Sunday, November 27, 2011

Frazetta: The Closet and Cabinet

Before the opening of the first Frazetta Museum it was a real treat to visit the Frazetta home in Marshall's Creek, Pennsylvania. The home was a treasure trove of original art. Art was everywhere. Oils on every wall and more oils stacked in cabinets and bedrooms. It was impossible to be anywhere in the house without seeing some incredible Frazetta original staring back at you. Even the two bathrooms were filled with drawings and watercolors. Before the final major expansion to the house Frank only had a small studio off the family room. There was a darkroom, an easel, and a large metal cabinet. The cabinet was stuffed with boxes of photos, sketchbooks, cameras, prints, magazines, and two oversize sketchbooks containing Frank's pornographic stories. They were always available for Frank to show to his closest friends. I never missed a chance to look at them.

During this very early visit I asked Frank where the Famous Funnies covers were. "They are probably upstairs. Ellie has the art hidden away everywhere. Do you want to see them?" Yes, of course, I did. Off we marched upstairs. Frank stopped in the upstairs hallway and opened the hall closet door. "Look in there..on the the back. Pull it all out." I knelt down and literally dove headfirst into the closet. There was a big stack of art in the back and I pulled it out and dragged it into the hallway. Frank and I kneeled. I was stunned; I could feel a giant thrill shoot through my body. It was a two-foot stack of art before me. On the very top was an assortment of combat comic art pages. I started to look through the wondrous pile. Wonder after wonder appeared. Frank said it was too dark to see the art so we pulled the art pile into the nearby bedroom. There was a strong shaft of light coming through the window and Frank put the art right into the sunshine. I turned over some early Snowman splash pages and my heart stopped. Appearing before my eyes was the unbelievable Canaveral cover to Tarzan And The Castaways. It was glistening in the sun. I was literally floored by the impact of the art. This was followed by the Tarzan At The Earth's Core cover and the Canaveral depicting the tiger in the high grass. Frank was sitting back and lighting a cigarette. He was watching me enjoy the art and listened to all my comments. This was an experience that I would never forget. I asked Frank if I could take a quick picture. Frank ran downstairs to get my camera. I took a shot of the Famous Funnies cover. I have added that shot to my essay. Amazingly, to this day, that cover has NEVER been published in all its blue pencil and tonal glory. What a genuine pity that so much art has never been seen or published. Now, much of it has been scattered to the closets and walls of new collectors. It will be an impossible task to retrieve the imagery. What a waste.

I continued hunting through the art. I came across the Weird Science Fantasy #29 cover. I told Frank that many of these things needed to be framed or, at least, protected. I told him that I considered them better than a lot of the oils. Frank said: "Really? You really think so?" I said: "Frank, there is no doubt about it. No doubt at all. You are the best when it comes to pen and ink." Frank smiled and blew out some cigarette smoke. The smoke fell on the pile of art. I gave Frank a pained and solemn look. He gave me a little smirk. His eyes twinkled in the sunshine.

The next things I looked at were a few torn Came The Dawn half pages. Frank said that one of his "fans" ripped them when pulling down some art from the top of his cabinet. I inquired about the ripped pieces and Frank said they were gone. All the romance comic book stories were in the pile, as well as page upon page from the THUNDA book. The pile also contained all the Middle Earth portfolio plates. I couldn't devote enough time to them. I was overwhelmed. I was visually exhausted. I came across the early TIGA strips. All of them were there. I remember those strips from their first publication in an early Squa Tront fanzine. I always found the art to be charming and a strong foreshadowing of greatness to come. Frank picked up the #3 strip that featured a nice close-up of the female's face. "Not bad, is it?" Frank said. He went on to comment on the girl's face. "If you look at my art and see a nice face, that means I was having fun doing the art. I spent a lot of time on some of those faces. Look at some of those romance stories I did. There's some really good work in those. I worked hard on them, but they were a lot of fun to draw."

There were some early watercolors in the pile. I was extremely impressed with the image of Franks girlfriend, Carol, who was a ballet dancer. The piece was published in b/w in the LIVING LEGEND book. Its never been published in color. I had to take a shot. It was in a very crappy, acidic yellow mat. Again, what a travesty. Frank commented that Carol was the great early love of his life, but he had to break it off because her parents were very biased against Italians. Frank was highly insulted when they kept referring to him as that low class Brooklyn wop. Frank said he came very close, more than once, to beating the crap out of her father. Frank further commented that his fixation on girls calves started with Carol. Here is the discussion as I remembered it in my notes:

DW: Frank, tell me a little about her.

FF: She was gorgeous, real class. A ballet dancer with an amazing body of great flexibility. Ill never forget how smooth her skin waslike glass or porcelain. You know that phrase smooth as silk? Well, she was even smoother. I couldnt keep my hands off her. I really flipped for her. The muscles in her legs drove me just nuts. I thought she was the one. I thought wed be married.

DW: What happened?

FF: It was her parents. They just hated Italians..Italians for christs sake. They thought I was a nobody, another Brooklyn hustler. He insulted me more than once, right to my face. Any other guy I would have killed them. What? I dressed well and had a nice car. I spoke well. What the hell did they want? They wanted their daughter to marry a doctor, I guess. I wanted to beat the crap out of her father more than once. I couldnt stand his arrogance. He hated everybody, Africans, Italians, Spanish, you name it.

DW: Where did this watercolor come from? Didnt you add her name to a tree in one of your comic book pages?

FF: It was a gift, but I didnt let her have it. Why? We broke up and I just kept it. Thats a lot of work. I like it. Yes, I did draw a heart in a tree. Like I said, I flipped for her.

DW: Were you upset?

FF: No, not really. There were plenty of fish in the sea and I just went back out fishing. I never had a problem getting girls.

Thats a little insight into the early Frazetta and his woman problems. Most of the time HE was the one trying to escape from girls coming after him too hard and too seriously.

By the way, the little frog jumping in the foreground comes directly from an early Prince Valiant by Hal Foster. Frank said he did it as a little tribute to the master.

I finally came to the last of the pile. There was so much there, both major and minor pieces. What an experience! That first look at that amazing pile of wonderment is something Ill never forget. It was my very first look at many of these iconic productions. Many pieces still have not seen publication. What a joy it was. I was already looking forward to my next trip.

(C) 2011 DocDave Winiewicz

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A New Frazetta Masthead

I have been looking at old boxes of photos, slides, and art copies. I'm making a lot of discoveries, including many things I had forgotten about. I came across this wonderful portrait of Frank that I shot in the 1990's. I thought it would make a great masthead image. I love the serious, intense, no-bullshit gaze that he has.

I'll be away for the holiday. A wonderful and safe Thanksgiving to everyone! Look for another post early next week. It will be about the first time I looked through Frazetta's closet in 1982.

All the best and thank you for all the kind comments. They are deeply appreciated. I am trying to preserve some of these Frazetta memories for posterity and show some art that has never been seen. It's just one step in trying to preserve Frank's legacy as a living tradition of excellence. It was an honor to be his friend and I want to honor his memory.

Doc Dave

Monday, November 21, 2011

Frazetta, Coffee, and the Flying Cannoli

One of the great inside jokes about Frazetta is the many coffee stains that appear on his art. I have reproduced a few examples with this essay. The fact is that Frank Frazetta loves coffee and drinks it constantly. The greatest coffee drinker in history was the great French writer, Balzac, who consumed 50 cups a day. Balzac ultimately died of caffeine poisoning at the young age of 51. Frank had a similar coffee passion. Every visit to the Frazetta home always began with the question: "Want some coffee?" Everything else started after that first pour and first sip.

During a very early trip in the 80s I pulled up to the Frazetta home driving a very low end, entry-level Mazda. Frank greeted me at the door. You fit in that thing? What do you get, about 200 miles per gallon? Frank continued to tease me and my pathetic little car. I responded: Frank, if I didnt spend every penny I have on Frazetta originals, then maybe Id have some cash for a decent car! Frank laughed. Come on in, you need some coffee after being squished into that thing. We walked into the kitchen. We were alone. I sat in the dining room and Frank poured some coffee. He started swearing because he couldnt find any milk. Finally, after much fumbling around Frank reached into the back of the refrigerator and came out with a carton of heavy whipping cream. I was horrified. "Frank! What are you doing? That stuff will kill you. Its pure cholesterol. It'll clog your arteries." Frank listened without looking at me. Then I saw him smirk. He then looked at me, patted me on the back, continued to pour the thick cream into my cup, and simply said: "For Christ's sake, live a little!" That's Frazetta.

That could almost be Franks motto, but wed have to change it a bit to LIVE A LOT!

All of our best discussions and evenings involved some kind of coffee. Many times Ellie would bring us cup after cup of irish coffee. We would sit there, put an oil or drawing on the easel, and then just start talking about what we see. After a few Irish coffees Frank would often loosen up and start to talk about myriad things, i.e. his early girlfriends, his encounter with a UFO over Brooklyn, his real thoughts about God, his thoughts on people in his life, his unguarded thoughts on Ellie, and so many other things. Two friends just contemplating the world. Golden times, to be sure. One night Frank decided to give me his imitations of EVERY Lil Abner character. It was hilarious. Another night we walked into woods and, out of nowhere, Frank would start to sing. Not many people know this but Frank had an extraordinary voice. He often would sing at weddings for relatives and friends.

I have seen Frazetta drip coffee, splash coffee, spill coffee and spit coffee. The worst event happened one day after Ellie brought in some cannoli and put them on the table. We were sitting on Franks zebra skin sofa and looking through a big box of photographs. The box was between us. Frank reached for the plate of cannoli to offer me one. He had a cup of coffee in his right hand. One of the creamy canoli started to roll off the plate. It fell and took on a life of its own. He tried to catch the airborne cannoli. In the meantime the coffee cup in his right hand also took on a life of its own. It also went up in the air. The moment froze in my mind. It was a surrealistic juggling act headed for disaster. I lunged to get out of the way. The coffee explosion missed me but I did get nailed by the cannoli on my ankle and foot. The coffee cup fell into a box of photos we were looking at. The cannoli plate exploded and shattered on the side of the table and much cannoli sugar and cream covered everything. Nothing was spared this cataclysm. There was cannoli cream on top of one of Franks cameras. The photos were destroyed. Every photo had damage. Frank was FURIOUS. Frank jumped up. He burned his leg a bit and started a nonstop string of swearing. He jumped around for a minute. He couldnt believe what he just did. He frantically tried to clean the camera. Everything else, including me, was secondary. Everything was coffee-cannoli stained. I'll never forget it. It was the funniest moment I have shared with Frank. You had to be there to appreciate the complete absurdity of the event. It took just two seconds, but everything just exploded into a cataclysmic Frazetta Frenzy. I ran to the bathroom and tried to clean my shoes. Frank took the box of photos outside and dropped them in his dumpster.

This is why we see many sketch sheets littered with coffee stains of every size and design. I have reproduced a few examples along with an actual picture of Frank pouring coffee in his darkroom. It's best to be far away from Frank when he has coffee in his hand! I sure do miss that man.

©2011 DocDave Winiewicz

And, of course, as always, all art is © by the Frazetta Estate. The pictures are ©2011 by Dave Winiewicz Please do not write to tell me about the correct singular and plural of cannoli. I looked it up. I am using it correctly.

PS: Yes, on the way home that night, I stopped at the dumpster and retrieved the box of photos. I was able to rescue a number of gems.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Argument Against Frazetta

Once I decided to start my web site again I began to get emails from many people who found all these negative essays and combative pronouncements about Franks art. Everyone is an expert on the internet (or at least they have convinced themselves that they are) and all these self-appointed art experts dismiss Frazetta as a serious artist. The arguments Ive heard a thousand times. The opinions are, to be frank, rather puerile and sophomoric. Periodically, this type of weak mindedness needs to be addressed. In addition to all these emails complaining about the anti-Frazetta contingents, I also receive lovely, thoughtful comments that capture the spirit and essence of Frazetta. I received this email from Tony Avacato, a New York based artist, who is a very big admirer of both Frank Frazetta and Robert E. Howard. This is what he said:

“Dave, there is something of the Cinema to his art and something of Memory, too. At the risk of waxing weird, I've always felt that Fritz was re-creating as much as creating his art. There are those certain themes that run rampant through his best work, regardless of those concessions that commerce demanded. Evocative in their unsettling power, the best of what he did -- and by their immortal influence, still do -- suggest an older soul at work. Fritz, though always young-at-heart, was an old soul, and sought through a wealth of dangerous visions, a way to re-connect to those past lives, both real and imagined. That's why his Conan paintings stand supreme among those works of fantasy. They tower above the rest because, like Robert E. Howard, Frazetta knew the intrinsic truth of things. He understood intuitively what all the great philosophers have tried to figure out throughout history. He saw the pageantry of pain and pride and passion that is Life better than most because he had lived it, over and over and over again. A remarkable artist and a remarkable man. I do not think we will see his like again. Be Well, Tony A.”

This is very heartfelt and insightful analysis. It motivated me to think about Frazetta and the type of criticism he receives. If my memory is correct, Robert Crumb copied two of Frazetta's drawings in his sketchbooks. He is quoted as saying that he just didn't get it. He didn't see the point to the subjects. This never surprised me. After all, Crumb and Frazetta occupy opposite places in the universe of art.

Let's play the devil's advocate for a moment. The arguments commonly made against Frazetta fall into the following categories:

Frazetta art is quite trite, trivial and banal.

Frazetta relies exclusively on cliches and overused stereotypes.

Frazetta provides no insight into human behavior.

Frazetta gives no real thought to the human condition and its problems.

I strongly disagree with all these assertions. Let us consider the first two points. In essence the argument is that Frazetta uses age old images of warriors, battle scenes, scenarios of contrived fantasy, and brainless women that are simply sexual stereotypes.

He uses formulaic male power fantasies and softcore titillation to fill his canvases.

The fact is that most human communication of any sort utilizes various types of stereotypes. They are a permanent part of the human condition. This goes back to the dawn of humanity where warriors and hunters are found in cave paintings and petroglyphs. It continues into the writings of Homer, the Bible, Shakespeare, etc. The subject matter includes all the great traditions on this planet, i.e. Judeo-Christian, Asian, Polynesian, African, and more. The visual history of the world contains numerous offshoots of Golems, Grendels, and Beowulfs. Do we all participate in some ancient collective unconscious that feeds us our symbols and metaphors as C. J. Jung would have us believe? Are we saturated with Platonic forms that are pre-born within us? Are we the subject of some type of divine illumination as St. Augustine taught? The great moorish mediaeval thinker Averroes thought the human mind received forms emanating from the cosmos. There are many theories. The mystery of creativity will ALWAYS be a mystery. The known fact is that Frazetta is deeply connected to these ancient ideas and ancient traditions. It is in his blood. Not only that but he has the deepest respect for the ideas of heroism. He grew up visually saturated by these iconic images courtesy of Foster, St. John, Pyle, and many others.

Heroism lives strongly and naturally in his soul. They are ancient memories that he gives new life too. They emerge naturally, not forced, from the cultural formation that makes Frank who he is. He is re-presenting truths to a new age.

Frazetta's art inspires, informs, and transforms us. He shows us the deepest splendors of the human condition: man at his heroic best. Frazetta is not to be faulted for this; he is to be praised. He is that rare being...a truth sayer and a beauty maker. He is a modern day shaman who connects us with the importance of the past. He highlights the continuity of excellence that runs through the human condition.

What about the question of human behavior? Look at the death scene drawing of Kubla Khan. We spoke about it previously. What does it tell us? I think it is profound. The horror of war, the death of a friend; it's all showcased here in a very powerful way. Not many artists could reach this intense level of emotional expression. It is a gift. On the other side of the coin we see Frazetta drawing light hearted cartoons, some funny, some explicitly ribald. Another facet of the human condition is presented. And, importantly, these are always accompanied by a lively sense of beauty. The creation of new beauty is the ultimate justification for any artist. Frazetta has lit up the world with new beauties of every sort. We live in a world that has been visually sculpted by the mind of Frazetta. What more could we possibly ask for in an artist.

We could go on and on, but I think the point has been made. Frazetta is not a childish artist who people grow out of. He is a magisterial creator who people enter and appreciate more and more deeply over time. I have been looking and thinking about Frazetta's art since 1955, a long time. I still am thrilled by it. It is always fun to look at. It is always fresh. There are always new discoveries to be made.

© 2011 Dr. Dave Winiewicz

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Frazetta's Last Watercolor

This is actually Frank's last right handed watercolor before getting hit by the strokes. Afterwards he would continue to do some left handed watercolors. And, in fact, many of those were quite exceptional.

I was fortunate to see this last watercolor in three different stages over the course of three visits. The only thing he didn't finish was the little butterfly on the left side. Frank decided that it looked just fine the way it was. He didn't want to take a chance on accidentally screwing it up. After his initial strokes he was prone to a little hand jitteriness. This would lead to little hand spasms that caused him to ruin some coloring attempts. He thought it was best to leave this one alone. The original is now owned by Disney artist Topper Helmers. It is displayed proudly on his CAF Gallery site along with his other Frazetta jewels.

Doc Dave

Monday, November 14, 2011

Frazetta: Light and Dark

I have received a lot of personal questions about the oil in the previous post. I thought something needed to be clarified. After Frank's first major strokes starting in 1995 he started to draw left handed and dabble with oil painting. This is well known. What is not well known is the fact that Frazetta's entire approach to painting changed at this point unbeknownst to him. Frank used to begin an oil with a darker sublayer to define form and light indications. He would then progressively add lightening tones and highlights until he achieved the effects he wanted. Look at the Carlsberg Beer ad and you'll see what a Frazetta underpainting looked like. In that case he just stopped.

After his second stroke he began to see color differently and he didn't realize it. I verified this one afternoon. I was videotaping him working on the Reign of Wizardry oil. He was adding a girl and using bright white paint. I asked him what color he was using. He thought it was a shade of green. I told him it was almost pure white. He was shocked and in disbelief. His mind was telling him that he was using a darker color. So after this he struggled with going from light to dark, instead of his usual approach of beginning with dark to light. He had to force himself to add darker tones to his whitish underpaintings. This is what we see in the previously depicted oil. He started with white, then started to add darker highlights. In his mind, this was a darker colored girl more in balance with the other tones of the picture. Frank did the same thing with his repaints of the National Lampoon cover and the constant revisions on the Reign of Wizardry cover. I don't know what the final versions of these oils currently look like. The last time I saw them was in 2003 and Frank had a lot of time to fool around with them.

(c)2011 Doc Dave Winiewicz

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Quick Frazetta Story

This incident happened about 10 years ago.)

I'd like to relate a quick Frazetta story. A few weeks ago Frank began working on a revision to the STRANGE CREATURES FROM SPACE AND TIME cover. The original oil has a hunter in the foreground menaced by a wide variety of creatures in the background. It's a nice oil. Frank took out the hunter many years ago because he always thought a sexy girl would be more effective in the composition. Well, he finally painted-in a girl. Ellie and the kids were thoroughly impressed (and believe me they are Frank's harshest critics). It was done, finished. The next day Ellie walked into the studio and the oil was back on the easel...WITH THE GIRL REMOVED!! Ellie was furious. "Frank, what's wrong with you? It was great. Why didn't you just leave it alone?" The children all were aghast that this incredible oil was changed. Remember that Frank is working left-handed because of his strokes. It is VERY difficult for him to achieve great results these days. When a success comes along, they all want him to leave it alone. I was talking to Frank on the phone about this whole incident and his response was quite illuminating: "Dave, I did do a good job on the girl. The painting really looked good. Something bothered me and I couldn't put my finger on it. But then it occured to me: I HAD PAINTED THAT GIRL BEFORE! I didn't want to just imitate myself. I had to come up with something new. That's why I wiped her away." For me, that says it all.

Dr. Dave Winiewicz (c)2008

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More Frazetta NINA Panels

Here are 4 more panels that precede the tier I wrote about in the previous postings. There are two other panels that have vanished. I don't have a reproduction of any kind in my archives. Someone either swiped them or bought them from Frank. Alas, the visual record will always be incomplete. Two of these panels were first published in the 1977 Frazetta MEMORY BOOK. The others were published by Arnie Fenner. It's important to preserve a good visual record of such originals. I notice that there are a LOT of forgeries floating around these days. I see people paying good money for carefully contrived inauthentic sketches. CAVEAT EMPTOR always when buying Frazetta items. Don't ask me to authenticate items, please. It's not my job. I'm not getting paid and there is little I can do about the problem.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Frazetta Grows A Rock

I wanted to wait until I found the Frazetta quote that explains panel three. After much searching I found it. Now the entire tier can be seen.

The third panel in this tier is simply a masterpiece of rock rendering. The sheer creativity and visual inventiveness present in this rendering scheme is amazing to behold. I've never see anything like it. The entire page, of course, is an example of world class draftsmanship, but I always thought there was something special about this one panel. Plus, I was perplexed that Frank put so much effort into it, but never finished it.

I asked Frank about this panel and why he never finished it. Frank replied: "I did that whole project on spec. I was looking for work. The comic strip artists got paid a lot better than the comic book people. I wanted to get my foot in some door. I did that TIGA strip for the same reason. I thought this NINA strip would catch someone's attention. A sexy girl lost in some strange land by herself...why not? Sounds great. I loved drawing the girl. She was one of my girlfriends. It turned out very sultry. I had her falling into some water. Nice design, good action, I was pleased with it. I really couldn't have inked it any better. Everything just flowed. It was really the best inking I was capable of at that time. That final panel where she comes into the strange world had me thinking. I remember all those stories and fairytales where the arches and doorways and windows are all important. Remember that scene in the SEARCHERS with John Wayne? The door opens at the beginning and closes to end the movie. It's unforgettable, isn't it? I wanted that panel to have that impact, something special. I decided to frame her in a rock arch that was different. I didn't know what look I wanted. I remember, vividly now, that I walked outside my studio to have a cigarette. I wanted to find a rock, just a rock, any rock, and look at it. I couldn't find anything but some smooth stones in the street. I took a walk and finally found a small rock in the gutter. It was only two, three inches and covered with dirt. I spit on it three or four times and wiped it on my pants. I just stood there and looked at it. I turned it all over and let the sun shine on it. I kept looking at the color, the tones, the striations, the little veins. I threw it away. I stood there and kept thinking about it. My mind starting adding things to it, adding veins, adding lines. It was growing in my imagination. Strange as it sounds but I was growing this rock in my mind. Weird, eh? That's the way my mind works. All the time. It grabs something and starts adding things to it. I've done that with flowers and vegetation and muscles under the skin. I see something and my brain just completes it, changes it, moves it around. Everything is so clear and detailed.

Once i had this idea of the rock I just sat down and drew it. I had fun with all the swirls and lines. It was like a tree, except it was rock. I had my great entranceway. Now, what to do about the girl. I pencilled her in quickly, then stopped. I didn't know what to do with her. I didn't want her to draw attention away from the rock. I gave up.I also had the problem with the story dialogue. Those damn words were everywhere. I had text in the first two panels but I blacked it all out. Too damn distracting. I just couldn't figure out what to do. I never did. That's why I stopped. The strip was never picked up so there was no reason to finish it. It's been in the closet for years."

©2011 DocDave Winiewicz

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Frazetta's NINA Tryout Page

Frazetta drew a couple of sunday pages in 1950 or 1951 as spec work in an effort to secure a job as a strip artist. It was to be titled NINA. A complete sunday example is published in the new Vanguard JOHNNY COMET volume. It was first published in the LIVING LEGEND paperback volume in 1981. Other individual panels have appeared in various places.

This two panel sequence has never been seen. It is spectacular. Frank poured his soul into these pages and the quality is simply stunning. The subject matter was perfectly suited to Frank's abilities and interests. Frank's art had reached a new level of excellence. There was no one else around at this time that could produce work of this quality. Frank was pulling away from the pack and all his friends were aware of it. The strip art business was a very tough one to break into. It was a year later that Frank landed the JOHNNY COMET strip. We can only dream about what Frazetta would have accomplished if the NINA strip had been accepted.

DocDave Winiewicz

All art, of course, is (c) Frazetta Estate 2011

Friday, November 4, 2011

Frazetta's ULTIMATE TRIUMPH book

The following is an interview from 1999 concerning the publication of the volume, THE ULTIMATE TRIUMPH. The book was a labor of love and three editions were produced: a hardbound, a slipcased hardbound, and a lavish calfskin slipcased edition of just 100 copies. None of the editions were signed, although the Frazetta Museum did sell a few copies that Frank signed. I should point out that many copies are circulating with forged signatures. I had Frank sign several copies of the calfskin edition. He signed two copies for me, one for the publisher, Marcelo Anciano, and a copy for Gary Gianni. I took a photo of Frank signing the books to authenticate the signatures. He signed them cursively with his right hand. This was the period after his two major strokes and his normal professional signature was not good.

The Ultimate Triumph

Interviewer: Anya Martin

July 1999

AM: From what I understand, you really were the bridge to making this project happen. How did you meet Marcelo? What happened?

DW: We knew one another as from collector to collector. He's been a long-time fan of Frank Frazetta, and I've been a long-time fan of Frank Frazetta. He just called me up one day, and we started talking about Frazetta. He collects exotic Frazetta fanzines, photos, different types of things, as I do. He's also interested in original art and all different aspects of Frazetta. I've known him for several years, and we've had many, many discussions about Frazetta. I didn't realize until later on that he was a book publisher and a book designer.

He basically asked me to take a copy of the Solomon Kane book, bring it down to the Frazettas, show it to Frank Frazetta and his wife Ellie, and just have them take a look at the quality of the book. Then perhaps at some point in the future he was going to approach them with doing another book, somehow incorporating the art of Frank Frazetta.

So I brought it down to Frank, showed it to him, and pointed out the quality. Frank was very impressed with the production values. It was printed in the style of an old-time book with a lot of pen and ink illustrations on each page, a lot of tipped-in color plates. Frank enjoyed the art. He enjoyed the way the book was packaged. He enjoyed the entire thing.

So then subsequently I approached Frank and his wife Ellie, who functions effectively as his business agent, and I said, would you consider doing something with this particular company employing Frank's art. And they said yes. That's basically how the thing got off the ground. There was a little bit of reticence on the part of Mrs. Frazetta and Frank to begin with because they really didn't have very good dealings with Conan Properties. Then we pointed out to them that there's a big difference between the estate of Robert E. Howard and Conan Properties. It was really Conan Properties that was out there giving people a tough time and looking for a great deal of money. Whereas the estate of Robert E. Howard were people who basically didn't have anything, and they were trying to resurrect the reputation and get back some of the writings of Robert E. Howard. That in and of itself is a long story.

AM: When I was interviewing Gary [Gianni] about Solomon Kane, one of the things he said to me was that he had bought the Conan novels for the Frank Frazetta covers.

DW: And most people did. People didn't really care about Robert E. Howard, but those covers were so amazing you just had to have them.

AM: And hopefully the covers did get people to read the books.

DW: Oh, yeah.

AM: How many times have you not bought a book because it had a lousy cover or bought a book because it had a great cover?

DW: Yeah, and the influence is even greater than that because Frank Frazetta really did establish the paperback industry as a force in this country. Before Frazetta came along, paperback sales were never as gargantuan as they started to be after he arrived on the scene. From there, the paperback industry just exploded into all sorts of different directions. But Frazetta was the original catalyst for the paperback industry becoming a force in the publishing world. That can be documented; that's not just my particular bias operating. The guy had a tremendous amount of impact. But that's Frazetta.

AM: The book is going to be a compilation of sketches. How did this particular group of sketches get assembled?

DW: What Marcelo wanted to do was bring together a bunch of art that related directly to the barbaric world, the world of Robert E. Howard. He wanted that particular genre. He didn't want Tarzan drawings. He didn't want anything else.

He knew since I was probably one of the oldest collectors in the land, I knew where all the bodies were buried. I could contact other collectors, get xeroxes and transparencies, and gather together a lot of the disparate sketches that were buried all over the country and all around the world. I brought them together and got them ready for publication. I operated as the middleman for assembling all this stuff and contacting collectors around the world. I don't own all the sketches. I do own a number of them but I don't own them all.

So it was an arduous task to find everybody and then to motivate everybody to make reproductions. But this is the first time that amount of material has been assembled for a book.

AM: Part of why I was asking was because I had heard Ellie had encouraged Frank to hold onto most of his work? So I wasn't sure how much came from their collection.

DW: I've probably done more deals with the Frazettas than any other human being on the planet Earth. I've gotten a lot of originals from them. It's like a war to get an original from them. They don't let them go easily. So you either have to have the right amount of money at the right time or do the right trade at the right time. It's not easy.

AM: Was Ellie pleased that you were able to bring works that were out in the marketplace at least in a way back into the fold?

DW: I think she will be once she sees the book, because she left it in the hands of Marcelo. Basically what she did was just grant him the right to assemble the material and put it together. Because of Frank's medical condition, because of the fact that they are relocating the museum from Loca Grand (Ck) Florida back to East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, and Ellie's in the process of building a brand new museum devoted to Frank's work, all of these things have been taking up her time. So she couldn't devote a lot of time to assembling this.

AM: Why are they moving the museum back to East Stroudsburg? Is it because it's easier to manage--

DW: No, because Frank had the strokes, and he thought it would be better to be back near his doctors who live in East Stroudsburg. And he's lived there for many, many years since the early '70s.

AM: What major city is that near?

DW: It's north of Philadelphia. It's about an hour and a half away from New York City. It's near the Pocono mountains which is a resort community.

Originally the first Frazetta museum opened up in 1984 in East Stroudsburg. The Frazettas owned a big building in the downtown area. On the third floor, they opened up a museum devoted to the basic works of Frazetta. Then they closed it and decided to move it down to Florida.

Then because of the medical situation, they decided to come back, and Ellie is putting together a brand new museum on their land, on their estate, kitty-corner to their own home. It's built like a small fortress, a castle. It's a very fantastic-looking piece of architecture. It's got a wonderful setting in the midst of all this land and trees and forest. It's the perfect setting for Frazetta's work.

AM: When is it going to open?

DW: It's going to be open sometime in the tail end of this year or early next year depending on how fast the contractors are working.

AM: I don't know if I've ever seen any of his work in person.

DW: No, it's tough to see it because he didn't release a lot of material over the years, and the people who have oil paintings usually have them up in their homes and don't lend them out very much. But going to the museum is really a very emotional experience. I know a woman who has a master's in fine arts and is a specialist in art history. She walked through the door and started crying because she was overcome by emotion because the paintings had such impact.

AM: Returning to the project at hand, with all the research involved to assemble the pieces, it sounds like a very challenging task.

DW: Well, I've been a fan of all this stuff since I was five years old. I'm 49 years old right now. Throughout all that time period, I have been in contact with every generation of collector. For many years, I kept a master list of where every single Frazetta piece was. Up until recently, when more material was released on the marketplace, I really did know where every single piece was. Now there's just too much bouncing around too quickly and prices escalating to keep track of it. But like I said, I know where the bodies are buried. I know most of the major collectors. It was just a matter of putting in the time, contacting the people and finding the stuff. And then knowing approximately who had what and what type of genre that Marcelo was interested in for this book.

And then, of course, I consulted with Marcelo asking him do you think this or that piece would be suitable.

AM: Can you tell me which watercolor roughs have been chosen for the limited edition? Are they studies for his cover art?

DW: Well, yeah. Most of the watercolor studies are little preliminary watercolor compositions that Frazetta would do before he would start a final oil painting. Basically, he would sit down, get out a sketchbook, get out a pencil, and then create a form in front of him. If he deemed it appropriate, he would then add some color to the form just to determine where the light would hit on the form itself. Now depending on how much energy he put into it, that would determine the quality of the studies.

Sometimes, he would do nothing with it. He'd leave it in a penciled state, just make a couple of little touches of color, and then go right to the easel and start painting. But sometimes, he would get fascinated with what he was doing. He'd add a lot of color, a lot of subtleties, and the roughs ended up like miniature preliminary paintings that had all their own little qualities that set them apart from the paintings themselves. What Marcelo was looking for was real quality studies that people normally do not keep and that would really shock people because of the amount of energy that Frazetta put into them.

AM: Are there pieces that people might recognize?

DW: There will be studies for some of the Conan paintings. As of the time of this talk, we haven't decided what the ultimate line-up is going to be. But they are all going to be pieces related to the barbarian genre. Not only did Frazetta paint Conan paintings, but once the Conans became so popular, then all the publishers were flocking to Frazetta to do sword and sorcery, that particular type of barbarian material. So you got a lot of different paintings for a lot of different authors. They were all a little bit different, but they all had the same barbaric theme.

They're wonderful. No matter which pieces Marcelo selects for the watercolor portion of the book, they're going to be exceptional because we've got a number of exceptional pieces to choose from.

I think one of the pieces that's going to be in the book, for example, is just a little pen sketch of a barbarian. There's a little castle in the background. When Frank does a sketch and thinks the quality warrants it, he'll go back and add a little watercolor to it. This wasn't done as a preliminary to a painting. It was just done for his own personal amusement. It's a lovely little piece of a barbarian holding a sword with a castle which captures the essence of the whole genre of barbarian sword and sorcery.

But Frazetta does this to amuse himself. Frank has told me many, many times in the past. He's said, "Dave, I'm my number one fan. I get more of a charge and more amusement and more fun out of this stuff than anybody." That's what he does. The joy really does flow from the work immediately. That's why he's so famous.

AM: It has to if you're an artist.

DW: Oh, yeah. Frank has always told me, the cardinal sin with art is to be boring. If you're going to bore people, don't bother being an artist. If you don't have anything to say. If you can't amuse people or intellectually confront people or give them joy, then there's no sense doing the art. It serves no purpose.

AM: Considering the opus of Frazetta's work that was published in the five-volume series, The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta (ck), what does this book add?

DW: The original five Ballantine volumes, which were published from 1975 to 1989, focused on his oil paintings. They wanted to present the essential core work of Frazetta to the public. They added only a few little sketches and pen and ink drawings.

This particular volume is going to show a different side of Frazetta. It's going to show his sketchwork. This is an entirely different book of Frazetta. When Frazetta sketches, there's an incredible joy which you can trace all the way back to his childhood. Frazetta has always had a love of drawing. He's always said, painting is hard work, it's arduous, it's labor, but drawing is fun. These sketches reflect the fun that comes out of Frazetta's soul. That's why there's so much light and so much bounce and so much verve. His sketches are absolutely wonderful. From the tiniest little sketch to the most major compositions, there's always something interesting, very living that comes out of them.

And as Frank has always said, real art is living art. It's got to have life. It's got to live by itself, or it's just dead on the page.

AM: What's the time range? Marcelo said that these works range from the 1950s to close to the present.

DW: It will cover the entire range of his work. Frank started doing comic book work in 1944. Really the sketchbooks he started around 1952, 1953. This work is going to come anywhere from the early '50s all the way up until the current days. So it's going to cover the whole gamut.

AM: So what would be the early works from the '50s before the Conan covers? Were these sketches he did just for fun, things we've never seen before?

DW: Absolutely. He just did them for the joy of drawing itself. A lot of these works would be drawings of Indians and primitive people. Frank has always had a deep fondness of anything that's primitive, anything that's raw and brutal, anything that's in your face, anything that's very direct. He doesn't like to draw court scenes with elaborate flouncy costumes or things like that. He likes to draw women without their clothes on, men without their clothes on. He likes the brutal, raw, flesh aspect of reality.

When the barbarians came along, it was right up his alley. Once again, it was something that very raw, very direct, very brutal. So it was like hand and glove. It was a subject matter that was perfectly suited for the type of thing he had been doing because just prior to that he was doing Tarzan. But Tarzan is very elegant, very noble and doesn't have the same degree of brutality. Whereas with Conan, Frazetta could really let out all the stops. In painting Conan, he was not only painting Conan himself, he was painting a picture of the 20th century and a painting of the dark side of humanity itself. He was showing us that particular dark, incredibly dreaded aspect of man. That's what emerges from his art.

But barbarians, primitives, cavemen, he was doing that right from the '50s, right from the '40s. As a matter of fact, when he was a child, he did a series of comic books which he put together himself. Some of them are titled, "The Panther-Woman" or "The Caveman of Such-and-Such." A little girl would be lost in the wilderness and be attacked by dinosaurs or something. The themes would always be very barbaric, very primitive. And that was from the time he was eight or nine years old. The themes of Frazetta's artwork always remained consistent with him throughout his life.

AM: So really for anybody who thought his drawing barbarians started in the 1960s, this book is going to show that, no, no, it really runs the gamut of his career?

DW: Yeah, it's just a natural extension of what he had been doing all along.

AM: I would assume that you selected sketches somewhat because they did relate to Howard's work. But is there some work included from his Burroughs years? Is there anything to do with Death Dealer mixed in just because it seemed to evoke the right mood?

DW: We tried to avoid things that a fan of Frazetta would immediately recognize and associate with other characters. The Death Dealer is Frazetta's own character. That's a world unto itself. Tarzan is a world unto itself. Marcelo wanted works that directly related to the worlds of Robert E. Howard. That included Indian stories, Arabian stories, things that have exotic themes, not just straight barbarians. But he wanted to stay away from anything that would have a resonance that would lead to something else. Because after all, it's a book on Robert E. Howard.

But there's a lot of really great stuff. We had to pass on a lot of great material only because it was just too derivative.

AM: What about anything from his animated movie, Fire and Ice?

DW: I think he is going to include that because that particular movie got very limited distribution. It didn't do as well as he thought it was going to do just because there were all sorts of problems that occurred. But Frazetta did do a series of drawings for Fire and Ice that were very barbaric in nature and are perfectly appropriate for this book. So I think Marcelo wants to use some of that.

AM: Are there any stories behind any particular sketches, any anecdote that would really reflect the way Frazetta works?

DW: That's an interesting question. I could only answer that if I saw the individual sketch. There are thousands of stories about Frazetta, about why he would do something as opposed to something else. It's tough for me to grab on one thing. There are just so many different stories, so many different reasons why he would sit down and sketch something.

In the book, for example, in one of the essays I wrote, I talk about Frazetta's technique and there is reproduced a sketch of a fight scene. I point out that this particular fight scene is so significant that it represents really the essence of Frazetta's approach when he sketches. Because when Frazetta sketches, it's unlike anybody else. His pen jumps around on the page like an electric live wire. It's everywhere. He's got lines going in every conceivable direction. It's just a jumble of incredible chaos. And then later on, if he wants to turn it into something more finished, he then goes over it and picks one particular spot and focuses on that in order to bring forth a specialized drawing. In this sketch, you see the liveliness and electricity of Frazetta's lines. It enlivens the entire thing. So the whole drawing is exploding in front of you in a non-stop arena of movement and motion that really captures the essence of Frazetta.

So I found that sketch to be just the essence of Frazetta itself. You should really look for that in the book. It's an exceptional piece. Like I said, it's just a fight scene, but it's done with such flair and such grace and such effortlessness that very few artists in the world, if any, could reproduce it.

AM: So you've written at least one essay for the book?

DW: I wrote one essay on Frazetta and Robert E. Howard, and I added another little appendice essay on Frazetta's technique and how he goes about doing sketches.

This book by Marcelo and Wandering Star is going to be an interesting blend of the authentic writings of Robert E. Howard, which Frazetta always enjoyed, as opposed to the adulterations in Howard's writings when L. Sprague deCamp and other writers expanded the texts. Frazetta always enjoyed the original words of Howard. He thought the original words were powerful. He enjoyed the brutality and rawness of his language, and he thought later authors just ruined the work of Howard.

AM: Do you know when Frazetta actually discovered Howard?

DW: He was aware of him from the time he was a young boy. I'm not sure at what point he started reading Howard. When Frazetta was growing up, he was very familiar with all of the major writers and major artists, like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, J. Allen St. John and Hal Foster. These people were his primary influences. He loved the Popeye comic strip. He loved the comic strip, Henry, because it was so simple. All these things had a profound influence on his youth. You can see all these influences, even the early Disney cartoons like Fantasia and Snow White. Even the coloring on the early toys and toy boxes had an impact on Frazetta.

AM: How did you meet Frazetta?

DW: I got involved with Frazetta when I left graduate school and started to enjoy myself and do casual reading. I was always so profoundly interested by Frazetta. I sat down and I said, well, I'm going to write an essay and try to figure out why I'm so interested in Frazetta's work. Aesthetically, what happens when I look at a Frazetta painting? Why is it significant? I did a little six or seven page essay, and I sent it to Frazetta. Frazetta called me up, and he said, "Dave, that's the best thing that's ever been written on me. Come on down. Let's talk."

Since then, I've probably been Frazetta's best friend for the last 15 years. So it was quite the entrJ e. That happened in early 1980s. I had known him prior to that, but we had never had a close friendship. Once that happened from about 1982 to 1999, we've been inseparable. I talk to him once a week. I go and visit him every couple of months. He lives about 350 miles away, and I just jump in the car and go down there. We have a ball.

AM: Is Frank Frazetta still painting?

DW: Yes, he is. He's doing it left-handed. He's basically going in and trying to correct some of the mistakes he made on paintings. The reason why he does is because many times when he was doing a commission, an art director at a publishing house would say, look, we want you to put in x, y, and z. And Frank would probably not want to put in x, y, and z. So when he gets the painting back, he thinks, well, I'm going to make it the way it should be. Now I'm going to make it a Frazetta painting.

That's why the current state of a painting looks completely different from the published version. He either didn't do enough or an art director was forcing him to do something he didn't want to do and he was basically picking up a check for it. But being the artist that he is, he wanted to go back and make it as true to his vision as possible.

AM: He was unique as being one of the first cover illustrators to want his work back, wasn't he?

DW: Absolutely. He set a trend for that as well. He also was one of the first people to grant first publication rights for his artwork. In other words, he sold the first publication right and that's it. You have no other right to publish his work instead of giving away the work in perpetuity.

AM: Which has undoubtedly benefited fantastic illustrators.

DW: Oh, everybody followed in his footsteps. Everybody copied his techniques. There's no question about it. He wanted the work back when he was doing the Tarzan paintings in the early '60s. He was only getting paid a small amount of money, and they were keeping the paintings. So he figured why should I knock myself out. Then when the Conan assignment came through, they offered him an immense amount of money compared to what he had been making previously plus he was allowed to keep the original paintings. So, of course, he poured his heart and soul into them. Once again you see an incredible increase in quality from the paintings he was doing in 1962 versus the ones that started in 1964. He was much better appreciated, much better paid, plus he kept his product.

AM: Now he used to paint and sketch with his right hand?

DW: Yes. The strokes weakened his right hand, and he lost his feeling in his arm. He's done miraculously in terms of recovering from the strokes he's had. He gets around very well. He's able to take care of himself. He talks reasonably well. But still he has that numbness in his hand. Because of that, he gets micro-tremors, and he just can't handle the brush and do the kind of fine work that he normally would do. So that's why he switched to the left hand. Not only is he painting with his left hand, but he's also doing watercolors and pencils with his left hand.

For example, a couple of years ago in San Diego, he gave one of his agents a drawing of a left-handed nude, and it sold for $2,000. This really is very rare in art history. There are only a few documented cases of an artist switching hands and doing even halfway passable and decent work.

AM: That's such an inspirational story.

DW: Yes, he's a remarkable man, just an incredibly remarkable man. What he's gone through physically in terms of his medical problems would have killed anyone else. He's got such incredible life energy about him.

AM: After you've been through that kind of debilitating medical condition, you really have to have that drive to live and go on.

DW: Oh, absolutely. The life force within him is just one of those divine gifts that some people have.

AM: Because many people would be brought down by much less.

DW: Oh, yes. No, Frank never wanted to be a victim, absolutely. He wants to persevere. He doesn't like the fact that his life is limited in a way that it wasn't limited previously. Of course, he has his black days and dark moods, but he's still Frazetta and he overcomes that.

AM: Is he still drawing barbarians?

DW: He draws everything. The last time I was there I saw four pencil drawings of sabertooth tigers which he had done. They were magnificent, each one. Unless you were specifically told these were left-handed drawings, you couldn't have told the difference between right-handed or left-handed. They were Frazetta. You could not tell the difference. Remarkable.