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FRAZETTA: KING OF PAINT Chapter 1: 1962/1963

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Chapter 1: 1962/1963

by Paul Vespignani

FRAZETTA: KING OF PAINT is designed to be the first fully comprehensive and in-depth academic examination of all the paintings that Frank Frazetta has repainted over the years, (and there are a LOT of them!). I am going to cover these paintings chronologically by the year that they were FIRST painted rather than the year (or years) they were REPAINTED. I have a few practical reasons for this strategy. First we have fully documented evidence when Frazetta painted all of his first version original paintings that were soon after published as book or magazine covers. What we do NOT know for sure is exactly when Frazetta repainted some of these paintings. Further complicating matters is the fact that many of these re-paintings were repainted multiple times, sometimes in totally different calendar years.

TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN (1962) (watercolor) / TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN (1972/1974) (oil repainting)

Frazetta's "try-out" painting for Tarzan and the Ant Men. Watercolor on board.


The first repainting I am covering here has an unusually complex backstory for a Frazetta repainting and is also an interesting slice of Frazetta history coming at a crucial turning point in his art career. Tarzan and The Ant Men was painted as a sort of "try-out" to show the editorial department at Ace Books the general idea of what a Frazetta/Tarzan cover painting would look like. Ace never used this painting as an actual book cover, and it is highly doubtful that they gave Frazetta any financial compensation for the time and effort he put into it. On the plus side, he was able to retain the original art for this watercolor painting, which is more than can be said for the originals of any of his printed first wave Edgar Rice Burroughs Ace cover paintings.


In 1970, Frazetta agreed to allow Vern Coriell to reproduce this painting for the first time for an ERB fanzine.  Coriell dragged his feet for a full two years before returning the original art to Frazetta sometime in 1972. At this point Frazetta repainted parts of the painting in oil paint while leaving other parts as-is, creating an unusual kind of watercolor/oil paint hybrid. 

 Two years later, in 1974, Frazetta and his wife, Ellie were actively involved in trying to recover the original art for his cover of CREEPY #9 (1966)(aka WINGED TERROR). In 1967, Frank sold that original to Robert Barrett for only $300 USD. This was a bargain price even by 1967 standards and strongly suggests that Frank had very little regard for this painting back then. However, in the intervening seven years, both Frazetta and Ellie realized that this particular painting was a fan favorite, and that they had made a major tactical blunder in letting the original art for it slip out of their possession. Barrett was familiar with Tarzan and the Ant Men and quite liked it. He asked if Frazetta would be willing to fully repaint it in oil paints and then trade that for the CREEPY painting. Frank answered in the affirmative, fully repainted TATAM in all oil paint and swapped it with Barrett to obtain the WINGED TERROR original.

There is no question in my mind that the 1972/1974 oil repainting is far superior in every way compared to the 1962 watercolor. Having said that, the 1962 original still has a nice quality to it. To the best of my knowledge this was the first and only time Frazetta did an oil repainting over a watercolor original.


Frazetta's revised painting for Tarzan and the Ant Men. (circa 1972)

"Winged Terror" Creepy #9 Cover Artwork 

TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1963)(oil painting)/ TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1963)(oil repainting)

Frazetta has revealed in an interview what happened to his first painting of TATEC. He painted it on a cheap piece of illustration board which then warped alarmingly. When Frazetta attempted to straighten the board out flat it actually broke into two pieces. He reckoned that doing a second painting would be faster and easier than attempting to repair the busted up first version.

Looking at the two paintings now I think they are pretty much on par with each other. Neither is a masterpiece for sure, but both are quite good. I would put both in the midrange of Frazetta's first wave of ERB Ace covers: not among the best, but not among the worst either. If you want to draw a musical analogy they are almost like two alternate takes of the same song. The first version is somewhat more naturalistic/realistic with a nice harmony of brownish earth tones. The second version, which was published as the book cover and much better known, is comparatively more stylized, making greater use of a variety of subtle colors and textures.


THE LOST CONTINENT(1963)(watercolor)/THE LOST CONTINENT(1992)(oil repainting)

I have to agree with Frazetta that THE LOST CONTINENT is among the very best of his first wave of ERB cover paintings. This painting is deceptively modest, but on closer inspection the compositional design is perfect and the watercoloring is superb. At only 8 x 10 inches this might be the smallest original of any of Frazetta cover paintings.

As fine as the first version is, the 1992 oil repainting of the same composition is far better. Frazetta did not do this painting for money. It simply irked him over the years that Ace retained the first original so he did a second original for his own collection. 

In 1992, Frazetta was in the beginning of a three year or so period of stabilized physical health that allowed him to do paintings and drawings that were just as good as anything done in his glory years of the 1960s/1970s. For this painting he is surprisingly faithful to the first version in regard to his figure drawings of the male, female, and the big cats. He only takes liberties here with the design of the crumbling architecture that is inhabited by the big cats, and this change is all for the best. His use of saturated blues and greens are quite lovely and the red/black accents of the dude's outfit are absolutely perfect in this context. With a size of only 10x15 inches, this is also a comparatively small oil painting in contrast to Frazetta's  more normal oil painting size of 16x20 inches.

The Lost Continent Original Artwork (1963)
The Lost Continent Revised Painting (1992)

1 comment

  • Steve Ringgenberg: August 23, 2023

    Hi, I just wanted to pay my compliments on this very informative and well-written blog. Even for a long-time Frazetta fan like me, I learned a great deal. Nice work.

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