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Faith, erotism and swords in the fight against evil of Frank Frazetta

Illustrator Frank Frazetta is now part of Taschen′s catalog and is recognized as one of the most influential artists of the last fifty years. At thirty, however, he didn′t even have the money to buy shoes. World War II shaked the pulp fiction market and readers habits upside down in such a way that he found only sporadic works to illustrate cheap novels in New York City.

Article by Pablo Fernández from Barcelona on Wednesday, December 22nd 2021 ·.·★ Reading takes 19 minutes or 3769 words.


Frank Frazetta was one of those who stick out their chests in the midst of difficulties. The drama of the covers that Frazetta began to draw, when everything seemed lost, soon led to an unexpected revolution in bookstores. The executives of the publishing houses therefore began to want to buy any of the previous drawings of him, with the certainty that they would write and sell any story that was illustrated by him. The price of the original of his work ′Egyptian Queen′, for example, which inspired the character of Princess Leia in Star Wars and illustrates the cover of the recent Vanguard collection, broke the record for works of its kind with its $ 5,400,000 during the auction from Heritage Auctions of Chicago in 2019.

Frank Frazetta has inspired many of the ideas that make up the works of George Lucas and illustrated countless stories such as Tarzan, The Lord of the Rings or Vampirella whether in comic, film or vinyl format but without a doubt they made him especially known his illustrations on Conan the Barbarian, the now classic story by Robert E. Howard that gave name to an entire literary movement called ′Sword & Sorcery.′

The author Rachel B. Bingham assures in ′The Enduring Influence of Cervantes′ that the origin of this genre full of pillage, swords, sorcery and sex is already in the pair of rogues ′Rinconete y Cortadillo′, set by Miguel of Cervantes in the Seville of the XVI century. The gold stolen in America that landed there then aroused the attention of the whole old world and increased corruption in a singular way in all social classes. Robert E. Howard obviously brought him a good number of unique traits.

The origin of the attraction for magic and swords

Robert E. Howard was born in Texas in 1906 and under the tutelage of his mother developed a love for classical literature as great as his difficulty in relating to others at school or on the street. Robert E. Howard′s subsequent fondness for bodybuilding and boxing fits his hostile worldview quite well, but he had an exquisite taste and sensitivity when it came to literature. Boxing and the western, with which he made a living, were then trending topics but where he really found his place in the world was as a writer for pulp fiction magazines. It was thanks to those short stories and correspondence that he met H.P. Lovecraft and the circle of young writers that grew up around him.

He was thirty years old when a nurse gave him the news that his mother, whom she loved so much, would not wake up from the coma that she suffered. It was then that, returning to her car, he took the gun he had borrowed from the glove compartment and shot himself in the head. Like his esteemed H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard died without seeing his recognized work of his but already had the attention of the entire market when the publisher Lancer Books hired Frank Frazetta to illustrate the series of ′Conan the Adventurer′ (1966).

Walter Zacharius had survived several battles such as the Normandy landing when he founded that publishing house in New York with Irwin Stein. The goal was to reconstruct the complete story of Conan and the success of the first issues led everyone to have high expectations. Frank Frazetta already had elaborate drafts on Conan′s crucifixion and resurrection when he was struck by the idea that he could ask for a raise of one hundred dollars for each cover. The publisher temporarily avoided the deal by hiring other cartoonists like Boris Vallejo but eventually had to hire Frank Frazetta again, now with an increase of two hundred dollars per cover. Lancer Books went bankrupt shortly thereafter and in fact Irwin Stein is said to have spent the rest of his life packaging books but the Conan story continued to pay off other publishers such as Donald M. Grant, Bantam or Tor.

Fighting and Survival in the Bronx

Frank A. Frazetta was born in the Bronx in 1928. His grandfather had come from Italy as a surveyor and his father was a jeweler so he was able to pay little Frank for eight years of study at a small private school created by the painter realist Michel Falanga. He probably knew in his classes the work of Michelangelo, Rembrandt or William Blake that so evoke his drawings. Teacher and student had high hopes for a trip to Europe, but all plans fell apart with the death of Michel Falanga.

Frank Frazetta then developed an even greater interest in baseball, athletics and his physical form that clearly also marks his work and that in part helped him to defend himself in a particularly hostile neighborhood like his. After all, according to him, he then resolved their differences with blows. However, being surrounded by cartoonist friends and the demand and the comics industry being so great at that time, as early as 1944 he began to find himself involved in the tasks of that production cleaning brushes, inking cartoons or even creating stories as a ghostwriter of the comedian Al Capp.

The government of the United States of America had created in 1942 the institution The Advertising Council, Inc., with the objective of using the propaganda of the communications media for its own purposes. The institution had continued to work during World War II, specifically with military propaganda advertisements such as the popular ′We can do it!′, Which shows a woman rolling up her strong right arm, encouraging women to collaborate in the war. against the Japanese and the Germans.

The government used the same institution after the war also to prevent drug abuse, forest fires or absenteeism in churches. It was for this last religious purpose that they contacted Frank Frazetta, who drew for them several versions of a signed, full-page vignette entitled ′Prayer works wonders′ or ′Prayer works wonders′, where young people are encouraged to invite the girls to synagogues or churches in order to seduce them. The call to action at the bottom of the page is: ′Attend the church or synagogue of your choice ...′.

As outrageous as the moralistic approach to comics may be today, that advertisement illustrated by Frank Frazetta appeared many times in issues of Buster Crabbe, Crime Smashers, Personal Love, or Seduction of the Innocent during the 1950s. Frank Frazetta said shortly before he died that he preferred to draw funny stories with animals, but all these first tasks allowed Frank to start a great family with Eleanor Kelly, who will be a muse and entrepreneurial engine until the day of her death.

Frank Frazetta also began drawing erotic nude bodies for Playboy as early as the 1950s. He will continue to do so to the terror of censorship all his life, often surrounding them with animals and evoking the biblical Garden of Eden. That was the case with ′Golden Girl′ (1970), ′The Tempters′ (1979) or ′Eve′ (1979), which was also a Valentine′s gift for his wife that year. Among many other things, Eleanor was responsible for keeping the originals at a time when no value was attributed to them and then wallpapering the known world with reproductions in poster format.

Frank assures that Walt Disney executives made him offers that fill him with pride but that he rejected in order to continue working on his own artistic line more inclined to portray good and evil with all its complexity. Frank Frazetta′s characters have blood stained hands. They look evil in the eye and in many cases the good seems clearly at a disadvantage. The viewer knows that it is only a matter of time, of course, since in most of the cases, we have seen that the corpses of villains and monsters pile up under the feet of the protagonist.

Success at the top of the hill

Frank Frazetta′s illustrations conquered Hollywood despite everything thanks to the collaboration of some then young George Lucas, Clint Eastwood, Bo Derek and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who were already approaching him as authentic and shy fans. Screenwriter John Milius was thirty-eight years old. He had just worked with Francis Ford Coppola for ′Apocalypse Now′ (1978) and admits to having traced the world of Frank Frazetta also for his collaboration with Oliver Stone entitled ′Conan the Barbarian′ (1982) - where the protagonist has long hair, huge weapons and all the traits that Frazetta had added to Robert E. Howard′s original character. Directors like Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino were children at the time and they enjoyed rescuing his memory during the 90s.

Forbes magazine assures that it was Frazetta who facilitated Schwarzenegger′s position in the California government, but many young people today will wonder who is Conan? The gigantic Jason Momoa from Game of Thrones brought it to theaters again in 2011 with a much larger budget but a resounding failure at the box office. Conan is an outlaw, an outlaw who seems to have the destiny of saving the world on his shoulders. In a sense he is a villain like Samson, who is at the same time a reflection of Christ. That idea is more clearly expressed in Oliver Stone′s version, where the protagonist practically dies crucified and is resurrected so that he can fulfill his mission.

Ralph Bakshi, who had just finished the animated version of JRR Tolkien′s ′The Lord of the Rings′ (1978), then took it to California for more than a year to produce ′Tygra: Fire & Ice′ (1983) . They used for the entire feature film a technology from 1912 that George Lucas had recovered in the generation of laser rays, called a rotoscope, which in short consists of the generation of an animation based on a real film. Frank Frazetta was at the peak of his professional success when he began to suffer from a disease that doctors were unable to diagnose.

The madness and judgment of Nebuchadnezzar

Frank Frazetta suffered from that unknown disease that could have been thyroid for eight years, during which everyone around him believed that it was caused by some form of madness. Then, as if it had not been enough, he suffered several heart attacks and lost practically all his mobility as had happened to the biblical King Nebuchadnezzar. He had learned to paint with his left hand when his wife recorded the famous documentary ′Frazetta: Painting with Fire′ (2003) where he admits that he does not understand where his talent comes from and that in any case he considers it a gift from God. The official subtitles substitute the word ′God′ for ′heaven′, because as we all know that someone can believe in God is something that bothers many.

Religion was not entirely absent from Frazetta′s most popular work; but let′s say it had existed almost exclusively as a background in a tension, a conflict between the power of the unknown and human frailty. Churches tend to hide villains, as in ′Tygra: Fire & Ice′ (1983), or are in ruins, as in the fight between the werewolf and Dracula - a count who actually looks like a priest, afflicted in a fight uneven on the cover of Issue 7 of Creepy magazine (1966). In ′Against the Gods′ (1967), unlike Michelangelo′s ′Creation of Adam′, man only interacts with a lightning bolt that seems to fall from the sky to kill him.

Eleamor Frazetta was a believer at least at the end of her life and Frank Frazetta had drawn for her at least two representations of Jesus Christ at the time. One of them is from 1985, it shows him as a pastor and is without a title when “Frazetta: Painting with Fire” is recorded. The most interesting however is the powerful and serene close-up of a Mediterranean face, titled ′King of Kings.′ Alec Stevens, who has worked for DC Comics and adapted Fyodor M. Dostoevsky′s ′Notes from Underground′ work, often visited the museum Eleanor had created for Frank Frazetta. Alec claims that he had long conversations with her about the faith he shared with her and that she kept a copy of the King James translation of the Bible in her desk drawer.

Frank Frazetta′s family

The interesting documentary ′Frazetta: Painting with Fire′ (2003) is frankly good but it shows an image of the Frazetta family that is hard to believe. No one is authorized to deny what someone says is happening behind the door of their house, nor is it necessary to do so in this case since, as in many other circumstances, it is in the end the newscasts that have the last word.

The documentary collects countless testimonies from Frank′s four children recalling their childhood happiness. That is why it is difficult to understand the final detail in which Eleanor admits to keeping a single key to the museum with determination. What reason could Eleanor have for hiding the key, depriving even the author of the work, in an idyllic family like hers? Eleanor had died of cancer in June 2009 when the press discovered why.

On the afternoon of December 9, 2009, her eldest son Alfonso Frank Frazetta used an excavator to enter the building. Alfonso had already loaded ninety paintings into a van and was preparing to leave the premises when he was arrested. When questioned by the police, Alfonso replied that he had received permission from his father to take them away, with a naturally false explanation, as confirmed later by his father and his own wife. Alfonso Frank Frazetta was forced to pay his brothers a fine of $ 500,000 and his father died of a heart attack on May 10, 2010.

The influence of Frank Frazetta

Most of us got to know Frank Frazetta′s work long before we knew his name. Keep in mind that in the 1980s even the toy industry was dominated by the influence of this illustrator. This is confirmed by the recent documentary about HE-MAN titled “The Power of Greyskull”, now available on Netflix. The original idea of ​​Mattel was none other than to bring children the universe of Frank Frazetta and the battle cry ′I have the power!′ it was deliberately planned by them to give voice and hope to a generation precisely devoid of authority.

George R.R. Martin, the creator of the Game of Thrones story, dreamed of having Frank Frazetta on the cover of one of his books but it was not an easy assignment to get. Many simply imitate him without giving him credit. The character of Rexxar in the World of Warcraft universe is inspired by Darkwolf but where I met him is in the imitations that were made for record covers. Whitesnake imitated ′Chained′ for his ′Lovehunter′ (1979), Ronnie James Dio imitated ′The Brain′ for his ′Holy Diver′ (1983) and Stryper imitated ′Caveman′ for his ′To Hell with the Devil′ (1986) .

Illustrator Brian Ayuso had not stopped working in 1985 for the soundtracks of Troll, The Return of the Living Dead and King Solomon′s Miles when Stryper′s Robert Sweet came to him with the concept for that cover of “To Hell with the Devil ”. He had already illustrated all of his previous works but in this case he simply embroidered it and naturally the cover was censored within the United States. At that time I was looking for merchandising as if it were gold in the markets of Seville, when I found that cover reproduced in a huge format of a patch for the back.

The double face of power

The entire city of Seville was dominated by the love of heavy metal in that decade of the 1980s, but especially San Juan de Aznalfarache, the hill on which an Almohad fortress had been built in 1196. King Muhammad al-Muhammad was fond of poetry and favored art by inviting poets such as Ibn Hamdís, Ibn al-Labbana or Ibn Zaydun to his home, authors recognized for their work around nostalgia, wine and love also in its most carnal aspect. al-Mutamid extended his kingdom to Toledo with the sword, but when he asked the Almoravids in Africa for help, against the Christians who attacked from the north, they not only fought the Christians but also them.

Many powerful Iberians, Tartessians and Romans had preceded al-Mutamid on that throne and many will succeed him to this day, with not a few demonstrations of sensitivity but also of corruption, pillage and cruelty. Not surprisingly, an an acrat like Frank Frazetta gave the title of ′King of Kings′ or ′King of Kings′ to his portrait of Jesus Christ. The ancient title ′King of Kings′ is not exactly a title that Jesus used for himself. Jesus is more easily identified in the Gospels as God - but a God who plans to subdue all the kings of the earth with his sword.

The order of the factors does matter in the story of salvation in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many dismiss Jesus because of his supposed lack of roots in pre-first century history. It does not seem reasonable to them that God should take so long to manifest. They ignore that according to Christianity itself, Jesus was not the first method of communication that God had used. The author of the book of Hebrews for example puts it on the table when he writes that God had used other means such as the law and the prophets before Christ but that, now, he uses Christ. He certainly uses him as a savior capable of occupying on a cross the role of an evildoer for the world, capable of giving new life through his resurrection to those who believe in him, but making it clear that this is not the end of his plan. .

The final outcome of the king of kings

The end of the plan, as the Apostle Paul later describes it to the Athenians, is that “God, having overlooked the times of this ignorance, now commands all men everywhere to repent ; because he has established a day in which he will judge the world with justice, by that man whom he appointed giving faith to all with having raised him from the dead ”. A world dominated by distinctions like ours is practically incapable of understanding how inclusive this call is to “all men everywhere”.

The apostle John, at the end of the Bible, describes Jesus with eyes “like a flame of fire, and there were many diadems on his head; and he had a written name that no one knew but himself. He was dressed in a garment dyed in blood; and his name is: THE WORD OF GOD. And the heavenly armies, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword, to strike down the nations with it, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; and he treads the winepress of the fury and wrath of Almighty God. ”

′And on his garment and on his thigh has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS′, continues the apostle in that same serious warning. And I saw an angel who was standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven: Come, and gather yourselves to the great supper of God, so that you may eat the meat of kings and of captains, and the meat of the strong, the meat of horses and their riders, and the meat of everyone, free and slave, small and great. And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and his armies, gathered to war against the one riding the horse, and against his army. ”

The description of the apostle in the 1st century really casts doubt on how much of what Frank Frazetta drew had not already been described hundreds of years earlier in the Bible: “And the beast - the biblical text continues - was seized, and with her the false prophet who had performed before her the signs with which she had deceived those who received the mark of the beast, and who had worshiped his image. These two were thrown alive into a lake of fire that burns with sulfur. ”


This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as Frank Frazetta: El sexo, la magia y las espadas en su religiosa lucha contra el mal


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