I woke up to the sad news that Frank Frazetta has died. Now, I realize he had been ill for some time and his productivity as an artist ended quite a while ago. His family, unfortunately, have been embroiled in a controversial fight for custodial rights over his estate. Perhaps his will can straighten out some of the mess.
But Frazetta’s passing sort of marks the end of an era, like the passing of Jack Kirby or Ray Harryhausen. All three men were associated with very distinctive artistic styles that inspired others but which also imprinted at least two generations of young admirers with fantastic imagery.
Harryhausen’s career as a cinematic animator (he pioneered the stop-action photography techniques that were widely used before video and computer-generated imagery technology were adapted for film and television) was winding down just as Kirby and Frazetta were becoming supercharged in the atmosphere of fame.
Kirby’s elaborate fantastic illustrations depicted costumery that was so improbable the reader’s imagination swept away all doubt and skepticism. You just didn’t care about how ridiculous all the flowing pipe thingamajigees looked.
Frazetta specialized in book covers and poster art, producing a lot life-like acrylics and similar realistic paintings of warriors, wizards, and women. It was probably the women that earned Frazetta a place in fans’ imagination most often but his warriors and wizards were never to be trifled with.
Maybe only Roger Dean remains of these iconoclastic artists whose work established a mark in the popular mindset. I don’t mean to take anything from great artists like Michael Whelan, John Howe, Ted Nasmith, and so many others whose incredible imagery has been featured at tons of science fiction conventions, on the covers of countless books and music packages, etc. But you just don’t get quite the same resonance in mentioning their names as in mentioning Harryhausen, Kirby, and Frazetta. Dean approaches their stature (he is probably best known for all the album covers he did for Classic Yes).
So when I say that Frazetta’s death marks the end of an era, I mean that a chapter has been closed in the story of how our imaginations are intrigued by fantastic imagery, attention to detail, and a sort of cold-fire of passion. Every artist brings his own special gift to the scene. Frazetta’s gift is no longer with us.
Rest in peace, Frank Frazetta. May your dreams be fulfilled in ways we cannot imagine.
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