How did you develop formal skills like perspective and deep space and ā
Aww, I just knew it.
Just picked it up.
I just had an eye for it. Some guys are born with it, some guys arenāt. Well, you heard Gil Kane. [Laughter.] I just had all of those things going for me. I simply didnāt 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.
Iām 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 donāt understand is maybe Iām 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 Iām lucky, Iām lucky. But Iām maybe a little smarter than them. They work hard, but theyāre not focused in the right places.
Thereās such a thing as having a natural gift.
Of course. Thatās my natural gift. But itās 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. Whatās their brain doing during this time? Mine is thinking of every possible way to make this thing really work. Iāve got the audience in mind. I just donāt 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. Thatās 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, āWho gives a shit?ā What youāre boasting about is your control with a brush. So you create this meaningless line, because youāre so obsessed with a line. And I say that a line has to have a meaning. You just canāt 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 didnāt, but overall, Foster blew him away. Especially in his peak years.
What did you think of Hogarthās 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. Itās that same old thing, you know. They get hung up on something. Most of the time itās the wrong thing. Itās like good movies. Some people focus on special effects, and thereās no storyline. Others have a thing about close-ups or sex, and itās just one thing. And they donāt really expand on it! And I try to think of everything. At least as much as I have the capacity for. If itās character you want, I get that, but not at the sacrifice of other things. If itās power, Iāll get that big time, but not at the sacrifice of everything else that makes it work. I just donāt focus in one area. Great art does that. It really, really leaves nothing out. Except things that donāt work, of course.
When you were in comics in the ā40s, 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 thinkā¦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: āJust get that thing reproduced and itās outta here!ā I just didnāt understand that. I kind of treasured the original art ā for good reason. It wasnāt until I really got to own my own work that I began to really put out my best stuff. Itās just the way I am. I know other artists donāt care. They did their job and didnāt 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?
Thatās 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, āI gotta use this cover! I gotta!ā I said, āI canāt, Bill. I would love it if youād use it, but I canāt because you own the art.ā I knew just how good it was, so I said, āIāll tell you what Iāll do. Iāll settle for half, but I own it.ā He roared with laughter, shook my hand and said, āYouāve got a deal!ā 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?
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 didnāt own it.
Well, I knew how good it was ā and so did they! But I just knew it was a masterpiece. Forget it. āYouāre not getting a masterpiece for 60 bucks! No way, Jose.ā
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 thatās 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?
Thatās the reason.
But every publisher was like that then.
No. I got the whole Thunāda 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, āLook, Iāll do a whole book with this Tarzan-like character, but Iāve got to keep my art or I wonāt do it. Thatās the deal.ā And they said, āOh, OK,ā 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 theyāll wind up selling for 10 times what they paid me in the first place. Thatās 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 didnāt 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, āThe art is yours,ā they even paid more, and the art is mine ā Ā WOW! Then I figured, OK, Iāll put my heart out for this stuff. And I began to do all the good work for Lancer. You donāt think Iād have done those Conans and had them own it, do you?
Yeah, youād 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, āI donāt think I can do this job.ā So he pawned it off on me, and I finished it. I needed the money, what could I do?ā
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?
That happened when I got a job erasing the pencils from those guysā inks ā Bob Lubberās, John Ferardoās, George Evansā, Graham Ingelsā 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 ā 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 donāt 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 lotā¦He got canned, and that was that. But the guy who took his place, he became a real Frazetta fan. Heās 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. Heās 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 Couldnāt Refuse
You ghosted Al Cappās Liāl Abner for nine years, beginning in 1952. I wanted to ask you how an artist of your talent could allow yourself to ghost Al Cappās strip for nine years.
Chalk that up to laziness.
[Laughs.] Is that what it was?
Thatās 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 didnāt 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 couldnāt 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; thatās all it took. And it wasnāt 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 didnāt know what else there was.
You were pretty young when you took over that strip ā probably around 25? [Frazetta was born in 1928.]
What was it, 1953?
So you didnāt ink it, either.
I had done some early on, a couple of things where I inked, penciled, everything. I did the āWild Oneā I guess youāre familiar withā¦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 didnāt 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 didnāt 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.
Itās not bad now.
Thatās right. But that was huge money then.
But you didnāt want to do it.
No, I didnāt. 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. Iād 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 guyās salary so he could pay me.
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 heād 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 paintingsā¦And of course I still wasnāt aware of paperbacks until Krenkel got involved. I wasnāt even looking at that stuff. It was Roy who told me about the paperbacks.
You got married in ā56, 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 restā¦
What prompted you to finally quit Capp?
I probably wouldnāt 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 ā 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, āGod, I canāt do that! Not now!ā But he kept trying to get me to come up, so I said, āLet me talk to Ellie about it and see if she can hack it without me for a week or two.ā She said, āOhā¦ we could use the money.ā So I called back and said, āOkay, Iāll come in. Same deal, right Al?ā
āYou know, the usual: $100 a day.ā
He said, āOh, no. Oh, no.ā
āWhat do you mean, āOh, noā?ā
āThings are tough, Frank.ā
āMeaning ā ?ā
āIāll pay you $250.ā 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 hadnāt 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? Iād been out of circulation for nine years.
[Laughs.] Did you get to know him personally at all?
Capp? Of course!
What was he like?
[Laughs.] That bad, huh?
Donāt ask. He was a charmer, you know. I donāt have to tell you, everybody knows that about Al Capp. And he liedā¦I donāt 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 donāt 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 whatās the difference? I donāt get it. The whole world knew I was doing Liāl 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 didnāt 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. Iāll 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, didnāt you?
Yeah. The office closed, it was 5 oāclock and I sat there and told him, āIāve got this job to do, Al.ā 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, āBecause of Cappās strong sense of drawing, I had all but lost all the things I had learned and developed on my own.ā
Oh yeah. Because Alās stuff was so unique in its style, I didnāt really do much of my own style. I did some painting, but it wasnāt the same thing. But after nine years, when we split, I thought, āIāll just go out and take the industry by storm.ā And I found I couldnāt 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?
Iād say it took a year and a half to two years.
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 ā pen and ink is tough, you know? Youāve got to keep doing that. If you stay away from that for years, then youāve got to relearn. Painting, no problem. Drawing, no problem. But just the handling of the pen ā itās 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. Iād say about 90 percent of it is brush.
But itās just getting that control back.
Thatās 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, itās 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. Itās like being an athlete ā if youāre out of shape, out of training, you canāt fight, you canāt run, you canāt leap, you canāt 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 canāt 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? Heāll find that his voice has gone right down the tubes.
So you just coasted through the ā50s.
Uh, yeahā¦ [Chuckles.] I wasted a lot of time.
[Laughs.] Itās like the Lost Decade.
Yeah, but youāve got a lot of love stories and youāve got the Canaveral art. Not much ā 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, thatās pretty unrewarding.
I donāt 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 donāt know if my inking was ever the same after that, even with the Canaveral stuff. Some like to think of it as good, but Iām 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 wasā¦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 touchā¦.That may be because of the layoff, or maybe just part of aging ā I donāt know.