After you quit Capp, what did you do? I know you did some material for Playboy, I know you worked on Harvey Kurtzmanās Little Annie Fanny, but were you just scrounging for work?
Yes. Actually it was George Evans who helped me put some food on the table.
Is that right?
I couldnāt get work anywhere! I really felt during that period that Al Capp had blackballed me! I just thought, is it possible? I mean, I was visiting old haunts and looking for work, thinking I could just take up where I left off, and they were all looking at me with these blank expressions. Iād say, āWhatās the matter?ā āWell, gee Frank, this is what we do now.ā āHereās what I did! Did you forget me? I did this stuff, remember?ā And theyāre looking at me and shaking their head; they wouldnāt give me work.
When you say, ānobody,ā who did you go to? Did you try DC?
I went to DC, I tried Madā you name it.
Do you remember who you dealt with at DC at the time?
Some guy I didnāt know. I donāt remember his name.
Julie Schwartz or Mort Weisinger?
No, it wasnāt Schwartz: some other guy, dark hair. I donāt remember who. They werenāt the guys I remembered. But they all looked at me like I had the plague or something ā I couldnāt understand it. It was George Evans who eventually gave me some work, inking.
Was that on a newspaper strip?
No, comic book stuff. Anything. I couldnāt begin to say enough nice things about George Evans ā as a human being. It has nothing to do with the fact that he bailed me out at all. Heās just a wonderful human being, always was, and I guess always will be. Thatās George.
Hard to believe you were having such a hard time getting work.
I mean, people were giving me such a hard time! Even Ace ā Wolheim hired Krenkel. They had seen Krenkelās work in fanzines; Krenkel was sort of a spin-off of St. John, right? And Wolheim loved that ā he wanted to bring the St. John look to these Ace books. Krenkel couldnāt handle all the work, and I was his pal, and I wanted him to get me involved. But they wouldnāt give me work. They wanted no part of me! I showed Wolheim some samples, and he just sneered at me! [Laughter.] Maybe he just didnāt like me. I was a physical-looking guy, and he was a yucky-looking thing, like something out of a monster magazine. He didnāt like my type. Krenkel he loved, because Krenkel looked like the college professor. And I just didnāt look like what an artist should look!
[Laughs.] Well, you shouldāve dressed in baggy clothes and schlepped in hereā¦
Well, they didnāt have long hair in those days. I just looked too much like a Brooklyn guy, and he just didnāt like me on sight. He didnāt say it, but he didnāt have to. I could just tell by the look on his face. After a while, Krenkel couldnāt handle the work ā he kept insisting, and they reluctantly gave me one cover to do. Then the sales took off. Even as time went on, they kept shaking their heads: āI canāt understand why weāre getting all this fan mail for this guy.ā I kept getting fan mail responding to my art! Even if it wasnāt my great stuff, they were getting all this mail. But they kept shaking their heads in disbelief ā āThis is a fluke! What is this?!ā They had no respect for me or my artā¦I donāt know what it was.
And you canāt explain that.
No. Back in the early ā50s, I was a big deal! Every comic book house wanted me. Newspaper syndicates wanted me. It was frustrating!
That is weird. Do you think it was because mostly they were publishing superheroes and they didnāt see you as a superhero artist?
In the late ā50s the superheroes revived with the Justice League of America andā¦
No, I didnāt even look for that. There was plenty of other material ā Westerns, anything. I donāt know, they just looked at me with a strange look on their faces. And I showed them all my best art. All the Buck Rogers covers, my Love Storysā¦I showed them everything I had ever done, that had gotten such a wonderful response, and they just looked at it and scratched their heads. They didnāt know quite what to make of it. It was amazing to me, because they sure knew what to make of it when I first had done it.
This must have been when you did all those black-and-white illustrations for menās magazines.
How did you get that work?
I was just making the rounds. Mort Dugger was the art director up at Tower, and he loved my stuff ā he was the only one who loved my stuff! [Laughs.] And he gave me work, and even that started getting all kinds of response. They loved it. Then from there, Harvey Kurtzman gave me some work on Annie Fanny, and Hefner had no use for me. Hefner didnāt like my Annie Fanny, it didnāt look like Elderās. So, I was kind of confused. I didnāt quite know what to make of it all.
What did you do on Annie? You painted?
Yeah, sure. I painted Annie Fanny. I can understand Hefner being a little upset because I suddenly changed the look of it. Harvey, of course, loved it. But Hefner got upset: āIt looks like a whole different version! Itās not good, it doesnāt work!ā So that was that.
Then about that time, Mad got me to do that portrait of Ringo Starr. And that changed everything. United Artists had seen that and went crazy over it, and they called me to do a movie poster for Whatās New, Pussycat? They just loved my Ringo Starr; they loved the way I did these funny little cartoons. Suddenly I was making such good money, I didnāt care if anybody wanted me! I mean, they paid so much for one poster, that you could work in comics for a year and not make that kind of money. Suddenly I felt secure.
What was it like working for Kurtzman?
The only objection I had was his requirement, or maybe it was Hefnerās, was that there were all these details in the background. I didnāt understand that at all. So I refused to do that. I said, āYou think Iām gonna paint 20 light bulbs in the background, and the doors and the floor and the table and the chairsā¦.You can forget about it! Iāll do Annie Fanny, Iāll do her little boobs, and thatās it.ā So thatās what I did. I did Annie Fanny for a little while, and that was the end of that. But meanwhile I was getting these movie ads, and I was doing the Ace paperbacks. But it was Lancer that was the real turning point. All of a sudden Lancer offered me much more money, and I kept the artā¦I guess you know the old story about me not putting out my best work for Ace.
Yeah, I did hear that.
Well thatās a fact. They paid very little, then the looked down their noses at you. They kept the art. I wasnāt going to give them masterpieces.
You did Edgar Rice Burroughs paintings for them?
Yeah, I did some Tarzan.
Can you repeat the story about why you didnāt put forth your best effort there?
Because they paid me peanuts and they kept the art. Thatās it. I wasnāt about to paint little masterpieces for $200 and they kept the art. And what compounded it was, I found out they were selling the art to interested buyers for five times what they paid me in the first place! Then Lancer suddenly called out of the blue, a guy named Larry Shaw, and wanted me to work for them. āWeāll pay twice the amount of Ace, and yes, the art belongs to you.ā
It occurs to me that the Conan paintings you did at that time were a real turning point in your career.
I suppose. If you look back, youāll see that the stuff that preceded it wasnāt too shabby. You had Phoenix Prime, Rain of Wizardry, and various others. And some of that stuff I did for Ace was good, in spite of myself [laughs.]. I tried not to, but some turned out awfully good. I got pretty excited about Conan ā I figured it was right up my alley. I could really pull out all the stops. I was a little fresh in the business: I didnāt dare go too far. But here was somethingā¦Oh boy! The minute they mentioned it, images popped right into my head.
But actually the turning point was not Conan, but the work I did for Jim Warren at Creepy. I kind of forgot that little period.
Right. That was in ā64.
That was my happiest time. He didnāt pay much, but I could do anything my heart desired, and of course I kept the art.
Enter Jim Warren
How did you meet Jim Warren?
I probably got a call from a guy named Russ Jones who was his fair-haired boy, the guy who kind of put stuff together; a bit of a con man ā not that Jim isnāt! What intrigued me was that I didnāt fall for that agent bullshit at all, but I liked the idea that I could pretty much work for him and do whatever the hell I pleased. So I saw a great opportunity there to do what I liked.
Was Warren familiar with your work?
Not a hell of a lot. He was a fun guy, but also full of crap. It was great, though, because I got to do Egyptian Queen, Sea Witch, all those super covers.
Whatever you wanted.
Absolutely, whatever I wanted. Vampirella and the rest.
Do you have the original of the Vampirella painting you did?
No, that was sold by me at an auction. Went for 88 grand.
Not bad. I undressed her. [Laughs.]Ā I thought that costume was so corny I undressed her, and everybody loved it more.
How did you create the Vampirella painting? Was that an idea from Warren?
I donāt really remember. We discussed itā¦it was so long ago. I remember he told me about this funny costume, sheās kind of a vampire-type girl, maybe I did a sketch or two.
What was working for Warren like?
Did you get to know him?
Whatās he like?
Heās a great guy, very amiable, a lot of fun. Heās a cocky little guy and he bullshits you a lot, but if you know him you can handle him, no problem, you know what I mean? He was funny. He had this routine: āWeāre a team, blah blah blah.ā But you know, that works for other artists ā it doesnāt work for me.
[Laughs.] You never fell for that.
Iād say, āJim, cut the horse shit, will you? Iāll do the work because I love working in a larger format, and because you stay off my back. I do whatever I like, Iām going to shock you from time to timeā ā and I did. But he didnāt care what I did ā āJust do it, just bring it in!ā He had faith in me to not go too far out in left field. But then I did that horizontal painting, and Jim almost died: āFrank! What did you do?! How are we going to print this? Weāll have to crop it and go close in on itā¦ā I said, āDonāt you touch it!ā Anyway, he didnāt dare touch it, so he printed it just the way it was done, and the response was enormous ā in spite of the fact that she was very, very tiny. It was Sea Witch. These guys constantly think youāve got to zoom in for a tight shot; kids love to look at miniatures and get their eyes in close. And if itās good, theyāll find it. I was ballsy ā if I was inspired Iād do anything and if it was done well, people would get excited about it. The first Conan, for example ā by that time, they had total faith in me and just said, āDo it.ā
Another example: The deadline date would be due, for example, tomorrow. Theyād call and say, āFrank, youāre due in tomorrow. Is it done?ā I said, āAlmost.ā But I hadnāt even started it. Theyād ask, āWell, can you tell me a little something about it? Whatās it like? Whatās the concept?ā Iād say, āItās a portrait.ā And there was silence. Then theyād say, āA portrait?ā āDonāt worry about it!ā Iād say. So Iād bring it in two days later and the place went crazy. Iāve never seen anyone respond like that to a painting. In fact they were all anticipating something awesome. They went crazy; they broke out champagne! Just one look at it, and they thought they were going to make a zillion dollars! This was the āportraitā ā and you know it had a tremendous effect on the world of illustration. And I knew it would. I donāt know why. I just knew that that creature was going to knock people over.
It was almost as if your entire career was leading up to that moment.
Yeah, you would think so. But I donāt know ā Iāve gotten an awful lot of reaction from the Creepy/Eerie covers.
Why did you stop doing paintings for Warren? Somewhere around ā72 they just dried up.
Didnāt he sort of drop the line?
Well, nobody really knows what happened, but he went bankrupt eventually.
He just dropped the line as far as I knew.
No, he never actually dropped the line. He was still doing Creepy and Eerie, and he started a new magazine called 1994. But I understand he stayed away from the business for a while. He didnāt come to the office and let other people run the business. For whatever reason, it was run into the ground.
You know, I donāt actually remember why I stopped doing paintings for him. I didnāt have a falling out with the guy or anything. It was partly due to the fact I was moving to Pennsylvania and I wouldnāt be able to get into the city any more.
I assumed you got more work painting.
Yeah, I was getting movie posters to do and getting paid big moneyā¦Jim Warren only paid peanuts. Even though I enjoyed doing that material ā meaning anything I wanted to do ā he was only paying about $250. But I did it because I was producing paintings and I was having fun. Others were paying me $1000 and $10,000 for commissioned work, so how the hell could I work for Warren? Itās very difficult.
Well, you had the honor of being part of the Warren team.
[Laughs.] Oh yeah, the honor. Is that what he called it?
[Laughs.] I think thatās how he saw it. He was a real rah-rahā¦
Oh God, yeah. But Jim knew that I knew Jim. [Laughter.] He didnāt try any funny stuff with me.
He had a reputation for giving people shit. [Laughter.] Although I assume he didnāt give you shit.
No. He wouldnāt dare. Iād break his arm if he did. But I was just there doing my thing and thatās all I care about.
You did an anti-smoking strip for Warren. Can you tell me how that came about?
You ask me that while Iām sitting here puffing on a cigarette! [Laughter.] I donāt remember how that came about; it was just a commissioned job.
Did you feel strongly that people shouldnāt smoke? [Laughs.]
I believe I saw a picture of you once with a big cigar.
I didnāt smoke until I was about 28. Then I was on and off, and I smoked cigars for a while. I quit smoking many times, even for two or three years. But then Iād get upset about something, and Iād start smoking again ā like everybody else. So right now Iām smoking heavily and itās not good. But what can I say?
Well, knock that off.
Yeah, youāre right. Itās bad shit. Not good. Maybe when I go to Florida and watch the pelicans and breathe some good air, then maybe the cigarettes wonāt taste so good.
Yeah, that sounds pretty beautiful. Do you have an island down there?
I do indeed. Well, I donāt have an island. I live on an island ā a beautiful, private little island. I could go on about that forever. I looked at a lot of different places for the perfect place to live. Finally I found this island, and it is as perfect as it can get. Itās so gorgeous, and so exhilarating. Itās private, no riff raff on it, the people are beautiful, thereās a little artist colony in the town. Ideal. Itās something that I never even knew existed.