Anyone who reads comics, plays fantasy role-playing games, looks at calendars in bookstores, buys hard rock albums or watches Hollywood movies has seen the work of Frank Frazetta. Frazetta was the world’s pre-eminent fantasy illustrator, and his evocative and frequently erotic fantasy artwork is as recognizable to his fans as any great artist’s work is recognizable. He has illustrated Conan the Barbarian, the Lord of the Rings, and dozens, perhaps hundreds, of paperback novel covers for sci-fi publishers like Tor. His illustrations of John Carter of Mars, or Tarzan, or his own creations, like the one below which he called “Death Dealer” and drew in a series of illustrations are iconic and instantly recognizable by fantasy art fans.
Frazetta’s heroes/villains are body-builder muscled sword or axe wielding nightmares. His depiction of Tolkien’s Nazgul were nightmarishly brutal. Frazetta’s women were voluptuous, and usually nude or nearly nude, but they were not usually vulnerable targets, but were instead threatening in an erotic and primal way.
Here is a version of his “Death Dealer” doing what he does best:
And here is a sketch from his “Lord of the Rings” sketchbook. This is an unfiinished raw doodle really, but even so you can feel the evil wrath coming from the Nazgul as he prepares to dispatch Eowyn. At this point in the book Meriodac Brandybuck is about to stab the Nazgul in the leg from behind, saving Eowyn and giving her the opportunity to kill the Nazgul, but in this image the threat of the Nazgul is palpable. As is typical with Frazetta, he couldn’t help but make Eowyn somewhat erotic. Something about this sketch appealed to me and it was the first thing I ever scanned into a computer back in 1985 using an early image scanner that you plugged into your ImageWriter printer to do the scan.
I do wish Frazetta had been commissioned to complete the LOTR calendar, but that went to another fantasy illustration team, the “Brothers Hildebrandt” whose calendar became iconic among LOTR fans back in the 70s and 80s. I personally felt the Hildebrandt artwork was flat and static when compared to a Frazetta painting, although Dadman and I did have a copy of it hanging in our dorm room.
Frazetta may have passed away, but his legacy will continue on. His style of brooding, violent imagery has become a dominant theme in the fantasy art world, and I suspect we’ll be seeing Frazetta influenced artwork as long as I live, and well beyond.