A Guy, a Gal, And a Lizard

Frank Frazetta's art for 'Princess of Mars'

My high school years in the late ’70s were in a number of ways dominated by two Franks, one of whom died just the other day.

The Frank who had the greater impact on my life passed on nearly two decades back. I listened constantly to Frank Zappa in my teen years, saw him in concert on his infrequent trips to Oregon in the ’80s (I think he’s the only act I’ve seen in two different cities on consecutive nights), and have a pretty complete collection of his original pre-mortem vinyl LPs. A lot of material has been released since his death that I don’t have, and I haven’t converted (or bought CDs of) what I already own, so I really haven’t listened to any of it for a a long while, but even with my leaky memory I can recall big sections of lyrics. Zappa lives on in some ways in the Zappa Plays Zappa neverending tour, with Frank’s son Dweezil taking on the mantle (coming to Roseland here in Portland on 13 June).

The Frank who died this week was more of a backdrop in my youth. Hanging out in and then working at a sci-fi/fantasy bookshop from the mid-’70s to the early ’80s, I was there for the rise of Frank Frazetta, whose work seemed to be on the cover of every other book (all the other books had artwork by The Brothers Hildebrandt) and whose collection The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta was on whatever passed for a coffee table in the home of every geeky guy in town.

Later trends in cover art would evolve toward a photo-realism where you could see the slime and sheen on the bodies of the creatures slain by/ridden by/copulating with the heroes on the cover, but Frazetta’s work had a rough, textured feel to it that most of the time perfectly evoked the prose within. He was hugely popular, making the leap from covers of DAW Book reprints of Robert E. Howard’s Princess of Mars (above) to the sleeves of top-selling albums for bands like Molly Hatchet (although he had done the poster art for the movie What’s New, Pussycat? in the mid-60s). Sure, it could be formulaic (a guy with some sort of big weapon; a barely-clad woman, chained or clinging at his feet; some sort of creature, the lizardier the better) but then again it matches the material within.

Here’s a shout-out to all you big-thewed warriors!