Frank Frazetta Interview

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


Dealing Death

You drew your last comic for Warren, right?

Yeah, I guess so.

Did you ever have the desire to go back and do a comic?

No. Not at all. I love it, but, come on, I’m not going to sit there doing a continuity strip. It’s silly. In the time it takes to do that, I could do 10 paintings, for Christ’s sake. It’s silly. Fans have been bugging me for years: “Why don’t you do your own comic book?” Easy for them to say! It’s a lot of work. I know guys like Gray Morrow; he just loves that. He’d rather do that than anything.

Is it because you find more satisfaction with painting?

Well, sure, and it’s the response. First of all, I like to compose a whole picture, and there’s no way you can do that if you’ve got an ongoing strip. You’ve got to find short cuts. It’s fun; sure, it’s a lot of fun — for those who buy them and read them. But from my point of view, it’s ridiculous. I want to do a whole picture and make it as perfectly composed as I can do it. And you can’t do that with comics or you’d be there forever. Unless you’re trying to prove a point. But the whole idea is just silly. It’s not very rewarding. It certainly doesn’t pay very much. If I could do a full-color comic book, and make every panel like I do my paintings, it would just blow the world right off its axis. But it would only take me 20 years! [Groth Laughs.] To hell with that!

Speaking of not doing a comic, can you tell me how you got involved in the Death Dealer comic?

[Glenn] Danzig approached me.

The heavy-metal rocker.

He’s been a fan for years and years and he came to the museum and Ellie let him come to the house. He bought some original art from time to time and started to woo me into doing this thing. He convinced me that it could be a big moneymaker, so that’s why I got involved. But I’m not going to do any of the interiors.

So you’re basically allowing him to print your paintings on the cover.

That’s it. And they got Bisley doing the interior. I was just on the phone with him last night, in fact. He called me from England. He asked me if I’d seen any of the pages and I told him, “Knock off that Goddamn distortion!” [Groth laughs.] And it shook him: “Oh, really? Is it really?” I said, “Of course it is, for Christ’s sake! Look. This is not a super merry Marvel hero. This is a death dealer. He’s wonderful and he’s mysterious; he is muscular, but for Christ’s sake! Take it easy!” So I got him all shook up and I said, “I want you to think in terms of cutting down those arms to about 50 percent.” He said, “Fifty percent?!” I said, “Well, yeah, knowing you, if I say 50 percent, you might cut it down 10 percent or 20 percent and that would be great.” He’s done some great stuff, but he’s really getting carried away with it.

Had you seen Bisley’s work previous to this?

I had; I’d seen a lot of what I thought was great stuff, then sometimes it took me aback. I don’t know if he was smoking something, I don’t know… [Groth laughs.] It was very strange. A certain amount of inconsistency that I wonder about.

Well, he’s fast.

Yeah, he is. Maybe too fast.

Do you know who’s writing the strip?

Yeah, Glenn is. I really don’t concern myself too much. He claims that Bisley is the hottest thing in comics. You combine that with my covers, I figure it’s a can’t-miss deal. But we’ll see. Glenn’s already got plans for a movie, blah blah blah. Isn’t that great?

It could be.

Yeah, a real serious movie I could supervise. I’ll tell him how to look and how to move and so on. I’m talking live, not animated. Who knows? But usually you’ve got to have a successful comic book first, it seems.

Do you keep up with what’s going on in comics?

No. The only thing I ever see is what they send me through the mail. And I don’t understand it. I don’t know what the hell’s going on. You’ve got these panels that are running all over the place…I don’t know. They’re being a little too smart for their own good.

Have you seen anything that you’ve liked?

Yeah, I can’t remember their names, but a couple of Italian guys, Spanish artists, who really draw beautifully.

There’s a great Italian named Franco Saudelli.

What does he draw? These beautiful women?


With great asses? [Laughs.]


Oh yeah, that might be the guy I like! [Laughs.] Well, that’s one of them. Whenever I get that through the mail, I really savor it.

It’s sensuous stuff. Do you know who Frank Thorne is?

Yeah. He did that blonde chick character.

He’s been doing some fantastic erotica for us.

He does nice women, too.

He’s drawing the best stuff of his career. I’ll send you some. It might take you aback because Frank is actually doing some hardcore stuff.



I’d love to see it.

[Laughs.] It’s amazing! It might inspire you!

[Laughs.] Nooo…

Hippie Artists

Considering that you were a conservative, what did you think of the underground comics that came out of the ’60s and ’70s, cartoonists like R. Crumb?

Not much.

Really? Because they were really shaking up comics.

No, I’m kind of a purist; I’m not impressed by that silly crap. I’m capable of blowing them all out of the water with that kind of material if I want.

Robert Crumb was probably the most notable of that whole generation of artists. Did you appreciate his drawing?

This was the hippie generation, the druggies.…That wasn’t me. I mean, I played ball, you know what I mean? I got married, had kids, did my thing, was kind of Mr. Macho. Then these guys came along with long hair and they were stoned out of their minds — a whole different breed. They sat around talking and smoking and talking and smoking….That wasn’t me. I’m sure they thought I was very square. [Groth laughs.] But I’m not really! I just have a different set of values than them. But I’m not square, I promise you.

Sex and Conservatism

Do you feel like your kind of sensuality has been supplanted by more explicit —?

Oh God, yes, but who cares? Women are awfully sexy as it is. I don’t think you have to be explicit. The name of the game is fantasy and if I can excite you just by looking at one of my women without anything explicit, what’s wrong with that? And it has an element of class to it, it’s enduring; you can hang it in a museum, you know? Call me old-fashioned. [Groth laughs.] But I’d certainly like to look at that other stuff. But I won’t do it myself.

Do you think that over the years you’ve grown more conservative?

I guess I have. Because I’ve seen what happens with kids. You give them the ball and they just keep running with it. Maybe I’m a little out of touch, I don’t know. The key word is “taste.” And taste makes for beauty. When you start doing pornography, there ain’t no way it can be in good taste. And for the most part, it isn’t beautiful. I want to see the guy who can do it and make it beautiful.

There’s a difference between sexuality and pornography. Pornography is just plain dirty. Sex can be beautiful. You can suggest it and you can do it so it’s not explicit, and yet it’s sensuous as hell. You can get great joy out of it and you’d probably be more stimulated by that than some trashy stuff.

How strict were your parents?

They weren’t strict at all.

Were you raised Catholic?

Well, I guess so, not that I follow it very much. [Laughter.] I didn’t go to Catholic school or anything, but I went to the church like all the kids do, until I got older. Very typical.

Were you aware of your parents imposing moral values on you?

In their own, simple way, sure. I’m pretty much of a free spirit. I don’t think that my work shows that I’m a prude. To me, nudity can be beautiful, or it can be offensive. Even violence can be a thing of beauty, instead of being repugnant, and you look at it and say, “It just offends me. I think it’s gory and it’s awful and it has no redeeming value. You just look at it and feel offended and insulted.” Here I’ve painted some of the most apparently violent scenes, and none of them are offensive, really. I make a battle scene, but somehow there’s a rhythm to it and a fascinating beauty, in spite of what’s going on. Of course if you were there, I’m sure it wouldn’t be quite like that. It would be pretty brutal and terrible, but I kind of leave that out. It works in the movies, but I don’t think it works in art. It works in comics, perhaps, but…I don’t want people to be repelled by my paintings. If you look at any of the Conans, my God, he’s beating heads all over the place. You feel the strength and power and all that, but you don’t say, “Yuck! Boy, look at those heads rolling down the hill.”

I think that’s because there’s more than violence to your work. I think the best art creates a certain amount of distance between the person who sees it and the work, so he can step back and see it as both artifice and art. In your case, there’s an aesthetic element that creates enough distance between the violence and the observer so that the content isn’t accepted literally and unreflectively.

Yeah, that’s what I do. I compose these wonderful shapes, and I’m more concerned with those than whether or not the ax is sharp and whether it’s severing a head or not. I don’t care about that. There’s a suggestion that there’s a mayhem going on, but it’s a thing of beauty, nothing less. And that can be handled completely wrong if you’re not careful. I really am very careful of that. I can, if I wanted to, make something so brutal and violent that people would throw up. [Groth laughs.] But I realize, what happens is, you look at the painting, and you vomit — I don’t need that.

I want them to look at it and say, “It’s beautiful!” and they absolutely forget what’s happening. They look at it for the sheer beauty and symmetry and the wonderful shapes and color and rhythm, and that’s all they see. They don’t think about the fact that it’s a battle scene. That’s what I try to do: shift their focus from anything like that.

You mentioned you’ve gotten more conservative, and you said something that surprised me about Nixon.

Oh, yeah. Yeah, I think Nixon was a great president. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. Unfortunately, you hear a lot of stuff by a lot of bleeding heart liberals in this country, and you’ve got to be careful. [Groth laughs.] What did you not like about Nixon, for example?

I didn’t like the fact that he tried to undermine the U.S. Constitution through Watergate.

Oh, big whoop. Clinton’s OK, though?

Well…no. [Laughter.] I’m not fond of Clinton, either.

[Laughs.] Draft dodger! He’s a scumbag if there ever was one.

What did you like about Nixon?

Well I liked his politics! He was really a world leader! He got stuff happening, and he did it in a very positive way. He was also a conservative, which I like. He doesn’t punish people who work hard and make money. And for Christ’s sake, what incentive do we have if you take that away? Like these Goddamn Democrats! I work hard and have a conscience and raise a family, and do everything the hard way — I earn everything I get. And you take my money. The more I make, the more you take and give it to these bums who, for the most part, don’t even want to work. Period. I know that sounds simplistic, but that’s simply how I feel — the way any conservative feels. I feel like Rush! [Laughs.]

And you watch Rush Limbaugh?

You’re Goddamn right! [Groth laughs.] And if you think I’m the only one, think again. You can see how he single-handedly turned everything around, because people finally got to another viewpoint. All they did was watch lopsided television where everybody was really biased: it was so damn obvious after a while. At first I never paid attention, but then I began to see it: The more money I made, the more they punished me. I thought, “Something’s wrong here!” All that shit that’s on television. You could see it: the freedom of expression…it got so that there are no morals, no respect for law and order, no respect for church or God — God is dead! I mean, what the hell is going on? It’s all very cool, but it doesn’t work.

Did you find Vietnam to be…

Well yeah, that was a crummy war. Stupid. You can’t blame Nixon for that one. He sure didn’t start it. I don’t think Nixon liked war, particularly. He’s the guy that broke the barriers and went to China.

Well, he did extend Vietnam by illegally bombing Cambodia and then lying to Congress about it.

Yeah, I know. Listen: politicians don’t lie, right. Ha-ha-ha-ha. Give me a break. At least he was good at it! [Laughs.] I mean the Goddamn guy we’ve got now [Clinton] is a joke! He lies every other word; he’s ridiculous. Nobody’s perfect, but looking at Nixon overall…it’ll come out in the wash some day. They’ll see he actually accomplished a lot and was a good president, really cared about the country. That’s all that matters to me.

What did you think in the ’60s and the early ’70s when the country was going through that vary volatile period with the campus riots and protests? What were your feelings?

I think the war was a no-no. That was politics. I mean, who got us there? It’s all to keep the economy going, I guess. But apparently there’s no other way…I don’t know. Got to get guys in the army, got to get some guys killed, got to create jobs…I don’t know.

I Just Sit Here and I Paint

You don’t use models, do you?

I don’t use anything. I just sit here and I paint. And I told you how I refer to myself: when I’m in a bind, and I can’t solve a problem with the anatomy or perhaps the lighting. It’s kind of rare. I could walk you around and look at a hundred paintings and pick out two or three where I actually had to pose for it, or had Ellie pose for it. And it’s generally when there’s something that presents a problem, usually a difficult lighting effect that I want. Ordinarily, no. It’s 99 percent all made up, everything you see. From lizards to hero figures to the backgrounds to the foregrounds, just make it up. I can draw well. That’s the key.

And you have the imagination, too.

Yeah. Well, that doesn’t hurt. The imagination, that comes so easy it’s ridiculous. The drawing for the most part comes easily; it depends on the subject. If it’s primitive men or women, I do that easily. I do creatures, you name the animal, I do it easily. The most difficult thing would be women: believe it or not.

That’s a shocker.

I know. Well, they generally come easily, but it’s when I want them to be right. Realistic. Believable.

Do you actually enjoy the act of drawing and painting when you’re doing it?

I used to a lot. I do enjoy drawing. Painting is a bit of a drag. I like the early stages of a painting, when you’ve got nothing on the board, and you just start whacking stuff in and in a matter of hours the painting is practically there. And I tend to start polishing it up, and getting the details, and then you kind of slow down, and it’s not as much fun.

It sounds like that becomes labor.

It really does. But if you see me just hacking right in from scratch, you can see that I’m having fun because I’m seeing this thing really materialize very quickly. And it’s great. I say, “Oh boy, this isn’t going to take long.” And I’m going along, and it’s getting there: it’s like maybe 85 percent done. Then it begins to slow down. Now you’ve got to polish it up, now you got to get the finish. You’ve got to get the edges and pull it together.

The detail work.

If there is any. Of course, if there isn’t any, it’s a lot quicker.

Someone told me that the Conan paintings that you did in the ‘60s were returned to you and you actually worked them over again.

I did. “The Avenger,” the very first one. I thought it was pretty good. When I got it back, I realized, “Well… He looks a little distorted here and there. His proportions are a little off and then this and that.” If you get the very first release on that, and compare it with what you saw later, in my books or whatever, you’ll see he’s far better. His proportions are better. His head is better. Everything’s better.

Do you do that often?

I’m not going to say often. But I’ve done it any number of times. If it works out great the first shot, I don’t bother with it. Certainly, Cat Girl was revised. The original…I thought it had potential, but it was done for Warren. She had blonde hair and leopard skin…but it was an interesting composition. As a matter of fact, I realized, “Hey, you know, I could make this into something really important!”

Who were your influences in painting? I would guess Howard Pyle…

Jeez, any of them. Any one of that school: Wyeth and so on — anybody I’ve ever seen, William R. Lee, any of the old masters. Gee, there’s just too many. There’s no one big influence. And there shouldn’t be. They all did something a little different. Some had a crazy brush technique, others had better color, some drew better, some had a moody approach….And I just absorbed all of it. And when you get down to the nitty-gritty, I decided that I should visualize the moment. Just be there. Sort of a “method” approach. I simply pretend I’m on the scene and I just let my imagination really focus in. And I see it pretty vividly. I don’t have other artists in mind. That’s a mistake. It’s good to do that when you’re a novice. If you’re just learning, sure, you’ve got to. You have no choice. It depends on the level of your talent. If you have my imagination, and you have learned to draw and so on, and you know enough about light and shadow, at that point, then you just sit here and let it fly!

Certainly good taste doesn’t hurt. Knowing what works, what doesn’t. A good sense of design and composition, and certainly a wonderful sense of action doesn’t hurt. That’s a whole other story — my understanding of action.

By “good taste,” do you mean subject matter, or do you mean the elements of the work…?

It covers a lot of areas. Good taste means if something is offensive, you know enough to either modify it or leave it out. When I say, “good taste,” that means everything. It means interesting shapes, how to direct focus in certain areas, and what to focus on. Some people place more importance on all the wrong areas. Know what I mean? They may focus on the foreground, and draw a lot of unnecessary crap in the foreground. They just love doing that and they don’t realize what it does overall is become a distraction. As much as I’d love to sit there and render a lot of detail in the foreground, I know it will affect the viewer. So my good taste says, “No. Keep it out of there.” Be very, very strong about your conviction here. Make sure that you don’t lose your sense of direction. I want the eye of the viewer to go right here. And then I want it to move around in a certain way. Sort of like music, you know? I want to lead you into the picture. I want you to go directly to a certain point. And then I want you to go on from there and find all these neat little things that I’ve done.

Other artists, who maybe draw well, maybe even paint well, maybe even compose well, confuse the hell out of you. They just don’t know where they’re going, and why. A lot of new artists today, you can see, they put an awful lot of crap in the painting. And what they’re doing is being egotistical; they’re simply showing off. And OK, that’s all very nice. And somebody looks at it and thinks, “Boy, this guy can do it all.” But what happens is you look at the painting and you know something is missing. You just didn’t get that wonderful feeling…that sense of mystery and wonder that you can get when you know what to leave out, or where to tuck it in the background. Very, very complex, really. I try to do all those things, and it’s all very deliberate and what happens in the final analysis is that the original looks very simple. But it really isn’t. The simplicity part is very, very difficult. It’s very easy to just cram pack every inch of a painting with anything. And it’s sort of a cover-up for mistakes. It’s a cover-up for not knowing what’s important. But, because I know what’s important, I know just how far to go with backgrounds or foreground and so on. I know what a certain shape does, how it lends itself to the design and composition. If by nature…let’s say that the character has to be carrying a certain kind of armament, and if I know that it’s a distraction, I will somehow force that shape away from your eyes so it doesn’t distract, even if it means throwing a shadow over it. I will force the thing to work somehow. Other artists have looked at my work, and said, “How come you knew just where to put that?” Well, I didn’t. I knew that it didn’t work, you know? I knew that it didn’t work in that form. And I just forced it to work somewhere else. It’s more what I leave out than what I put in.

And that has to be instinctive.

Obviously. Nobody taught me. I think it’s because nature works that way; you see it in life. God is a wonderful creator. If you look around at nature, and the way trees are shaped, and the way light and shadow works, it’s just always right. For the most part. You can learn from that. You look at somebody’s artwork that’s just forced and crammed with a lot of crap. You just don’t see that in nature. I’m sure you’ve walked through a nice, shady forest. And you notice how when you walk along there’s a certain mood, a certain mysterious quality that it has. You’ve got to do that with art. You just don’t show everything. Your eye only sees one thing at a time, anyway. When I do a painting, I want you to get that same feeling. I want you to feel like you’re there. Sometimes I labor over it. Other times it comes easily. But I always want the thing to look like it came easily.

Do you ever start one and not finish it because it’s not coming out the way you want it to?

No. Not really. I’ve belabored some of them to death: I’ll say that. When I’m up against something like that, what happens is I get all hung up on it, and I go crazy, but I’m such a battler, you know; I’ve got to solve the problem. If it takes forever.

You wrestle it to the ground, and continue painting it.

I just won’t quit. People have come along, and said, “Why don’t you just put it aside?” But I can’t. It’s a challenge. So many have come so easily, at least apparently easily, but I get very frustrated when one does not.

Can you tell me about a painting with which you really had to wrestle to get it done?

Oh, gee. A bunch of them. Sometimes it’s the silliest little thing. It might be a head, a little head. I’ll never forget, the Egyptian Queen. I got that whole painting done, in about a day and a half, and I looked at it. It was done as far as I was concerned. Then I looked at her face, and I didn’t like it. “Damn it, I don’t like that face. I’m going to make it better.” So I started to repaint the face, and I painted the face, and I painted it again, and I painted it again. Well, I was like three days trying to get the right face. And I suddenly got sort of blinded to it. I couldn’t see any more. I just looked at it and didn’t know where I was any more. It’s really weird, and so I finally just settled for any face, and brought it in, and they printed it that way, and then I forgot about it. So, a couple of months later I get it back; now I was fresh again. And I just looked at it and “Pow!” I whacked in the face you see in all the prints. It’s really weird. But what happened is that you just become blinded by it. When I got it back, looked at it fresh, her face was painted in five minutes.


So this does happen.

You prefer oil to anything else, correct?

No, it’s not that I prefer oil, but that oil is certainly very durable and you can get a lot of wonderful effects. People seem to respond to oil for some reason more than anything else. But no, I don’t have a preference. I enjoy pencil. I loved pen and ink when I did it.

Here’s an oddball question, but I’m curious: Did you like Norman Rockwell?

Of course! Doesn’t everybody?


Whaddya mean, “Well…”? Who doesn’t like Rockwell? He’s a wonderful artist. He did get a little stiff in his old age, but that happens. It gets so that you lose the inspiration and you pose the people and use the opaque projector and you just simply trace it. That’s what happened to him; he got into that rut. I can’t make myself do that. If I can’t really feel inspired, I just quit. To hell with it. Of course Rockwell in his prime was incredible. I wouldn’t call him a very creative artist, but certainly an outrageous style and technique, a great sense of humor. He got the peak of whatever he was doing, also. His characters are wonderful, real Americana. Many, many years ago when I was a kid, I saw an exhibit of his work. I think it was the Tom Sawyer series he did. Boy, they were outrageous. He could really paint. Him and a lot of other guys in those days. Many, many artists were really good. They paid their dues. Wonderful techniques, painted beautifully, great sense of color. Nobody very creative, though.

Yeah, a lot of that work was pretty pedestrian.

Yeah, but they didn’t know you could do what I’m doing! [Laughs.] They weren’t even aware of it. I just created a whole new thing, didn’t I?

Yeah. So you were never interested in painting landscapes or apples.

No, not that I haven’t done it. I tuck them in here and there in the background. I certainly paint vegetation and trees and mountains, don’t I? But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna keep the figures out of it. There’s no point. I could paint landscape easily. But I don’t think it proves anything. I’ve got to have some human interest there. There’s got to be some drama. You’ve got to be a mood creator and it’s got to go beyond just capturing the spirit of that scene. I like to invent things, invent characters and have people look at it and wonder what I was thinking. Far more of a challenge. Of course that’s the one thing that kept my career back in a sense, with the upper set who looked at it and somehow didn’t see the seriousness of it, because of my approach, because of my love for characterization. They just thought, “Well, it can’t be taken seriously.” They wanted me to leave out that good stuff! [Laughter.] A woman came to my museum a few years ago, she was wandering around, and she was very prudish, and she looked at Sea Witch, then raised both her hands and blocked Sea Witch out from her eyes. I looked at her and asked, “Would you like me to take her out?” [Groth laughs.] It was so obvious she liked the abstract quality that the waves created, but the Sea Witch ruined it, you know. So I just got real nasty and irritated. It was stupid. That’s the way they were trained.

It’s true that the subject matter you paint could turn a lot of fine arts people off.

It does, but that’s their problem. I’ve given them more, not less. But they think it’s less. They feel it’s barbaric for me to do these ridiculous, impulsive things that belong in comic books. I tell them, “Go…somewhere else.” No one has the right to criticize my work if it’s that good simply because I added something that might be surreal or a little fantastic. Why does that make it any less, for Christ’s sake? They’re so narrow-minded.

All images ©2005 Frank Frazetta

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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 […]