Frank Frazetta, who passed away May 10 at the age of 82, wasn’t the most prolific comic book artist–his interior comics pages in the last four decades of his life, especially, were scarce to nonexistent. But his impact on American comics was enormous: the entire modern sword-and-sorcery genre is arguably directly descended from his paintings, for instance. (Two different imprints have published miniseries based on his painting “The Death Dealer,” a.k.a. the cover of the first Molly Hatchet album.)
Frazetta came out of the American adventure-strip cartooning tradition–Alex Raymond’s artwork, in particular, was prominently echoed in his dynamic, explosive images of sinewy bodies in motion. He also served as Al Capp’s assistant on “Li’l Abner” for years, and might be the only uncredited ghost artist on a comic strip ever to have multiple volumes of reprints specifically dedicated to his work on that strip.
Once Frazetta came into his own, though, he pretty much invented an entire category of artwork. An undeniable, A-class master painter, he applied his mastery to his passion for straight-up geeksville fantasy: muscular sword-wielding barbarians, lurking horrors, voluptuous damsels in distress, armies in monstrous armor, every detail in each of his images writhing into life. A single painting, he found, could evoke an entire story–an entire world–which may be why he mostly stuck with cover illustrations. The iconic depictions of Conan aren’t Robert E. Howard’s descriptions of his character; they’re Frazetta’s cover illustrations for the ’60s reprints of Howard’s stories. He was the most heavy metal artist American comics have ever seen, and he’ll be missed.