Jul 18, 2014

Frank Frazetta: The "Good" Muscle Artist

During the 1970s, any comic book about Tarzan, Conan, or any other barbarian hero was likely to show him heavily-muscled, half naked, holding a sword aloft, with a naked woman clinging to his legs. There weren't any gay magazines yet, at least none available for kids in small Midwestern towns, so they became gay teen pornography -- it was easy to ignore the naked woman.

We didn't know who drew the covers, so we just called him the "Good" Muscle Artist.

Turns out that he was a Brooklyn-born bodybuilder tunred cartoonist named Frank Frazetta (1928-2010), who began drawing comics in 1944, at the age 16.  At first he specialized in "funny animal" and semi-naked lady titles, but in 1954 he went to work for Al Capp on the venerable L'il Abner.  

By that point, Abner was married to Daisy Mae, with a son and mostly domestic adventures, but still, they gave Frazetta experience in drawing heavily-muscled men and semi-naked women.  By the 1960s, his covers were re-invigorating the sword and sorcery genre, with Robert E. Howard's Conan and Kull and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and John Carter of Mars as musclemen.  Here's a Conan cover with a gorilla instead of a naked lady at his feet.

Although heterosexual fans believed that he was drawing for them, envisioning their dream worlds of having powerful muscles and naked ladies lying at their feet, he was an "equal opportunity ogler," adept at showing the erotic power of everyone and everything.

I've heard that he was bisexual in real life, and that he was homophobic.  Maybe he was both.

During his long partnership with Ralph Bakshi, Frazetta worked on several animated features, as well as album covers and posters for a dozen movies.

Late in life he opened a Frazetta museum in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, to showcase his fine art.

Most devoted to muscular barbarian heroes.

See also: Jim Steranko: Escape Artist Turned Comic Book Illustrator; and Boris Vallejo