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 He was left with only MAD magazine and a small backlog of unpublished art and stories, which were used in his PICTO-FICTION books.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