Friday, August 26, 2016

My Frank Frazetta Interview with Heritage Auctions' Weldon Adams

Widely regarded as the foremost American artist of the fantastic and outré, the late, great  carved out a career drawing funny animal comic books and classic adventure strips, but he’s best  known for his otherworldly paintings of musclebound men, buxom women, alien landscapes and terrifying monsters. His art has graced book covers, magazine covers, movie posters and more, including album covers for bands as diverse as , Herman’s Hermits, and Nazareth.

Frazetta was a commercial artist, but his works are considered as important as those of most any contemporary fine artist. His sketches, drawings, and paintings routinely sell for big bucks, and many of his creations grace the walls of the Frazetta Art Museum in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania in the heart of the Pocono Mountains.

Recently, Heritage Auctions facilitated the sale of Frazetta’s At the Earth’s Core, which was used for the cover of an Edgar Rice Burroughs paperback. It sold tfor $1,075,500, the most ever paid for a Frazetta work in a public auction. Shortly after the auction, I interviewed my friend Weldon Adams, the Comic and Animation Art Specialist at Heritage Auctions in Dallas about the sale, and about Frazetta in general.

BRETT WEISS: Do you remember the first time you saw a Frazetta work? If so, what was it, and what did you think of it?

WELDON ADAMS: I can’t remember the exact piece, but I am quite sure it was one of the John Carter novel covers. I learned about his earlier careers in both comic strips and comic books after the fact. I knew him as a master painter first.

WEISS: Do you collect Frazetta? If so, please describe your collection, highlighting some of your favorite books, prints, comics, etc.

ADAMS: I was not a collector of his work per se. But it did grace the covers of some of my favorite novels. In recent years, I am really very taken with his comic strip work in the 1950s. So I keep an eye on any of the Johnny Comet strips that come through Heritage Auctions. Also, any of the Li’l Abner dailies from the era that he assisted Al Capp.

WEISS: If you could own one  item, regardless of the price (something you couldn’t simply sell), what would it be?

ADAMS: That would have to be the original art for the reissue of . That Frazetta painted cover is so iconic. You can see it echoed over and over again in fandom. Compare it to the original movie poster for “Star Wars” (IV: A New Hope) by the brothers Hildebrandt. It is easy to spot that influence.

WEISS: Why do art critics typically prefer Frazetta to such similar painters as Boris, Jeff Jones and Ken Kelly? Is it strictly because they came after Frazetta, or is it something else?

ADAMS: Likely a combination of factors. However, it is hard to ignore Frazetta structure and skill in the mechanics of how he lays out an image. He makes it powerful and dynamic. The others learned from that and built upon it.

WEISS: When and why did Frazetta become a household word? Was it the Tarzan PB covers?

ADAMS: Pretty much, yes. The ERB Tarzan novels were always a bit more popular than the John Carter of Mars series. But between the two of them, they cemented his reputation as THE cover painter for novels. So working on the ERB franchise reissues was probably the best synthesis of cover painter and novel content that has ever happened, rivaled possibly only by Boris Vallejo’s work on the  Conan novels.

WEISS: Fantasy art is more respected than it used to be. In your opinion, why is this so?

ADAMS: Fantasy in general has come out of the shadows. The entire genre is more respected now. Generations have grown up reading Tolkien, Burroughs, , Anne McCaffery’s Pern series, and watching Ray Harryhausen animation in fantasy movies such as Sinbad. So fantasy art is more ingrained for them. And the generations who grew up playing D&D have demanded more fantasy art as well. Fantasy art has gotten more sophisticated as the same time. The pageantry of TV’s Game of Thrones owes much to that.

WEISS: What was it like holding the million dollar painting in your hands?

ADAMS: Honestly, I was giddy. And just to see that piece up close and personal was a huge treat.
Anytime you can see a historical artifact from your childhood, it’s a special thing. And of course, holding a single thing that is worth over a million dollars is mind-blowing.
WEISS: Looking at a Van Gogh in person is much different than seeing a print. The color, the energy, the thick brush strokes…Is there a similar effect with Frazetta. In other words, what’s different about looking at a Frazetta original than looking at a print?

ADAMS: There is detail in the work that is simply not reproduced well in any book cover or poster print to date. There are soft, subtle lines and colors, and hidden details in the background that are covered up by cover text and logos. Much like any museum masterpiece, you can stare at this for hours.

WEISS: Why did that painting in particular sell for so much? Is there something special about it compared to his other works?

ADAMS: The novel At The Earth’s Core was the first of ’ stories set in his ‘lost world’ of Pellucidar. Although Lost World stories are their own sub-genre of fantasy, this is one of the earliest and best. It first appeared as a serialized story in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly in 1914, and was first collected into a novel in 1922. It was reprinted several times, with this stunning Frazetta work used on the 1970s reprints of the story. Science Fiction and Fantasy were making a comeback in the 1970s, so the timing on this was just right to imprint upon the memories of an entire generation of fans. Fans who would go on to create and influence the genre even more.

As for comparing it to his other works, this piece just simply has it all.  is known for his gorgeous women from work produced in his comic book and comic strip days. Here he had a chance to illustrate one of those characteristically lovely “Frazetta women” and juxtapose her against his more fantasy style. A style he began to develop in those comic book days as well, The image tells a rich and moving story in one image, and it’s an essential part of the tale as well.

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