A captive? An errant child who has been caught? Frazetta entertains us here with a virtuoso presentation of narrative drama, visual power, and subtle suggestiveness. I doubt if there is another artist who can blend these elements so seamlessly. Frazetta does this time and time again. In doing so, he brings us beyond the surface obviousness to an understanding of the deeper intention of the artist. These little efforts by Frazetta are little jewels of personal insight, technical mastery, and private delight.
Frazetta reaches his highest creative pinnacle with the Canaveral Press drawings from 1962-1965. Frank was commissioned to illustrate several books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Two books were published: TARZAN AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1962) and TARZAN AND THE CASTAWAYS (1965). Other books were planned but never published, although an edition of EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS: MASTER OF ADVENTURE by Richard Lupoff was published in 1965 with several Frazetta drawings. Frazetta executed a total of 27 full drawings and 5 small spot illustrations for this Canaveral Press series. Each drawing is a polished piece of highly sophisticated perfection. Frazetta was showing the world what he could do at a time when he wanted to establish a name for himself. Each drawing is a little miracle of power and refinement. The technique Frazetta employed in all these drawings is akin to the sumi-e inkwash paintings of the Japanese. These are drawings with a carefully controlled tonal range that varies from solid black to the lightest of water-thinned ink tones. Frank does this to control the level of contrast in the designs and to control carefully what the eye sees first and last. The result are pieces with sustained intellectual interest. Each drawing easily warrants its’ own essay. Let me comment on just one, namely, the great fight scene between David Innes and Jubal the Ugly One. What is obvious at first glance is the incredible energy and dynamism exploding from the composition. The ferocious power of the hero’s punch has lifted the huge bulk of Jubal right off his feet. Jubal’s horrific head is turned, his arms flail in an attempt to gain balance, and rocks fly from his dislodged footing. Provocatively posed in the foreground is the about-to-be-rescued heroine. Her wild hair indicates that her attention has just been violently turned from Jubal to David Innes. Everything is in motion; nothing is static. The eye and mind are immediately captured by this visual whirlwind. The intricately circulating rhythm of arms and hair and clothing is simply a delight. Frazetta’s line contains no hesitations; it is swift and forceful. Every dip of the brush flows with passion and creative exuberance.
Someone might say that this is just a conventional, stereotypical scene of hero, monster, and girl that has been seen thousands of times before. This scene is a visual cliché that has been repeatedly drawn and painted. This is obviously true, however, stereotypes are necessary components in constructing any type of myth. Without stereotypes and visual tropes communication becomes impossible. The key is in how these elements are handled. Consider all the subtle nuance that is hidden in this drawing. Firstly, the hero is presented rather small in stature. A multitude of softly drawn lines define his belly and suggest a bit of muscle. Frazetta’s ability to suggest textures through ink is unrivalled. The rest of David Innes is virtually all gesture. The uncoiling of Innis results in the recoiling of Jubal; a perfect, seemless interplay of forms in motion. Jubal’s bulk looms over the scene and dominates the visual space; his heavily-muscled back and legs are a feast for the eye and provide a unique surface rhythm for the mind to play with. The precisely-weighted lines are carefully placed to achieve maximum impact. However, this extremely formidable foe has just been vanquished by a man. This is a man that we can identify with: lean, not overly large, yet filled with heroic rage and intensity. Human emotion has been perfectly translated into gesture. Frazetta has infused this scene with an important element of believability and reality. This heightens the engagement of the mind with the subject-matter. His lines are vivacious and mercurial, yet carefully focused. Frazetta prefers expressiveness over lifeless perfection and, thus carefully prunes his compositions of anything superfluous.
After the initial visual shock of this masterful confrontation, the eye is drawn to the sprawling, seductive form of Dian the Beautiful in the foreground. Once again, Frazetta entertains us with the sensuous magic of his drawing, but adds little touches that define his greatness as a creative master. We’ve already commented on the swinging movement of the hair that defines her place in the story. Her entire figure emerges from the foreground shadow as if a rare dream is materializing in front of our amazed eyes. She also provides a soft counterpoint to the heavy rockwork to her right. Note how Frank deepens the shadows of the rocks from top to bottom. These rocks anchor the design and prevent it from turning into a visual chaos. The heroine’s leg not only provides a direct compositional line that leads the eye back into the composition, but it enchants the connoisseur along the way. The right side of the leg is defined by the background; there is no explicitly drawn line. This is virtuosity at its peak and, once again, adds to the reality of the scene. The deliciously-rounded buttocks are, of course, a Frazetta trademark. Once again, Frank indicates the stress and emotion present in the girl by having her buttocks slightly clenched. Notice the slightly-portruding muscle on the right side where upper thigh and buttock join. The soft rendering in those areas is perfection itself. That disarming lightness of touch provides a counterpoint to the heaviness of the overall subject-matter. Another little Frazetta “touch” is the soft lighting seen in the underside of the left buttock. This is an almost lecherous element that invites the eye in to a most private area. Passion, violence, and sex are close relations; Frazetta recognizes that quite clearly. Once again, we see Frazetta taking a scene of great power and, by infusing it with his own unique creative imagination and taste, transforms it into a world-class piece of ART. The great Canaveral Plates have never been matched, and never will be. They are a legacy for the world and an ongoing inspiration and challenge to generations of artists.
The later drawings of Frazetta, referring to the Doubleday series of books in the 1970’s and the Middle Earth portfolio pieces, represent a different style and approach. At this stage, Frazetta is drawing as a painter, not as a draftsman. Intricate schemes of rendering are replaced by large placements of wash tone. This requires a separate essay to do it justice. This period is wonderful in its’ own way, but it does not come near the special magic of the Canaveral years.
Owning a nice sketch or drawing by Frazetta is just as satisfying as owning a major painting. Why? From the simplest sketch to the most major oil everything appears to be alive. Frazetta's soul LIVES in his art and the magic of art is that we can share in his wondrous gift. His art enhances our lives and, as with all great art, enduring art, it makes the world a richer, more satisfying, place.

DocDave Winiewicz (c)2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Frazetta's La Of Opar

Just before the big Frazetta Halloween show in 1994 being held at the ALEXANDER GALLERY on Madison Avenue in NYC, Alex Acevedo (the owner) was buying a lot of Frazetta originals. Frank was in a selling mood because he was trying to pay off his newly purchased home in Boca Grande, Florida. This was going to be the new home of the Frazetta Museum.

Alex was quite interested in buying the Tarzan meets LA of Opar watercolor. Frank would not sell it because of the pornographic nature of the piece. Tarzan was shown with a huge erection. This made the piece. One of the slave girls was looking down at the erection with obvious lust in her eyes. The Queen was lifting herself off the throne and thrusting her pubic area toward Tarzan. Great Frazetta ribald humor! A masterpiece. Frank put a lot of work into the details.

Alex wanted it. Frank said that he would have to remove the penis. Alex agreed. I was thoroughly despondent sitting there watching this scenario play out before my eyes. "My God, Frank, you can't take out that penis. It will ruin the piece." I said it calmly and quietly while Alex was looking at other potential acquisitions. Frank simply said: "I can draw another one." I've heard this before and it never happened. Alex was willing to pay 45K for the piece.

Frank got out his gouache bottles and a little water. In a few minutes he had scraped off the penis and flawlessly filled-in the open area. He matched every tone perfectly. It was an amazing thing to see. It is impossible to see that anything different was there before.

Alex bought it, framed it, and put it up for sale. He brought it to the SanDiego Con. Alex always had an incredible display of first-tier originals. I ended up trading him a color Robert Crumb cover from the 60's for it. I kept it for several years, then traded it back to Frank. I was always bothered by the composition missing that central energizing element. It was the whole reason for the idea in the first place. In typical fashion, and this fact would be an ongoing source of frustration with me, Frank did not take any pictures of the piece in its original state. What a loss! What a travesty! I had hopes that he would place the original back to its former state. He did not. Ellie sold it.

It still remains a magnificent work of art.

(c)2010 DocDave Winiewicz

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Frazetta's CAME THE DAWN

(The following essay was published in 2003 as the introduction to the CAME THE DAWN portfolio. It was done as a favor for Frank Frazetta Jr. The reproductions in this portfolio were shot from pristine photographic copies that were paid for by myself and Pete Koch. We gave a set to Frank for his archives.)

William Gaines, noted publisher of EC comics and MAD magazine, asked Frank Frazetta to draw the story “Came For Dawn” for one of his PICTO-FICTION magazines in 1954. At this point in comic history, after Congressional meetings in which comic publishers were attacked for excessive violence and lurid stories, many publishers were forced to cancel their lines of comic books. Bill Gaines was forced to close down his legendary line-up of EC comics. He was left with only MAD magazine and a small backlog of unpublished art and stories, which were used in his PICTO-FICTION books. Unfortunately, even these magazines were forced to close and Frazetta never got a chance to finish the story and see it published. This was a great loss for fans of the comic medium and a loss for everyone who loves great artwork. Frazetta comments on this story: “I was trying something new in that story. I was using a lot of strong blacks. The story would have been filled with mood and atmosphere. I think it really would have been my best work if I had finished it.”
Bill Gaines gave Frazetta the opportunity to get paid for the unfinished job and surrender the originals to Gaines, or too forgo getting paid and let Frazetta keep the originals. In typical fashion, Frank chose to keep the art. Money was never as important as his art. His plan was to someday finish the job. Alas, this was not to be. A number of years later, a visiting fan accidentally ripped the corners off several pages while pulling them down from the top of a metal cabinet. Those detached corners were lost and never restored to the art. Years later, Frank and I searched for all the pages to the story and found 20 half pages- the complete story in its unfinished state. After carefully looking at the state of the paper and the ink, Frank concluded that it would be impossible to finish the inking. The paper had gotten a little more porous over the years. The current inks would not blend with the older rendering. Frazetta was afraid that the art could get ruined. The decision was made to keep the pages together as is. Frazetta decided to sell the story in 1994. Unlike normal full-size EC comic pages, these pages were half-sized and designed for a one or two panel presentation. Each full page would then feature 4 separate illustrations. The pages were filled with grid lines to help the letterers insert dialogue in the panels. The buyer of the story decided to separate each page into discrete illustrations and sell them that way. Luckily for history, copies were made of all the art and this portfolio presents the complete art for the very first time. One can see the genius of Frazetta as he begins to give life and substance to this story. Each panel is a small revelation and a great insight into Frank’s visual thinking.
This story has an interesting history. It first appeared in the EC comic ShockSuspense Stories #9 (1953), where it was drawn by the legendary Wally Wood, a workhorse for EC comics and probably their best artist. The story concerns a hunter who returns to his cabin and finds that a beautiful blonde has made herself home. She tells the story of losing her way in the woods and mistakes his cabin for her own. Both of them instantly fall in love. While she sleeps, the hunter hears a radio broadcast about an escaped homicidal female in the area, whose description fits that of the blonde in his cabin. He immediately throws her out and locks the door. She is confused and begs to be let in. Later, a scream is heard. He opens the door and finds that the blonde has been stabbed and killed by the escaped blonde inmate. A typical EC ending…the story is basically an excuse for a lot of cheesecake shots. Passion is the dominant element. Wood does a fine job.
Although Frazetta would never admit it, many fans assumed that he wanted to outdo Wally Wood’s interpretation and make the story more sexy, more erotic, more drenched in passion. Here is the perfect subject-matter for Frazetta. For example, this is the way the blonde is initially described in the story’s opening:

“I just stood there staring at her. She was a vision of loveliness…the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen. Her blonde hair, catching the firelight, fell like a golden waterfall about her bare shoulders. She clutched the borrowed bed sheet tightly about her so that it accented the soft flowing curves of
her shapely body.”

This was just the kind of thing Frazetta did best. Who draws women better than Frazetta? No one. This story contains spectacular renditions of a female in all her sexual power and seductiveness. Frazetta decided to employ a lot of close-ups to emphasize the intimacy of the cabin and the passion that was growing between the two. The background details and statues add life to each scene.Frank utilized chiaroscuro, the interplay of light and dark, to give a sense of drama to this highly-charged story. The light and dark artistic motifs reflect the symbols of discovery and loss that take place in the story narrative. This was indeed, a comic book version of film noire at its best. Did Frazetta surpass Wood’s version? I think so. Compare them for yourself. This was a very strong period in Frazetta’s artistic career as a pen/brush draftsman. It was during this 1954-1955 period that Frazetta produced the amazing FAMOUS FUNNIES covers and the exquisite Romance comic stories. His brush was dripping with genius at this time. This portfolio is a joy to the Frazetta connoisseur.

©2003 Dave Winiewicz

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Frazetta: Living Legend Watercolor Frontis

This lovely watercolor has never been seen in color. It's one of those mysterious images that many collectors have always asked about. It was originally published in black/white as the frontis drawing to the LIVING LEGEND softcover book. That book is still the favorite of many because it gathers together so much pen/brush work. Most of the works were printed with all their delicious tonalities. Many collectors, like myself, worship the pen/ink stuff and consider Frank the best of all time. I've been arguing that point for decades. That argument has long been settled.

Well, this little beauty is a little gem of subtle tinting and wonderful gesture. This is the first time it's ever been seen in color. The signature, in pencil, is classic. For many years it sat in the back of the upstairs closet in the Frazetta home, ignored, unseen, and forgotten. Thank goodness for that because the darkness kept the colors fresh and alive and vibrant.


Frazetta, Williamson, and Flash Gordon

I really miss Al Williamson. I used to visit him on my way to visit Frazetta. He lived in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. From there it was a short ride to Frazetta's estate in Marshall's Creek. We did many, many deals over the years. I would trade him originals by the classic illustrators such as Matania, Joseph Clement Coll, Franklin Booth, and Godwin. In return I was able to pick up a number of nice examples by Alex Raymond. Over the years I owned a number of superb Flash Gordon originals:

3-3-1935 (Rare Tabloid)
5-5-1935 (Rare Tabloid)

I got 3 or 4 of these directly from Al. Alas, all are gone. I transformed all of them into Frazetta originals. The FLASH page I really wanted was the great whipping page tabloid format page from 1935. I never got it. Heartbreaking! Al ended up selling the page for $50,000 to a Texas collector. It now resides in a Parisian collection. Al used the money to put an addition on his new home. That addition added a large studio to the back of his house. Al finally had plenty of room to store all his books and display many highlights from his massive collection. I owe Al a real debt because I was able to mature my knowledge of comic and strip art during our many discussions. Al was a collector's collector and his passion was second to none. He loved all types of art and he was one of the great students of the medium. A visit to a truly great collection like Al's helps to expand one's outlook and to focus on the real essentials of art. I was blessed to be able to learn at the feet of grand masters such as Frazetta and Williamson. For example, they taught me how to appreciate Foster's Tarzan strips and to appreciate all the subtle nuances present in that incredible strip. I was fortunate to have most of Al's Tarzans in my possession at one time or another. I had them repaired, cleaned, and deacidified to preserve them for the future generations.

Frazetta and Williamson had a very vitriolic relationship over the years. They fought and made-up numerous times. They had minor and major disagreements over the years. In the last ten years of their relationship Al refused to call Frank simply because he didn't want to take a chance on having to talk to Ellie. Al did not like Ellie at all. That's a long story for another time.
In any case, I want to focus on just one event. It was the early fifties. Al asked Frank to draw a picture of Flash Gordon. Williamson, of course, was a Flash Gordon fanatic. He spent most of his youth drawing Flash a hundred different ways. He wanted to see how Frank handled the pose and the heroic posture. Frank said that he sat down, pencilled a figure in a fantasy setting, then proceeded to ink it. In the midst of this Frank described the proper procedure for applying zipatone to give texture and depth. Al was looking over Frank’s shoulder the entire time. For some reason Frank stopped before finishing, but most of the scene was done. Al loved the figure and asked Frank if he could take it home to study the lines. Frank agreed. Al took it home and started drawing sketches around Frank's Flash Gordon figure. A couple of weeks later Frank asked Al where the drawing was. Al said that he covered it with sketches. Frank said: "It's mine. I want it back." Al had to return the piece. It was a point of principle. Al made a stat of the page before giving it back.
Frank forgot about it until we discovered it one day way in the back of a closet. Frank told me the story behind the piece, then concluded by saying: "And then Al had the balls to use my figure in an EC story." Al used the picture as the central figure on the SPACE BORNE splash page. He changed some elements, but you can easily see the resemblance.

Well, I thought this was quite an interesting piece of Williamson/Frazetta history. I bought the page from Frank. He really didn't care about it all. I think he was happy to be rid of it. For Frank it just represented an annoying memory.
I reluctantly brought the page to Al. I didn't know how he would react. To my relief Al was the consummate gentleman. He confirmed all the details of the story and he signed the page for me. It's a large 14 by 20 inches in size and quite impressive in a frame. Frazetta teaching Al Williamson all about Flash Gordon; it doesn't get any better!

(c) 2010 docdave winiewicz

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Frazetta Female

I like the girls of Vargas. I like the pinups of Elvgren even more. As a matter of fact, there are scores of very talented girlie artists that have drawn and painted females of every race, occupation, and in every setting…and continue to do so. The one common element of all these artists is that they present fresh-looking girls exhibited with little touches of soft-core titillation. They are all so perky and exuberant…it’s impossible not to find them very appealing. It is a growth industry and not likely to stop anytime soon. At any given time EBAY is stuffed with hundreds of female depictions from artists of varying degrees of talent.

Now, let’s add Frazetta into this equation. He is, in a word, different. Why is it that collectors are ALWAYS looking for “babes” by Frazetta? This is the number one pursuit by Frank’s legions of rabid worldwide fans. I get requests every single day from collectors looking for a great Frazetta female. Why is this? It is because of the unique nature of Frazetta’s women. Yes, he has drawn that same type of softcore pinup girl. We can see these girls displayed in the men’s magazines wash illustrations from the early 1960’s. They are beautifully drawn, but for the most part they don’t rise above the norm for this type of subject matter. He was doing a job and doing it well. On his worst day Frank can draw girls better than most other artists. Consider this unique case of the female drawn for this 1962 illustration (from a men’s magazine). The story is unimportant. The man is beautifully rendered, but he is there to complete the story. The crosshatching defining his back is simply sublime. The fantastic machine is there as a bit of an inside joke. It’s looking at her bottom and saying “Va-Va-Voom” (if you can understand machine language!). Delightful.

Frank wanted the woman to be special. He spent 3 full pages in his 1962 sketchbook to explore the composition. This book features large 11x14 inch pages. Frazetta has girls jumping, standing, writhing, rolling, tumbling, and floating across these 3 pages. Is he having fun? He certainly is. Thank heaven that we have these pages intact and we are able too see this great mind at play. Notice that he even includes a caveman on one of the pages. One might think it is out of place here. Not at all. With all those females populating those pages, Frank drew his id onto the page. That caveman is the visual embodiment of Frank’s testosterone. All those women demand a leering male presence! Frank is there. Quite amazing, really.

The final result is a sensational floating female, an apparition in the night with lush, wild hair and a face that defies description. Is this your standard cutesy pie girl-next-door type? Not at all. Her face reveals a woman that is gentle and sensual, strong and erotic. The face has catlike qualities that are unusual and highly desirable. Has Frazetta ever drawn a better female face? I do not think so.

With his women Frank transcends the pinup mentality and all its superficial prettiness and contrived sexiness. His women smolder. There is genuine mystery present and a sense of personal power. He brings a sense of insight and revelation to his depictions that go beyond prettified surface descriptions. That is the realm of Vargas and Elvgren and countless others. Again, they are sensational painters of the female form. But Frazetta brings a new set of very special qualities to his best females. Page upon page could be written about the magic of the Cat Girl, or the Burroughs heroines, or all those other sensual females from the Canaveral drawings or the Doubleday illustrations. The list goes on and on. One thing is sure…collectors will always be searching for the best Frazetta female that their pocketbook can afford. Now, that is ART with all the capitals in place!

A quick update about the 6 panel men's magazine illustration at the head of this essay. It is the only other men's illo known to exist, along with the floating girl pictured above. However, the original is no longer in this format. The current owner decided to break it up into 6 separate illustrations and sell them individually. He owns it; it was his decision. Usually, one can find one or two of these little gems for sale at the San Diego Comic Con. The prices vary from 15K-25K each. Luckily, I have a nice transparency of the original in its full integrity.

Dr. Dave Winiewicz (c)2008


Richard said...

your efforts here are greatly appreciated Dave, I am a HUGE Frazetta fan and I know and respect your expertise on the subject on many, many different levels...

people are watching and reading (probably drooling a bit too but that's another story) so please keep posting.

Richard Friend.

docdave said...

Thanks Richard! Coming from a fine artist like yourself I sincerely appreciate the encouragement.

All the best!


RobertP said...


Thanks for posting such DELICIOUS artwork...truly Frank's work is a feast for the eyes...the astute commentary is a treat as well, believe me you are appreciated! By the way, agreed, NO ONE can touch Frank's feline, seductive girls...!

Kris said...

Frazetta girls are amazing !

Keep posting...

You can see a pencil frazetta portaiti've made here :

Anonymous said...

Frazetta is a great, great artist. Being such, there's nothing wrong with owning up about using photo reference. After all, the old Renaissance masters and those afterwards always drew from life when preparing their figurative paintings. It is easy to distinguish a Raphael drawing that was done before a live model from one drawn from his memory. Frank and Ellie obviously posed for much of his comics and painting work. A camera sees in mono, and a person sees in stereo (assuming both of his eyes are in working order). Take a look at page two, panel one of "Squeeze Play":

and this photo of Frank (taken by Al Williamson) at Jones Beach, where all of the rest of the reference photos for that story were taken:

One can clearly see that Frank reversed the photo and used it for reference. There's nothing wrong with that at all, nor does it diminish his awesome talent one iota. Ellie told me in 1985 that he used photo reference "only for the lighting." He can certainly draw and paint without it, but why reinvent the wheel? There is always more to see, to distill, to impart when viewing life firsthand. Frazetta never fell into the trap of being reliant upon photos. Conversely, he never grew stale relying upon stock 'memory' poses. Many other artists have fallen into these problem areas, but not he. Great blog, by the way! Very informative!

Anonymous said...

What I meant about the camera 'seeing' in mono is that photo-referenced art often has a bit of forced perspective (especially if a wide angle lens were used), even on human forms. While this is not necessarily a bad thing---in fact, it can often heighten the dramatic impact of a figure---the use of such is apparent to a trained eye.

On a slightly different note, it was fun spotting his use of Cary Grant photos (with a mustache added) as the cad in "The Wrong Road"

Frazetta also used much photo reference of himself as the hero and Al Williamson as the villain in "Untamed Love." These are some of the most beautifully drawn comics stories I've ever seen!