I spent a good portion of my childhood poring over the unforgettable covers Frank Frazetta created for the paperback editions of countless Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs classics.
(And some non-classics as well. More than once, I found the legendary artist’s illustrations to be superior to the text contained within.)
Each and every one of his paintings transported me to a world much more exciting and exotic than my own humdrum suburban existence. I often wondered how Frazetta created such scenarios and if he were as colorful an individual as I imagined.
Reading though the obituaries written after Frazetta’s death earlier this week, it became apparent he was nothing like I imagined as a star-struck preteen. Although his otherworldly paintings led me to cast Frazetta as a crazy hybrid of Vincent Van Gogh and Gandalf, it turns out he was a robust, confident man who was skilled enough at baseball to seriously consider a career with the New York Giants.
Frazetta showed an early aptitude toward art and was enrolled in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 8. By the time he was a teen, Frazetta was earning a living as a comic-book artist. He signed on as an assistant for Al Capp’s Lil’ Abner in the 1950s and by the decade Frazetta discovered the more lucrative field of movie posters and paperback cover illustrations.
The rest, I suppose, is legend.
Coupled with the fact that much of his comic-book work has long been out of print, Frazetta’s notoriety as an illustrator has led many to overlook the artist’s early accomplishments. One of his more notable contributions is Thun’da, Magazine Enterprises’ answer to Tarzan.
Thun’da was adventurer Roger Drum, who found himself stranded in a “lost world of prehistoric beasts” deep in the heart of Africa. The setting gave Frazetta – who modeled Drum after himself (!) – ample opportunity to draw dinosaurs, giant snakes and other types of strange creatures that would find greater exposure in the illustrator’s later work.
(The direction, however, must not have met publisher expectations because later stories took place in a more conventional jungle setting …)
With the aid of writer Gardner Fox, Frazetta completed the entire first issue and subsequently left the character in the Bob Powell’s more than capable hands. Frazetta severed all ties with Magazine Enterprises after Thun’da was adapted into a Columbia Pictures serial without any credit – or money – given to the character’s creator.
Legal and creative issues aside, however, Frazetta’s issue of Thun’da remains one of the better examples of the “jungle man” genre. The art alone is good enough to separate Mr. Drum from his would-be peers.
From Thun’da, King Of The Congo #1, here’s “King Of Lost Lands” by Frazetta and Fox.
If you’re interested in reading more of Frank Frazetta’s Golden Age work, pick up a copy of Underwood Books Telling Stories: The Classic Comic Art Of Frank Frazetta. Although editor Edward Mason adopts an annoyingly patronizing attitude toward Golden Age storytelling, the high-quality reprints of Frazetta’s art are more than worth the price of admission.