Frank Frazetta Interview

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


Tough Times

After you quit Capp, what did you do? I know you did some material for Playboy, I know you worked on Harvey Kurtzman’s 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 couldn’t 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. I’d say, “What’s the matter?” “Well, gee Frank, this is what we do now.” “Here’s what I did! Did you forget me? I did this stuff, remember?” And they’re looking at me and shaking their head; they wouldn’t give me work.

When you say, “nobody,” who did you go to? Did you try DC?

I went to DC, I tried Mad” you name it.

Do you remember who you dealt with at DC at the time?

Some guy I didn’t know. I don’t remember his name.

Julie Schwartz or Mort Weisinger?

No, it wasn’t Schwartz: some other guy, dark hair. I don’t remember who. They weren’t the guys I remembered. But they all looked at me like I had the plague or something — I couldn’t 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 couldn’t begin to say enough nice things about George Evans — as a human being. It has nothing to do with the fact that he bailed me out at all. He’s just a wonderful human being, always was, and I guess always will be. That’s 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 — Wolheim hired Krenkel. They had seen Krenkel’s work in fanzines; Krenkel was sort of a spin-off of St. John, right? And Wolheim loved that — he wanted to bring the St. John look to these Ace books. Krenkel couldn’t handle all the work, and I was his pal, and I wanted him to get me involved. But they wouldn’t give me work. They wanted no part of me! I showed Wolheim some samples, and he just sneered at me! [Laughter.] Maybe he just didn’t like me. I was a physical-looking guy, and he was a yucky-looking thing, like something out of a monster magazine. He didn’t like my type. Krenkel he loved, because Krenkel looked like the college professor. And I just didn’t look like what an artist should look!

[Laughs.] Well, you should’ve dressed in baggy clothes and schlepped in here…

Well, they didn’t have long hair in those days. I just looked too much like a Brooklyn guy, and he just didn’t like me on sight. He didn’t say it, but he didn’t have to. I could just tell by the look on his face. After a while, Krenkel couldn’t handle the work — 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: “I can’t understand why we’re getting all this fan mail for this guy.” I kept getting fan mail responding to my art! Even if it wasn’t my great stuff, they were getting all this mail. But they kept shaking their heads in disbelief — “This is a fluke! What is this?!” They had no respect for me or my art…I don’t know what it was.

And you can’t explain that.

No. Back in the early ’50s, 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 didn’t see you as a superhero artist?

What superheroes?

In the late ’50s the superheroes revived with the Justice League of America and…

No, I didn’t even look for that. There was plenty of other material — Westerns, anything. I don’t 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 Storys…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 didn’t 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 men’s 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 — 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 didn’t like my Annie Fanny, it didn’t look like Elder’s. So, I was kind of confused. I didn’t 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: “It looks like a whole different version! It’s not good, it doesn’t work!” 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 What’s 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 didn’t 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 Hefner’s, was that there were all these details in the background. I didn’t understand that at all. So I refused to do that. I said, “You think I’m gonna paint 20 light bulbs in the background, and the doors and the floor and the table and the chairs….You can forget about it! I’ll do Annie Fanny, I’ll do her little boobs, and that’s it.” So that’s 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 art…I guess you know the old story about me not putting out my best work for Ace.

Yeah, I did hear that.

Well that’s a fact. They paid very little, then the looked down their noses at you. They kept the art. I wasn’t 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 didn’t put forth your best effort there?

Because they paid me peanuts and they kept the art. That’s it. I wasn’t 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. “We’ll pay twice the amount of Ace, and yes, the art belongs to you.”

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, you’ll see that the stuff that preceded it wasn’t 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 — 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 didn’t dare go too far. But here was something…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 ’64.

That was my happiest time. He didn’t 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 — not that Jim isn’t! What intrigued me was that I didn’t 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.

Jesus Christ.

Not bad. I undressed her. [Laughs.]  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 don’t really remember. We discussed it…it was so long ago. I remember he told me about this funny costume, she’s kind of a vampire-type girl, maybe I did a sketch or two.

What was working for Warren like?

Great. Fun.

Did you get to know him?

Very well.

What’s he like?

He’s a great guy, very amiable, a lot of fun. He’s 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: “We’re a team, blah blah blah.” But you know, that works for other artists — it doesn’t work for me.

[Laughs.] You never fell for that.

I’d say, “Jim, cut the horse shit, will you? I’ll do the work because I love working in a larger format, and because you stay off my back. I do whatever I like, I’m going to shock you from time to time” — and I did. But he didn’t care what I did — “Just do it, just bring it in!” 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: “Frank! What did you do?! How are we going to print this? We’ll have to crop it and go close in on it…” I said, “Don’t you touch it!” Anyway, he didn’t dare touch it, so he printed it just the way it was done, and the response was enormous — in spite of the fact that she was very, very tiny. It was Sea Witch. These guys constantly think you’ve got to zoom in for a tight shot; kids love to look at miniatures and get their eyes in close. And if it’s good, they’ll find it. I was ballsy — if I was inspired I’d do anything and if it was done well, people would get excited about it. The first Conan, for example — by that time, they had total faith in me and just said, “Do it.”

Another example: The deadline date would be due, for example, tomorrow. They’d call and say, “Frank, you’re due in tomorrow. Is it done?” I said, “Almost.” But I hadn’t even started it. They’d ask, “Well, can you tell me a little something about it? What’s it like? What’s the concept?” I’d say, “It’s a portrait.” And there was silence. Then they’d say, “A portrait?” “Don’t worry about it!” I’d say. So I’d bring it in two days later and the place went crazy. I’ve 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 “portrait” – and you know it had a tremendous effect on the world of illustration. And I knew it would. I don’t 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 don’t know — I’ve gotten an awful lot of reaction from the Creepy/Eerie covers.

Why did you stop doing paintings for Warren? Somewhere around ’72 they just dried up.

Didn’t 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 didn’t come to the office and let other people run the business. For whatever reason, it was run into the ground.

You know, I don’t actually remember why I stopped doing paintings for him. I didn’t have a falling out with the guy or anything. It was partly due to the fact I was moving to Pennsylvania and I wouldn’t 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 money…Jim Warren only paid peanuts. Even though I enjoyed doing that material — meaning anything I wanted to do — 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? It’s 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 that’s how he saw it. He was a real rah-rah…

Oh God, yeah. But Jim knew that I knew Jim. [Laughter.] He didn’t try any funny stuff with me.

He had a reputation for giving people shit. [Laughter.] Although I assume he didn’t give you shit.

No. He wouldn’t dare. I’d break his arm if he did. But I was just there doing my thing and that’s 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 I’m sitting here puffing on a cigarette! [Laughter.] I don’t remember how that came about; it was just a commissioned job.

Did you feel strongly that people shouldn’t smoke? [Laughs.]

Nooo… [Laughter.]

I believe I saw a picture of you once with a big cigar.

I didn’t 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 I’d get upset about something, and I’d start smoking again — like everybody else. So right now I’m smoking heavily and it’s not good. But what can I say?

Well, knock that off.

Yeah, you’re right. It’s bad shit. Not good. Maybe when I go to Florida and watch the pelicans and breathe some good air, then maybe the cigarettes won’t taste so good.

Yeah, that sounds pretty beautiful. Do you have an island down there?

I do indeed. Well, I don’t have an island. I live on an island — 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. It’s so gorgeous, and so exhilarating. It’s private, no riff raff on it, the people are beautiful, there’s a little artist colony in the town. Ideal. It’s something that I never even knew existed.


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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 […]

  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 [] • 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. […]

  7. […] Entrevista para o The Comics Journal > 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 […]