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This oil painting of Conan by Frazetta sold for $1.5 million.

Exploring the Fantasy Art of Famous Artist Frank Frazetta

Fantasy artist Frank Frazzetta (he later would drop one of the Zs) was born February 9, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York, the only boy in a family with three sisters. He is widely considered to be the most influential and most emulated fantasy artist in history.

Frazetta began drawing at the age of three and while in kindergarten, astonished his teachers with his artistic abilities. By age eight, Frank’s parents were encouraged and convinced by his school teachers to enroll him in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts. He attended the academy for eight years under the tutelage of Michael Falanga, an award-winning Italian artist. When the two first met, Falanga sat the boy down with pencil and paper and asked him to copy a picture of a group of ducks. Thirty minutes later he returned to check on Frazetta’s progress, took one look at the drawing, grabbed it and leaped into the air shouting: “Mama Mia! We have a genius here!”

Frazetta’s abilities flourished under Falanga and the teacher thought of sending young Frazetta to Europe to further his studies, at his own expense. Falanga died suddenly in 1944 and the school closed a year later.

At age 16, Frazetta started looking for work and drawing illustrations for comic books: Westerns, fantasy, mysteries, histories and other contemporary themes. It was in 1944 that Frank published his first comic story “The Snowman” in Tally-Ho Comics. He later turned down multiple job offers from Walt Disney.

In the early 1950s, Frank Frazetta worked for EC Comics, National Comics, fantasy book company Avon and several other fantasy/comic book companies. Comic books included John Wayne Comics, Buck Rogers, Famous Funnies, Ghost Rider and a long list of others. George Lucas later claimed that Frazetta’s artwork for Buck Rogers was the inspiration for the Star Wars Saga.

In 1952, Frazetta started working with Al Capp on his Li’l Abner comic strip, Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon comic strip and was producing his own strip, Johnny Comet. In 1961, Frazetta returned to regular comics and focused on his own style, a bit awkward after working for Al Capp for nine years.

In 1964, Frank Frazetta’s painting of Ringo Starr for Mad Magazine caught the attention of United Artists (makers of James Bond) and was approached to do the movie poster for the 1965 film, “What’s New Pussycat?” which paid him the handsome sum of $4,000 for one day’s work.

In addition to movie posters, Frank was convinced to begin producing paintings for paperback book covers. His book cover “Conan the Adventurer” by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp in 1966 caused a stir in the fantasy art world. The series ended up selling almost 10 million copies in a few short years. Frazetta redefined Conan’s look and dramatically altered the visual look of the fantasy genre as hordes of artists started copying his style, influencing generations of fantasy artists. Painting covers for fantasy books seemed to come naturally for Frank and his work was in great demand. He did covers and interior illustrations for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan, John Carter of Mars and others.

The 1965 to 1973 period was an explosive time for Frazetta and most of his seminal and famous images were done during this period. The speed at which he would start and finish a painting was breathtaking. He once did three book covers for Ace books in two days, working in almost frenzied state of concentration. Sometimes he would spend days trying to perfect one specific part of a painting. He spent three days trying to fix the face of “The Egyptian Queen” and eventually had to set it aside for several months before returning and finishing it in a mere five minutes.

By the 1980s, Frank Frazetta’s fame was all encompassing. He was essentially the fantasy artist that everyone wanted. Clint Eastwood, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Sylvester Stallone all commissioned works for their various movie projects. Princess Leia Organa’s “metal bikini” costume in “Return of the Jedi” was inspired by Frazetta’s artwork, according to costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers.

Other people knocking on Frazetta’s door included Francis Ford Coppola, Marlon Brando, Dino De Laurentiis, Charlton Heston, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Orson Welles. In 2003, a documentary film on the life and career of Frank Frazetta was released: “Frazetta: Painting With Fire.”

Frank died following a stroke in 2010. The third season of the television show “Strange Inheritances” featured the saga surrounding the estate of artist and illustrator, whose works have sold for more than $1 million. His estate, which by some estimates, is worth $50 million.

Frazetta’s primary commercial works are in oil, but he also worked with watercolor, ink and pencil alone. Today, his work is so highly regarded and desired that even incomplete sketches of his sell for thousands of dollars.