Master Illustrator Frank Frazetta: 1928-2010

Frazetta's life was not free of care. In 1986, the artist began to lose weight and became clinically depressed. Over the next several years, Frazetta's energy was so sapped that he could not create art. After eight long years, doctors finally diagnosed a thyroid condition. Once medicated, his recovery was dramatic and swift. In later life, he was dogged by strokes, which ultimately took his life at the age of 82.

From the beginning, Frank was a storyteller. Though he happily labored in comics for the first two decades of his career, he realized that he could tell an entire story within the borders of a painting. The sweep of landscape and sorcerer's robe frame a Viking hero in The Norseman. A scuba diver confronts the undersea guardian of a treasure in Sea Monster, while a voluptuous cave woman wields a spear in Savage Pellucidar. Swashbuckling John Carter works his way through six-armed Martians and mystical alien cities in Frazetta's series for Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars stories, while a sultry Egyptian princess reclines against a stony column, watching over her pet leopard, itself a limber, athletic form.

Throughout, the exaggerated anatomy of the comic book's idealized physical form blankets people and creatures alike. Frazetta may be best known for his figural work. The female form embodied within his drawing and painting is unique and instantly recognizable. Female protagonists tend toward a small stature compared to Frazetta's heroic, "ripped" leading men. His heroines cover a wide spectrum from independent to helpless, fierce to seductive, and always curved in just the right places. Some bear innocent expressions, but most seem to hold a sly secret behind siren eyes.

More than his rusted spaceship hulks or alien creatures, it is Frazetta's figures that draw the observer into his worlds. As a fledging illustrator, I aspired to include similar figures in my work, as Frazetta had done. But my efforts were a pale comparison, a mere echo. I am good at a few things, but not this. Many attempts have been made by others, too, and these derived characters regularly fall short.

Frazetta showed us the best of the human form in action. For their numinous, supple, living quality and sense of magical adventure, no one can touch them. He was the master, and he will be missed.