Tuesday, August 12, 2008
  The Rhythmic Bestiality of Frank Frazetta
Control click heading to hear Buck Rogers radio program.
©Frank Frazetta

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: , , , , , ,

In my opinion, the EC version serves this piece best. Gaines was right in suggesting that the foreground figures' head match the rest of the cast of primordial villians. And the Frazetta-colored version makes too much of the cliffside stonework, making it look like the work of stone masons instead of nature.

I think the cover shown below is far superior, and definitely in the running for the best comic book cover ever. The highlights in the ships canopy alone is museum worthy.
You might be interested in these posts at my blog, Tenth Letter of the Alphabet.

Michele Falanga, Frank Frazetta's childhood art teacher

The Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts

Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts Students

85 Court Street

Hal Foster's influence on Frank Frazetta

Paul Grubman, Frank Frazetta's high school art teacher
Alex: Terrific research! Could you drop me an email at bhob2@earthlink.net ? I need your input on something.
Post a Comment

<< Home
Masquerade of the albino axolotls

My Photo

is the editor of Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood (2003), reviewed by Paul Gravett.

October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / February 2008 / March 2008 / April 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / July 2008 / August 2008 / September 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / January 2009 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 / December 2009 / January 2010 / February 2010 / March 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 / June 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / October 2010 / November 2010 / December 2010 / January 2011 / February 2011 / March 2011 / April 2011 / May 2011 / June 2011 / July 2011 / August 2011 / September 2011 / October 2011 / November 2011 / December 2011 / January 2012 / February 2012 / March 2012 / April 2012 / May 2012 / June 2012 / July 2012 / September 2012 / October 2012 / November 2012 / December 2012 / January 2013 / February 2013 / March 2013 / April 2013 / May 2013 / June 2013 / July 2013 / August 2013 / September 2013 / October 2013 / December 2013 /

Powered by Blogger