The Rhythmic Bestiality of Frank Frazetta
Control click heading to hear Buck Rogers radio program.
Ranking the Frank Frazetta illustration on Weird Science-Fantasy #29 as “the most outstanding cover ever put on a comic book,” Russ Cochran, in 1972, wrote, “It epitomizes science fiction and adventure, good over evil, light over darkness—modern man battling his bestiality. It is powerful in concept, in design and in execution. The figures are very finely drawn and inked, but there is much more to the illustration than that. Look at the positions and suggested movements in the arms, legs, clubs; even every muscle is contributing to the overall rhythm of the illustration. To me, the rhythm and design (always a characteristic of Frazetta’s work) are even more powerful than the beautifully drawn figures.”
In addition to this cover and Frazetta’s unsigned contributions (inking and occasional complete panels) to Al Williamson pages, the slim output of Frazetta artwork for EC Comics consists of only one other cover—Weird Fantasy #21, with Williamson—plus a handful of stories. Later, during the 1960s, he joined the list of Mad contributors with such pages as the Blechh Shampoo ad (Mad #90) and “Early One Morning in the Jungle” (Mad #106).
Considering that Frazetta drew for more than half a dozen different comic book publishers during the early 1950s, why so little for EC? He visited the EC offices in late 1951, but then also immediately began his 1952-53 syndicated Johnny Comet
(later Ace McCoy
) strip. When that vanished from newspapers he penciled a small batch of Flash Gordon
dailies (February 1953) before beginning his lengthy tenure on Al Capp’s Li’l Abner
Former Mad editor Nick Meglin once recalled, “Frank had already started working with Capp, so he didn’t figure prominently in the fading EC scene, allowing them first print rights on a Famous Funnies cover of Buck Rogers which Fritz doctored up for Gaines and was allowed to keep the artwork after printing—the first and only time I know of that Gaines printed something he didn’t actually own. But Frank wanted to cover used, not sold, and that was that.”
A curious karma hung over Bill Gaines’ purchase of this illustration since it had been rejected by Famous Funnies—and Famous Funnies was the comic book displayed on newsstands in 1934 by his father, Max Charles Gaines, thereby launching the comic book industry. “That’s the only piece of art I used in my life that I didn’t buy outright,” Gaines told interviewer Rich Hauser in 1969. “As I recall, I was paying 60 bucks for a cover in those days. I think I offered him 40 bucks for the rights or 60 bucks for the cover outright, and Frank, well, he was never one for the buck. He’d rather have the art. He kept it, and I think I paid $40 or $50. Beautiful work”
A 1954 twilight in Boston. Another day’s session on Li’l Abner came to a close, and the studio drawing tables were vacated. Everyone was gone except for Frazetta, who stayed late that night to do the ninth in his series of Buck Rogers covers for Famous Funnies (#209-216). Surrounded by Moonbeam McSwine, Tiny Yokum, Nightmare Alice and the other Dogpatch denizens, Frazetta completed the picture in one sitting.
But the various 1953-54 editorial crusades, accusing comic books of excessive violence, had already brought repercussions. The editor who deemed the Buck Rogers combat-with-clubs as too violent for Famous Funnies
was Stephen A. Douglas (1907-67), a pioneer editor in the field. Between 1934 and 1956 Douglas edited Famous Funnies
and several dozen other Eastern Color titles, while also scripting for such characters as Rainbow Boy, Man O’ Metal and Music Master. Had Douglas chosen to go with Frazetta’s drawing, it would have turned up on Famous Funnies
#217. Other Famous Funnies Publications with Frazetta covers and stories were Buster Crabbe, Personal Love, Movie Love
and Heroic Comics
When Gaines decided to put this art on Weird Science-Fantasy
#29, he requested two minor changes, and these were done by Frazetta with small paste-over patches on the illustration, adding hair to the foreground figure and deleting Buck’s helmet. Frazetta also prepared a silverprint colorguide, but coloring by Marie Severin was used instead.
When the original art was returned later to Frazetta, he removed the paste-over. In EC Portfolio Two
(1972), Russ Cochran published (in two different Frazetta colored versions) the Buck Rogers art as first conceived by Frazetta.
This article originally appeared in Weird Science-Fantasy, Vol. 1, published by Russ Cochran in (1982), and it is reprinted here with minor changes. ©2008 Bhob Stewart
Labels: buck rogers, capp, cochran, ec, frazetta, gaines, nick meglin