Master Illustrator Frank Frazetta: 1928-2010

Like many of my artist colleagues, a recent event has given me pause to reflect upon art in general and upon my career in particular. This soul-searching was triggered by the passing of artist Frank Frazetta. I am not alone in saying that Frazetta kindled my interest in science fiction and fantasy art -- an interest that ultimately led to my career. Frazetta's sometimes playful, and often very dark, illustrations brought all of us into the alternate universes of Conan the Barbarian, Tarzan, and John Carter of Mars.

Frank Frazetta was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 9, 1928. The only son of a Sicilian family, the artist had three sisters. He showed uncanny artistic ability at an early age, and was selling art to family members by the time he was three-years-old. At eight, he was attending the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts, beginning a four-year mentorship under the Italian painter Michael Falanga. With Falanga's sudden death in 1940, the school closed. But Frazetta's traditional foundation shines through in his lifetime of painting, from his classical compositions to the richly textured painting techniques evident in his oils.

A second major influence on Frazetta's style came from the art of the comic book. At the age of sixteen, Frazetta became an apprentice of Pulp illustrator John Giunta. Frazetta's first published work was a comic called Snowman based on a homemade comic he had penned in his childhood.

Frazetta soon added to the list of publishers blessed by his pen and brush: Magazine Enterprises, Toby Press, EC, National (which became DC Comics) and even Mad magazine. His Buck Rogers series for Famous Comics is counted among the finest examples of comic art in history. During this time, Frazetta married Ellie Kelly. The romance changed his life. Ellie and Frank had four children (Alfonso Frank, Holly, Heidi, and Bill).

Ellie often posed for her husband's dramatic paintings and drawings. The artist seldom used photographic reference, instead relying on his photographic memory of details in musculature, skin tones, poses, and costuming. His family life inspired a move from New York to a huge farm in eastern Pennsylvania. That Poconos farm became the heart of a bustling business in posters and fine art prints, as well as the Frazetta museum, housing 20 million dollars worth of the artist's originals.