Frank Frazetta Interview

Posted by on May 10th, 2010 at 5:57 PM

 

How did you develop formal skills like perspective and deep space and —

Aww, I just knew it.

Just picked it up.

I just had an eye for it. Some guys are born with it, some guys aren’t. Well, you heard Gil Kane. [Laughter.] I just had all of those things going for me. I simply didn’t focus on anatomy. In the sense that I could really render the musculature of the body, I was faking my way through. It just never occurred to me that it was important.

It sounds like things might have come too easy for you, Frank.

I’m afraid it did. [Groth laughs.]

While other guys had to work their asses off, you just soaked it up like a sponge.

Well, it comes easily. But what the guys don’t understand is maybe I’m a little smarter than they are. When I see something, I remember it. When I look at it, I not only remember it, I see it from every perspective. I see the lighting, I see the drama, I see the peak action. If I’m lucky, I’m lucky. But I’m maybe a little smarter than them. They work hard, but they’re not focused in the right places.

There’s such a thing as having a natural gift.

Of course. That’s my natural gift. But it’s still a brain. It takes a brain to decipher what you see and separate the no-nos from the goodies. There are guys that pretend to be very intellectual, and then they sit there, and ponder, and struggle, and nothing comes out. What’s their brain doing during this time? Mine is thinking of every possible way to make this thing really work. I’ve got the audience in mind. I just don’t do it for myself. When I do something, I want it to read easily. I want it to be interesting. I want it to be believable. That’s an intelligent approach. Other guys are very pompous. They really are. They focus on the line. Notice the way this line goes from here to there. And I say, “Who gives a shit?” What you’re boasting about is your control with a brush. So you create this meaningless line, because you’re so obsessed with a line. And I say that a line has to have a meaning. You just can’t be hung up on all the wrong things; too many artists are obsessed with style and technique.

What did you think of Raymond, speaking of line-work?

Raymond was one of those guys. You know, he was very slick. Nice enough guy, but it was for the most part boring. He just was very self-satisfied with his style. There was no real characterization; there was no real pizzazz. Raymond had some things Foster didn’t, but overall, Foster blew him away. Especially in his peak years.

What did you think of Hogarth’s Tarzan?

Well, Hogie started out emulating Foster, and it looked pretty darn good. But then he just went into his own realm [laughter], and became Hogarth. What can I say? Powerful and dramatic, but he tended to get carried away. It’s that same old thing, you know. They get hung up on something. Most of the time it’s the wrong thing. It’s like good movies. Some people focus on special effects, and there’s no storyline. Others have a thing about close-ups or sex, and it’s just one thing. And they don’t really expand on it! And I try to think of everything. At least as much as I have the capacity for. If it’s character you want, I get that, but not at the sacrifice of other things. If it’s power, I’ll get that big time, but not at the sacrifice of everything else that makes it work. I just don’t focus in one area. Great art does that. It really, really leaves nothing out. Except things that don’t work, of course.

When you were in comics in the ’40s, can you tell me a little about what the environment was like? Was there the sense that you were being exploited or taken advantage of?

Let me think…not really. Their policy was to keep all the art.

Did that bother you?

Sure it bothered me. Who the hell are they to have the art? Inevitably, it would be destroyed. What was the point? They treated it like it was trash: “Just get that thing reproduced and it’s outta here!” I just didn’t understand that. I kind of treasured the original art — for good reason. It wasn’t until I really got to own my own work that I began to really put out my best stuff. It’s just the way I am. I know other artists don’t care. They did their job and didn’t care if they ever saw the painting again.

Was that treatment by publishers back then resented by other artists?

Yeah. Well, artists were like second-rate citizens, you know? I kind of helped change that around. You know the story with Bill Gaines and that Weird Science-Fantasy cover?

Yes.

That’s typical of me. I was doing these things for the Famous Funnies group and they loved it, but they rejected it as being too violent. So OK, I was in New York and I decided to drop them off to the guys at Mad. I showed Bill Gaines that cover and he absolutely went berserk. Bill Gaines says, “I gotta use this cover! I gotta!” I said, “I can’t, Bill. I would love it if you’d use it, but I can’t because you own the art.” I knew just how good it was, so I said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll settle for half, but I own it.” He roared with laughter, shook my hand and said, “You’ve got a deal!” He thought I must have been loaded with vanity at the time. So how much do you think somebody offered me for that recently?

Let me guess, $250,000?

Oh damn it, somebody told you!

[Laughs.] You did.

OK, but you see what I mean?

Yeah.


Bill Gaines got such a bargain; he got to use it, and he saved $30.

He said it was the only piece of art that he published knowing that he didn’t own it.

Well, I knew how good it was — and so did they! But I just knew it was a masterpiece. Forget it. “You’re not getting a masterpiece for 60 bucks! No way, Jose.”

Did Gaines buy outright the Squeeze Play art?

Yeah, he got that, unfortunately. I hated that. I hated when I had to give good art away. Now that’s circulating around and guys are paying all kinds of money for it. But I got all the good stuff, for the most part.

Why did you do so little work for EC?

That’s the reason.

But every publisher was like that then.

No. I got the whole Thun’da book back. Of course that was after I was becoming known. I started getting all this fan mail, so I began to make some demands. I said, “Look, I’ll do a whole book with this Tarzan-like character, but I’ve got to keep my art or I won’t do it. That’s the deal.” And they said, “Oh, OK,” very reluctantly. So I got it. No way would they get the art. There was no need for them to keep the original art that they’ll wind up selling for 10 times what they paid me in the first place. That’s bullshit. I can use the money more than they could. Look at Ace: they paid me $200 for those covers. Two hundred, and they kept the art! I didn’t mind the $200, but they kept the art. In due time, they were suddenly selling it for $600 or $800, $1000! So when Lancer called and said, “The art is yours,” they even paid more, and the art is mine —  WOW! Then I figured, OK, I’ll put my heart out for this stuff. And I began to do all the good work for Lancer. You don’t think I’d have done those Conans and had them own it, do you?

Yeah, you’d be a damn fool. So if Gaines had agreed to give you back your art, you probably would have done more work for EC.

I would have worked for them solely, no question.

What were the circumstances around which you actually did the one Squeeze Play story?

That was weird because that was a job they had given Al Williamson. Al started it and as a matter of fact, typical of Al, he got a hold of me, we went off to Coney Island and he took pictures of me on the beach doing this and that. He needed all kinds of reference for the roller coaster and all. So I went along with him. I was a big goof-off anyway. So he starts doing it and he says, “I don’t think I can do this job.” So he pawned it off on me, and I finished it. I needed the money, what could I do?”

Were you pals with Williamson?

Yeah. When we were young, we hung out a lot. He was a crazy kid.

He was sort of the hippie of the EC group, I heard.

In a sense, I guess he was, now that I think about it.

Did you hang out with any other EC artists? You knew Graham Ingels.

Ingels was truly one of the very first people to see my talent. Did you know that?

No.

That happened when I got a job erasing the pencils from those guys’ inks — Bob Lubber’s, John Ferardo’s, George Evans’, Graham Ingels’ and whoever else was there. I was this kid, maybe 16 years old, and I was sitting there erasing their pencils and drawing on the side, and they were just flipping out over my stuff — Ingels in particular. Suddenly Ingels got a job as art director at Standard, and he called me up and proceeded to give me a feature! I don’t think I was really ready for it, but I did a feature called Judy of the Jungle. Then there was some politics going on there involving Ingels, who was drinking a lot…He got canned, and that was that. But the guy who took his place, he became a real Frazetta fan. He’s the one who told me to learn my anatomy. But Ingels was the first one to really see I had tremendous potential.

Did you know Severin?

I met John once or twice, yeah. He’s another nice one. And Marie [Severin]. I knew all those guys. And they kind of followed my career just shaking their heads. At that big show, Joe [Orlando] showed up and a lot of the old EC guys showed up. So I was quite honored and flattered and I had fun rehashing old times.

An Offer He Couldn’t Refuse

You ghosted Al Capp’s Li’l Abner for nine years, beginning in 1952. I wanted to ask you how an artist of your talent could allow yourself to ghost Al Capp’s strip for nine years.

Chalk that up to laziness.

[Laughs.] Is that what it was?

That’s all it was. First of all, at the time I had just done the Johnny Comet strip. That became a chore. It was horribly written, and it got dumber as it went along and I realized it was failing about halfway through. So all I dreamed about was maybe one day doing my own strip and making lots of money. I never even heard about paperbacks in those days. It just didn’t occur to me that I could actually paint for a living, unless you sold your art in galleries. All I could think of was that I loved to tell stories and do comics, and Al Capp came up with an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was a steady income, it only took one day to do that Sunday page, and that gave me the rest of the week off! So for nine years, all I did was put in about eight hours; that’s all it took. And it wasn’t even inked, it was just penciled. Now I had an income that I could get nowhere else, not for that kind of time, and that gave me free time to have fun. And I loved having fun. I loved goofing off, playing ball, and so forth. And besides I didn’t know what else there was.

You were pretty young when you took over that strip — probably around 25? [Frazetta was born in 1928.]

What was it, 1953?

So you didn’t ink it, either.

I had done some early on, a couple of things where I inked, penciled, everything. I did the “Wild One” I guess you’re familiar with…But he had four or five guys working on staff, and Capp would get in there with his little touch for the eyeballs and funny expressions. But it seemed like I could do all the characters. But I didn’t want to do it all, you see? Had he been smart, he probably could have made me an offer that would have really gotten me involved in the big time. Thank God he was a miserable son of a bitch, and he didn’t make me that offer. He did offer me $500 a week if I went up to Boston.

If you actually moved there?

Well, if I worked in Boston five days a week. He was offering me $100 a day, and that was big money then.

It’s not bad now.

That’s right. But that was huge money then.

But you didn’t want to do it.

No, I didn’t. I did do it once or twice; I wanted to make some fast money, you know?

So he had a studio in Boston?

He had a big studio. I’d have to work in his studio. He had Andy and Walter and Harvey, and of course himself. And then I found out one of the guys was crying and moaning that Al had cut the guy’s salary so he could pay me.

Jesus.

He was that kind of guy. I felt terrible about that.

Did you work at home, or did he have a studio in New York?

After a few weeks up there, I decided I was going to sit home, and we made some kind of arrangement where he’d send the stuff out, a blank page that was just lightly stick-figured in for placement, and I would just pencil the thing in, wrap it up and mail it. And that was it. For nine years, I did some other things, some paintings…And of course I still wasn’t aware of paperbacks until Krenkel got involved. I wasn’t even looking at that stuff. It was Roy who told me about the paperbacks.

You got married in ’56, so you got married during that stint.

Yep. As a matter of fact, I got married on Sadie Hawkins Day, no less. That was just by coincidence. Capp was sure I planned it that way, but I did not. Anyway, I got married, had kiddies and the rest…

What prompted you to finally quit Capp?

I probably wouldn’t have quit, like a dope. The guy called me up one time and he needed me up there in Boston desperately. I had just bought my first little house and I had all the stuff in boxes — it was tough; you know how it is when you move in. And he wanted to drag me out of there and leave Ellie and the two kids and go to Boston, and I was just moving in. So I said, “God, I can’t do that! Not now!” But he kept trying to get me to come up, so I said, “Let me talk to Ellie about it and see if she can hack it without me for a week or two.” She said, “Oh… we could use the money.” So I called back and said, “Okay, I’ll come in. Same deal, right Al?”

“What’s that?”

“You know, the usual: $100 a day.”

He said, “Oh, no. Oh, no.”

“What do you mean, ‘Oh, no’?”

“Things are tough, Frank.”

“Meaning — ?”

“I’ll pay you $250.” So he simply decided to cut me in half, and that was the end of Al Capp.

You just quit on the spot?

What do you expect? Cut me in half? And I hadn’t even asked for an increase in salary all those nine years. I was satisfied with it, not even with an increase, and he decided to cut me in half?! I guess he felt he had me by the throat!

He just thought he could take advantage of you.

Sure he did. I was up against it: I needed the dough for the house, and what the hell? Where would I go now? I’d been out of circulation for nine years.

[Laughs.] Did you get to know him personally at all?

Capp? Of course!

What was he like?

Don’t ask.

[Laughs.] That bad, huh?

Don’t ask. He was a charmer, you know. I don’t have to tell you, everybody knows that about Al Capp. And he lied…I don’t care what his personal life was, but then he goes around telling his family and the world that I only worked for a couple of months? I don’t understand that. That makes no sense to me.

He obviously wanted all the credit.

Yeah, but everybody knew he had people working there. Everybody knew he did a minimum of the work. So what’s the difference? I don’t get it. The whole world knew I was doing Li’l Abner all those years. It was no big secret.

Did you respect his drawing ability?

Oh yeah. I think he had a lot of talent, no question. He was a good artist. He didn’t draw realistically or anything, but he had a touch. And he could capture the peak expression, you know? What made something ultra-funny or ultra-nasty or ultra-cute. He was a very brilliant guy, although a little screwed up. But he was talented, no question. I’ll never knock him in that area; I think he was quite the artist. But he saw me do that Famous Funnies cover; I did that up in Boston.

You did that in one night, didn’t you?

Yeah. The office closed, it was 5 o’clock and I sat there and told him, “I’ve got this job to do, Al.” So I got some Bristol board and we had plenty of inks and brushes and so on. And I sat there and worked around the clock, and everyone came in the next morning and just about fell over. I think it took me about eight hours. If that. More like six hours. He was impressed with my talent, no doubt about that. He had all the reason in the world to be a great guy and make people love him. But for some reason, he was his own worst enemy. There are people like that.

You once said, “Because of Capp’s strong sense of drawing, I had all but lost all the things I had learned and developed on my own.”

Oh yeah. Because Al’s stuff was so unique in its style, I didn’t really do much of my own style. I did some painting, but it wasn’t the same thing. But after nine years, when we split, I thought, “I’ll just go out and take the industry by storm.” And I found I couldn’t do it. I had forgotten how to ink! I was amazed. But I got it back.

How tough was it to become Frazetta full-time again?

I’d say it took a year and a half to two years.

That long?

Yeah, to really get back. When I started to do those Tower books, with the girls, into the Canaveral stuff, you can actually see the transition. So I was warming up again. You lose your hand — pen and ink is tough, you know? You’ve got to keep doing that. If you stay away from that for years, then you’ve got to relearn. Painting, no problem. Drawing, no problem. But just the handling of the pen — it’s very difficult.

Do you ink with a pen or a brush or both?

I do both. Of course most of the comic books were brush. I’d say about 90 percent of it is brush.

But it’s just getting that control back.

That’s all it is. Control. And the dexterity that goes with it. If you do it long enough, it becomes second nature. I did the Johnny Comet strip for years, drawing every single day, and I got better and better, and then right on into the Buck Rogers covers.

Yeah, that was impeccable work. Was Johnny Comet done primarily with a brush?

Yes, for the most part. A little pen here and there.

That looked like a tremendous amount of labor.

Oh yeah, it really was. But then when you stop for many years, it’s a miracle that any of it came back at all. Even painting, if you stay away from it long enough, you really forget how to paint. But you can relearn pretty quickly. It takes a couple of paintings, you have to mess up a few of them, and then it starts to flow. It’s like being an athlete — if you’re out of shape, out of training, you can’t fight, you can’t run, you can’t leap, you can’t do a lot of stuff. Gotta get back in shape. And it holds true of art, believe it or not. Even if you think the same, and you can visualize the same, somehow that dexterity is gone, and you have to get in there and start hacking away to warm up, and it begins to happen, gradually. You can’t stay away too long from anything in this world. Like a singer. How can he sing if he decides not to sing for a year? He’ll find that his voice has gone right down the tubes.

So you just coasted through the ’50s.

Uh, yeah… [Chuckles.] I wasted a lot of time.

[Laughs.] It’s like the Lost Decade.

Yeah, but you’ve got a lot of love stories and you’ve got the Canaveral art. Not much — certainly not as much as there might have been. Yeah, it was a mistake: I really wish to hell I had never done the Al Capp strip.

Yeah, that’s pretty unrewarding.

I don’t know what I might have done during that period, because my inking was at its all-time high. It was stupid of me to just let it slip by. I don’t know if my inking was ever the same after that, even with the Canaveral stuff. Some like to think of it as good, but I’m not so sure. I think that Weird Science-Fantasy cover is the ultimate in inking technique. Not that the drawing is all that perfect, or the concepts are all that great, but just the inking style itself was…I mean, I was just flying. Then the Canaveral stuff came back looking a little different. It was powerful, more blacks, but not quite the incredible touch….That may be because of the layoff, or maybe just part of aging — I don’t know.

 

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10 Responses to “Frank Frazetta Interview”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cinema Mundial and Ciro I. Marcondes, THE COMICS JOURNAL. THE COMICS JOURNAL said: R.I.P. Frank Frazetta http://www.tcj.com/interviews/frank-frazetta-interview […]

  2. […] Frank Frazetta Interview Uma longa entrevista, feita em 1994, por Gary Groth. Vale a pena [re]ler, já que cobre vários períodos, tanto profissionais como pessoais, o o resultado é um retrato muito completo do autor. […]

  3. […] and interviews • Gary Groth's 1994 interview with Frazetta [TCJ.com] • Frazetta's place in fantasy art history secure [Pocono Record] • Comic book artists remember […]

  4. Un ilustrador que sabia manejar la expresión de la acción, sus pinceladas eran precisas sin llegar a sobar las imágenes, lo extrañare mucho o toda la vida! : (

  5. […] Gary Groth honours the life of Frank Frazetta by posting this in-depth interview from 1994 in their […]

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Colin Peters. Colin Peters said: @joqatana You know, the thing about that is Frazetta didn't often use models. http://www.tcj.com/interviews/frank-frazetta-interview/7 […]

  7. […] http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Frazetta Entrevista para o The Comics Journal > http://www.tcj.com/interviews/frank-frazetta-interview Tags: Arte, conan, desenho, entrevista, Frank, Frazetta, hq, ilustração, interviews, paint, […]

  8. […] described his training in a 1994 interview with Gary Groth at The Comics Journal. “He’d [Falanga] come and see where I was working and he might say, ‘Very nice, […]

  9. […] spent some time this week revisiting the monster Comics Journal interview with him. I remember reading it in the print version a decade ago and it was a pleasure to […]