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FRAZETTA: KING OF PAINT Chapter 3: 1965/1966

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Chapter 3: 1965/1966

by Paul Vespignani

If anyone thinks I have skipped over Frank's repaintings for 1965, this is not the case. As it turns out, FF did not repaint any of his paintings that were originally published in 1965. Perhaps for Frazetta AND Sinatra it could be said of 1965: IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR.

I'm personally convinced that all 3 paintings that are examined in this chapter were all painted in 1966. However 2 of the 3 were later given copyright dates of 1965 in later years by Frank himself so we do have to at least accept the possibility that he could have painted them in 1965, although all the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests otherwise. More on this as we move along.

TOMORROW MIDNIGHT(aka STRANDED(1))(1965 or 1966)(oil painting + pen and ink)(1st version)(copyright date 1965)/TOMORROW MIDNIGHT(aka STRANDED(2))(oil repainting + pen and ink)(2nd version)(copyright date 1966)

Frank's repainting for TOMORROW MIDNIGHT was highly unusual because it was specifically requested by the publisher Ballantine Books.

FF's first version of the painting featured a hermit-like abandoned astronaut with long hair and no shirt with accompanying aliens on a cratered planet surface and a ringed world in the interstellar background. Although lonely and desolate are not moods that we would typically expect from a mainstream Frazetta painting, both feelings are perfectly captured in this specific painting.

When Frank submitted this painting to Ballantine Books they asked him to give the astronaut a shorter haircut and more clothing. Since FF preferred his original version he elected to not paint over it and kept it for himself and instead did a 2nd painting featuring a more conservative looking hero for publication. Other than the obvious differences of the main character Frank very closely replicated everything else almost exactly in the 2nd painting. This is a good example of how FF could be a very disciplined artist when he needed to be(or wanted to be).

Comparing the 2 paintings, Frank was definitely right that his 1st version was much better artistically and had far more impact emotionally.

Both paintings feature an unusual combination of oil painting and pen and ink drawing. To accomplish this it looked like FF did the oil painting part first and after the oil paint had fully dried(with the drying time perhaps hastened by the kitchen oven) Frank did the pen and ink drawing over it to give the composition(s) additional sharpness and delineation.

Russ Cochran reportedly purchased the 2nd version of the painting directly from Ballantine Books. Which raises an interesting question. Since the return of the original art was a standard of Frank's contract with the various publishers he worked with by 1966 why was this piece an exception? Did FF voluntarily forfeit the 2nd painting to the publisher because he did NOT want it back? At least if he had gotten it returned he would have received however many dollars RC paid for it, which only seems fair since Frank had to do this painting TWICE to please Ballantine and I'm guessing they only paid him one fee for it.

Ballantine published TOMORROW MIDNIGHT in the middle of 1966 which would have given Frank plenty of time to do both paintings in 1966. Stylistically it is obvious he painted them back to back with no other paintings in between. While it is possible he did the 1st version in December 1965 and the 2nd version in January 1966 that seems almost too neat to be true. More likely the 1965 copyright date for the 1st version was simply an incorrect memory from more than a decade later.

The public debut of FF's preferred 1st version of STRANDED appeared in FRANK FRAZETTA: BOOK TWO(1977) and was also a poster from Frazetta Prints.


TOMORROW MIDNIGHT(aka STRANDED(1))(1965 or 1966)(oil painting + pen and ink)(1st version)(copyright date 1965)

TOMORROW MIDNIGHT(aka STRANDED(2))(oil repainting + pen and ink)(2nd version)(copyright date 1966)

CONAN THE ADVENTURER(1965 or 1966)(oil painting)/CONAN THE ADVENTURER(aka THE BARBARIAN)(date unknown)(oil repainting)(copyright dates 1965/1974)

Not only is CONAN THE ADVENTURER one of Frank's greatest paintings, it is also one of his best repaintings as well. It is a repainting that actually makes some logical good sense. Here he was taking an already excellent painting and making it even better with precise additional details and subtle improvements.

Comparing the published CTA cover to the repainting, there are multiple details added to the Conan figure. A scar is added to his left cheek. Some red highlights are added to his lower lip. His earrings are given more definition and highlighting. His neck area has some tonal variance mixed into the shadow area. His right hand is far more rendered and larger. His right leg has been darkened.

The most obvious aspect of the repainting is that Conan's woman companion has been completely reinterpreted. Compared to her more ethereal and atmospheric look in the first painting she is far more distinct and has more volume(and seems somewhat bigger in scale too). Although her face has been completely repainted her features are still in soft focus because FF didn't want her facial features to take attention away from the Conan figure. Frank gives her 2 additional golden armbands on her left arm which are actually in far sharper focus than she is. The armbands are an additional touch that works beautifully.

Although Frank should not be considered a photo realistic painter(and regularly eschewed photo reference to work more from imagination and memory) for this particular painting he uses the basic photographic principles of sharp focus and soft focus as compositional tools. The Conan figure is in sharp focus and deep detail. His female companion and the wide array of fascinating background elements are all kept in soft focus. This puts all the visual emphasis on Conan.

At 20 x 30 this painting was an unusually large original for a Frazetta paperback cover painting. It is also probably the first cover painting that FF painted on a stretched canvas as opposed to the more normal board surfaces. So this was a very special painting for Frank no matter how you look at it.

I bought THE FANTASTIC ART OF FRANK FRAZETTA when it was first published in the autumn of 1975. I was 15 years old at the time. Looking through the book I noticed that FF had repainted CTA compared to the cover of the Lancer paperback. I also noticed that he had added the date of 1974 to this painting. I put these 2 things together in my head and came to the conclusion that this meant he repainted it in 1974. Now I am not so sure about that.

If one takes a flip through TFAOFF there are multiple paintings that are copyright dated 1974 even though they were not actually painted in 1974. I believe now that the significance of 1974 is that it was the first year that Frank and Ellie started their Frazetta Prints poster business. Starting out they had no idea how successful the poster business would be so they wisely put forth their best effort in selecting 30 of Frank's very best and most popular paintings for the 1st generation of Frazetta posters. Of course in FF's case his best and most popular paintings are often one and the same.

Frazetta had a legal obligation to add copyright symbols and copyright years to these 30 paintings before they were reproduced and printed as posters. Before 1974 Frank only put his famous signature on the paintings, he didn't date them. For some of the paintings he used the then-current year of 1974. For others he used his memory to get as close as possible to the actual year he painted them. Sometimes his memory was absolutely spot on. Other times, not quite. 

As was the case with Prince(aka the Artist formerly known as Prince) Frank loved being a creative artist, but he had zero interest in being his own personal archivist. If he was 1 or 2 years adrift for the copyright dates on when he actually did a painting most likely he thought: 1) What difference does it make? and 2) Who cares?

In retrospect all of us(including FF) would have been better off if he HAD dated all of his paintings going back to 1963 in the real time of the actual years that he first painted them. That would have been far more reliable than the hit or miss of the copyright dates from memory. However since these retroactive copyright dates are more often correct than incorrect they are not totally useless, especially when establishing a date on a repainting that we have no other info about.

At some point Frank changed the copyright date on the CTA repainting from 1974 to 1965.

My belief that CTA was originally painted in 1966 is based on what we know about the book's publication history. We know that CTA was Lancer's first Conan paperback. We also know it was the ONLY Conan paperback they published in 1966 and that they published multiple Conan paperbacks in the following year of 1967. Putting all this together it seems we are on safe ground in establishing that CTA was published in the 4th quarter of 1966(Lancer only listed the year a book was published in the front of the book, not the specific month of the year). This means that if Frank did paint CTA in 1965 that Lancer sat on it almost a full year before publishing it. I find that almost impossible to believe.

My best guess is that when the Lancer office first saw FF's then-revolutionary and totally unprecedented painting they would want to rush it into publication ASAP in anticipation of all the books that cover would sell for them. And of course that is exactly what happened when they DID publish that book. Many people bought the book strictly for the cover, and if they actually read it was completely besides the point. Even Frank himself has pretty much publicly admitted that he couldn't be bothered to fully read the Conan stories and that this painting was his personal interpretation of what a barbarian should look like.

Of course it IS possible that FF painted CTA in 1965 and that some unknown factor(completely unrelated to his painting) hung up Lancer for a full year on printing the first Conan paperback. Yeah, that's possible but also highly unlikely. Occam's Razor would prefer the simpler explanation that Frank painted CTA start to finish in 1966 and simply slightly misremembered 1966 as 1965 when he added the copyright date years later. 

I have no idea when FF did the repainting of CTA and I don't think anyone else knows either. However I am fully confident that whenever he did do it he was fully aware of this painting's central importance to his life and career and tread very carefully with the repainting process and did so with a lot of tender loving care. Which was the smart thing to do!

CONAN THE ADVENTURER(1965 or 1966)(oil painting)

CONAN THE ADVENTURER(aka THE BARBARIAN)(date unknown)(oil repainting)(copyright dates 1965/1974)


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