FRAZETTA: KING OF PAINT
Chapter 2: 1964
by Paul Vespignani
THE MAD KING(1963 or 1964)(watercolor painting)/THE MAD KING(1964)(watercolor repainting)
The 2 different versions of THE MAD KING have provided a Frazetta mystery that perplexed me for a full 50 years before I finally learned the solution in 2022. On one hand we have the cover art for the 1964 Ace paperback of ERB's THE MAD KING which is a bonafide FF masterpiece. On the other hand we have an alternate version that appeared as the cover of Ace's 1972 rerelease of THE MAD KING that looks like it was painted by a completely untalented FF imitator. How in the world was I supposed to reconcile (or even understand) these 2 wildly divergent paintings?
The real life explanation is as entertaining and brilliant as a plot for MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE. Frank came up with a great idea to recover his prized piece of original art for TMK from the clutches of Ace(this painting and the original for TARZAN AND THE JEWELS OF OPAR were his most valued Ace ERB paintings). Frank asked Ace if he could briefly borrow the painting on the pretext that he wanted to take a photo of it for his files. They agreed and lent him the painting. Meanwhile FF very quickly knocked out a poor quality copy of THE MAD KING painting and returned THAT painting to Ace. They were so completely clueless that they didn't even notice the difference!
Flash forward to 1972 when Frank is kicking off his wonderful second wave of ERB cover paintings for Ace. Either he or they decide that he won't do a new painting for TMK and instead Ace will just reuse the older one. Only in THIS case the older one that they still have in their possession after 8 years is now the inferior copy. They go ahead and use it anyway, thus creating a maddening mystery for Frazetta fans like me who were clearly far more observant than they ever were.
In 1977 Frank repurposed the original TMK masterwork as both a poster for Frazetta Prints and a fine highlight of FRANK FRAZETTA: BOOK TWO.
THE MAD KING (1963 or 1964) original watercolor painting
THE MAD KING (1964) watercolor repainting
SAVAGE PELLUCIDAR(1)(1964)(watercolor painting)/SAVAGE PELLUCIDAR(1)(aka THE HUNTRESS)(oil repainting)(copyright date 1977)
Frank was always quite fond of the effective vignette composition and powerful use of white negative space for SAVAGE PELLUCIDAR(1), another one of his early Ace ERB faves. Stung by Ace taking ownership of the watercolor first version he later did a likewise oil repainting of the composition for himself and even managed to somewhat monetize it as a poster and included it in FRANK FRAZETTA: BOOK TWO(1977).
Comparing the 2 pieces I definitely prefer the oil repainting. FF was careful to retain all of the positive elements of the original watercolor for the oil repainting and in addition it was far more polished and sophisticated stylewise. It is hard to know for sure if the 1977 copyright date(clearly added AFTER the darker signature) means that Frank actually PAINTED this oil version in 1977 or if he was just going by the year it was first released to the general public.
SAVAGE PELLUCIDAR(1)(1964)( watercolor painting)
SAVAGE PELLUCIDAR(1)(aka THE HUNTRESS)(oil repainting)(copyright date 1977)
THE REIGN OF WIZARDRY(1964)(oil painting)/THE REIGN OF WIZARDRY(dates unknown)(multiple oil repaintings)
For my money the original 1964 THE REIGN OF WIZARDRY was among the greatest of FF's early masterpieces. It is a stunning swirl of color, texture, and highly imaginative imagery. If there was ever a Frazetta painting that did NOT need to be repainted, it was this one. So perhaps it can be considered the very grimmest irony that FF chose THIS painting as a sort of weirdo recreational project, repainting it countless times over the span of several decades.
Considering we have never seen a high quality photo of the 1964 first version of this painting we are quite lucky that Lancer gave it a truly excellent repro job for the first edition paperback. Unfortunately they were also very generous with the overlaying cover typography as well.
Throughout all of the many repainting of TROW Frank never repainted the large demon figure in the center of the design. He only repainted the multiplicity of figures framing the demon, particularly in the foreground area.
The real problem of the repainting is stylistic inconsistency. The large demon maintains the lively painterly color from the original while the surrounding figures become increasingly more slick, belabored, and tonal. It is almost as if 2 totally different paintings are at war with each other while trying to share the same compositional space.
Another very problematic element of this ongoing repainting was that everytime FF redid the figures they seemed to get more and more sexually explicit. It got to the point that Ellie had developed such a serious moral objection to this painting that she refused to let it be displayed in the Frazetta Art Museum, never turned it into a poster for Frazetta Prints, and never allowed it to appear in any FF art book.
Family friend Robert Barrett really liked this painting and was gifted with a photo of it circa late 1967. Frank and Ellie only asked that he not reproduce the photo while they were still alive. RB kept this pact for decades, with the somewhat faded photo being revealed to the general public in late 2014.
Arnie Fenner was quite keen on including a then-current photo of THE REIGN OF WIZARDRY repainting as a special addition to his 16 page bonus folio section in the back of the deluxe edition of TESTAMENT(2001). This way at least 1200 Frazetta faithful on the planet Earth would finally get this image in book form. Arnie even made a specific trip to the Frazetta homestead to shoot the photo transparency. When he saw the painting, he was horrified to discover that Frank had whited out multiple figures with white gesso paint in preparation to repaint them yet AGAIN. Arnie understandably didn't want to present this long awaited painting in his book with a bunch of white blobs and blotches on it, so Ellie's boycott indirectly remained in effect.
As for me, I finally got my copy of this repainting in THE FANTASY ART OF FRAZETTA calendar 2018. It was literally the only reason I bought the calendar.
THE REIGN OF WIZARDRY(1964)(oil painting)
THE REIGN OF WIZARDRY(1967)(oil repainting)