Frazetta’s First Death Dealer Comics: An Interview - Part II
RINGGENBERG: One thing I also saw at the Con was some little casts, a series of head busts, like a primitive man, a woman, and a guy who looked like your Darkwolf character from Fire and Ice.
FRAZETTA: Oh, right. Okay. You mean the heads? Yeah. They were done for the movie I made. It would appear that the artists had a lot of problems with being consistent, and so I found myself making these clay heads so they'd each have a copy and, you know, pretty much understand what the characters looked like. Because they varied all over the place with these people. You know what I mean? You've got forty or fifty people, and some are talented and some are not, and we're getting these drawings, one after another and some of them were terrible. They were just all going out into left field. So, I got the brainstorm to do these heads. And they'd each get one, and they'd have it, you know, at their drawing board and they'd be far more consistent that way. That's all that was.
RINGGENBERG: Oh, I thought it was something that was done for the collector's market, like a limited edition.
FRAZETTA: No, not at all. Not at all.
RINGGENBERG: Interesting. Well, you know, Frank, for years I've heard rumors that you were doing little bronzes, but I've only ever seen a couple of things.
FRAZETTA: No, I'm not doing any bronzes. I did something for Dark Horse. Randy Bowen is doing a Death Dealer figure, and of course it went back and forth and I kept changing it and improving it and repairing it and changing it and improving it and so on, and I think we've a good thing now. And we sent it out to be done in the usual manner, and these people couldn't handle it. So, we decided a bronze would be safer. When I say they couldn't handle it, I hand-painted some stuff like the horns on Death Dealer's head, and this and that. And they sent them off to these factories and they came back sloppy and inconsistent as hell and Randy Bowen, in disgust, said: `They can't do it, Frank. They simply can't do it.' So, if you go for bronze, they'll all look the same.
RINGGENBERG: Was there too much fine detail on the finished statues for them?
FRAZETTA: Well, no, it wasn't the detail. I mean they could duplicate, they could reproduce that, but there was some color in this stuff. And they were coming back, like, horrible. It's just they simply couldn't duplicate my touch, and so we gave up on that, and so we're going to just go for bronze. I was surprised, it turned out really nice.
RINGGENBERG: I saw another piece you'd done. It was the Against the Gods pose, the guy up on the rock holding the sword.
FRAZETTA: Yeah, well that was terrible. That was terrible. It went through too many hands and they kept screwing around with it and the funny part is, the original looked real good, and I don't know, something got lost in the transition there for pewter. It just looked terrible.
RINGGENBERG: Was that originally going to be a bronze?
FRAZETTA: No. No, it was done for pewter. But it just, pewter simply didn't work. It was their idea. This company's idea to pick that painting, you know? And you know as well as I do that a painting may work because you're focusing from one direction, and there's the lightning bolt and the whole thing, is what makes it. And to suddenly do it in three-dimensional form, it might lose something. And I thought it did. I would have selected something far, far different.
RINGGENBERG: You've done other figures that were more dynamic than that one.
FRAZETTA: Oh, sure. But this was their idea and the theory being that they were going to do it, they were going to handle it themselves. And of course, as usual, they screwed up, royally. They're just a bunch of amateurs blowing their horns. `Oh, we can do anything. We can duplicate anything.' And of course, they couldn't. So, it came back and forth to me, and then I finally got disgusted, did the whole damn thing myself. And I made it very plain that would have been the last figure I would have picked. Something like that. It may look good from the angle that I painted it, you know, looking up and the strong lighting and all of that. And the lightning bolt--Wow! But now suddenly you look at it from front, back and so on, it looks ridiculous. It's just a guy holding a sword in the air. And the action doesn't work; you have to just look at it from that upshot, the way I painted it. And I tried to tell them that. I would have selected something that worked from every angle. But anyway, it's just the old story. All these guys can do it all. They all want to use my stuff and they always wind up producing shit, and I always wind up having to work at it myself.
RINGGENBERG: Well, are you happy with what Glen's done so far?
FRAZETTA: Oh, you mean like the book? Sure. It's great. It's great. Well, Glen's a great guy. Glen will do nothing to screw me up, and he doesn't just come off blowing his horn.
RINGGENBERG: I assume you have final approval over everything?
FRAZETTA: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Well, I say I had it printed here. And the negatives were shot here and everything and then Glen went from there. We discussed it for many, many months.
RINGGENBERG: I'm curious, Frank. How big were the original pencil drawings? Were they large?
FRAZETTA: Not bigger than their reproductions.
RINGGENBERG: Oh, really?
FRAZETTA: Oh yeah. And as good as the book appears, the originals blow them away. I don't know why. I mean they're perfectly good reproductions but I don't know if it's size or what, but I mean the originals are looser and crazier and the reproduction, you know when you reduced it, it sort of got, it looked a little tight, just a little on the tight side. And they're not tight. They're very loose and crazy. And, yeah, it's a perfect reproduction, but the originals are so much more fun to look at you can't believe it.
RINGGENBERG: You said you might want to do your next book just on women?
FRAZETTA: Yeah. Why not? Not that I didn't enjoy doing that subject, you know, but as I went along, and I drew those two with the women. Those were the last two that I (did), and I got really excited about this. Geeze, I think if I do another book, I'd like to just focus on that. And because I love drawing women, unlike what I usually do, where it's all fantasy, I wanted to do some serious but very sexy, wonderful women, just exploit the female form and do it in a way like it's never been done possibly, or you know, the way I draw women. They're not going to be just posing statically or anything. Just try to make them as beautiful and sexy as I can make them, but always in good taste. No way I'll go trashy, you know?
RINGGENBERG: Aside from what you're doing with Glen, do you have any projects in the works?
FRAZETTA: Well, there's going to be a big showing in New York, on Madison Avenue of my work and stuff. It's the Alexander Gallery*. You can find out about that.
RINGGENBERG: When is it going to be held?
FRAZETTA: In October.
RINGGENBERG: Is that going to be all oil paintings, or also drawings?
FRAZETTA: No, no. Probably a little bit of everything. But I want them to focus on my ability as an artist and not a cartoonist. But you know, this guy has a problem with that. I don't want to be set back thirty, forty years and when he starts bringing up my comic book days, which were minimal as far as I'm concerned.
RINGGENBERG: Does he want to feature some of your comic book work?
FRAZETTA: Well, I guess he's trying to show the versatilities aspect of it, and that's all very nice, but you know as well as I do somehow when people feel, `Well, he did comics', they don't think of you as a fine artist. They don't feel you can possibly work in comics and be a fine artist all at the same time. And they judge your work by the subject matter and that sort of crap. I'm trying to get rid of that label once and for all and let them appreciate my work for what it is.
Greg Hildebrandt Frank Frazetta and Tim Hildebrandt at Frank's costume birthday party, Alexander Gallery in Manhattan, 1994 (Photo by Tom Roberts)
RINGGENBERG: You transcended comics thirty years ago.
FRAZETTA: Well, that's what I thought but, you know, people are very slow to react. `Yeah, yeah. Well, he's a phenomenon and we don't quite understand it, but we shouldn't maybe take him too seriously.' But all that shit's gone down the tubes a long time ago. I mean they're teaching my work in colleges now and stuff like that. Now, come on.
RINGGENBERG: Frank, on the subject of teaching your work, do you ever think that you'd want to do a how-to book on painting or something?
FRAZETTA: No. It's silly. Because I have no formula. You know, with this business of teaching, I can't ever, ever teach anyone how to think like me. That what makes my work is my imagination, the fact that I'm inventive, the fact that I draw well. There's no formula. I've had guys come in here and they just fall over when they look at my palette. They just fall over, saying, `How the hell can you do such beautiful work with that horrible-looking palette?' I mean it's an absolute mess. I just paint and draw by instinct. What I do is create images, period. I can't ever teach anybody. I can teach somebody how to apply paint. I can teach them how to swipe from me, that's about it. I'm me. That's it. It's not like the usual school of art where they have these set formulas where you go from step one to step two. Forget it. I'm a sort of a method artist. I just, it's time to work, I start reaching down into my head, see these images, and just whirl away at it. And things happen. How do you teach someone that? All I'll do is develop a hundred clones of myself. And I say clones, but all they will have done is copy. They'll never be able to do what I do, in that I just, I'm always different, I'm always creative, and they can't do that. If that don't have that kind of ability, what'll I do from there?
RINGGENBERG: There's no substitute for imagination.
FRAZETTA: Well, exactly. I mean I taught Ken Kelly, and what have we got? A second-rate Frazetta....You know, Ken refuses to, I told him, I said, `Do your own thing, kiddo.' But he can't. See, if you just teach them the fundamentals, they wind up thinking like you, but more thinking like what you've done rather than what you might do. It simply doesn't work. There are schools of thought where they do have these absolutely cut-and-dried approaches to art and you can learn to become a professional artist. But how good you'll get and how creative you'll get is open to conjecture. But a teacher I couldn't be. It would teach them nothing. I might get them excited. I might get them fired up. I would just stress being your own man. If you have something to say, say it. Use life as a guide. Get down what you think you see. Get down what you would like to see. Don't think in terms of how Frank might have done it or, somebody else might do it. I don't sit here approaching the drawing board thinking, let’s see now. How would so-and-so have painted this? But that's what they do. I just sit there and imagine that I'm there, that I'm on the scene. How do you teach somebody that?
RINGGENBERG: I guess you can't.
FRAZETTA: No. You really can't.
RINGGENBERG: The last time I interviewed you, you said something that's been stuck in my head ever since. You said if you're out there in the creative arena and you really don't have anything to say, then get the hell out.
FRAZETTA: Yeah. That's the way I feel about it. I don't want to condemn anybody, but you know if it's too hot in the kitchen, get out of there.
RINGGENBERG: Do you have any projects that you'd really like to do but you just haven't lined up yet?
FRAZETTA: Oh, yeah, as a matter of fact. This is no big secret, but Glen is very, very high on perhaps getting this Death Dealer comic book off the ground and getting a movie made.
RINGGENBERG: A live action Death Dealer film?
RINGGENBERG: I was going to ask if you had any film projects that you were thinking about.
FRAZETTA: Oh yeah, well that's it, brother. And I mean no bullshit, none of those Hollywood assholes screwing it up.
RINGGENBERG: And would you direct it?
FRAZETTA: Pretty much. I'd be right there. Plus, getting everything the best, and I mean directors, writers, the whole thing. But with my input because if we're doing Death Dealer, I think I know him a little better than anybody else. And, yeah, pretty much like I did with Fire and Ice. Unfortunately, I had my input, but it clashed with Bakshi's.
RINGGENBERG: Well, even with Bakshi's input, the film still looks pretty good.
FRAZETTA: Oh, I think it looks great! But don't forget, I was giving art lessons every day to the background guys and you know the backgrounds are great.
RINGGENBERG: That's a movie my wife and I have gone back to again and again and we still find it entertaining. It holds up.
FRAZETTA: But you know as well as I do that a lot of people are very critical of it, and many liked the action scenes, which is primarily what I did. Of course, I created characters and told them how to move and how to perform those actions and stuff like that. And Bakshi did, well, the other half of it, you know, the weird stuff, which he's prone to do. And everything spectacular, moving glaciers and stuff, that's out of my league. I don't think like that. I just wanted a simple adventure and a chase scene in the jungle, in the swamps, you know, like I do. And I'm the guy that made the lizard work, and those hero characters do their thing. That was me. But then they had other guys writing the story and I fought like hell about that. And other guys doing this and other guys doing that, so it's not pure Frazetta. There are a lot of Frazetta moments, period. But still, it still worked pretty well. I still think it might have made money.
RINGGENBERG: The action in it was solid. Those were very realistic fights.
FRAZETTA: Well, that's exactly what I did. I did every action scene.
RINGGENBERG: You were like a second-unit director on that, right?
FRAZETTA: Second unit, right. I even did some of the action, personally.
FRAZETTA: Yep. Oh, yeah...and I jumped around, did all that silly nonsense.
RINGGENBERG: Did you have a soundstage with ramps and ropes to swing on and so forth?
FRAZETTA: Everything. Whatever it took. But I think, right off the bat, that we could have done it live in the first place. Bakshi agreed to that after, oh maybe, two weeks of shooting. He said, `Goddamnit, Frazetta, we could have done it live!' You know he had the attitude that there was no way we could do it live and make people look like the paintings that I do, and I said, we sure can. Sure, you can do it live if you know what you're doing, if you know what you want, if you know how to cast, and you know how to costume the people, and you know, you spend some money.
RINGGENBERG: Where would you find locations that look like your paintings?
FRAZETTA: My locations are very normal. Mountainous backgrounds, swamps, forests. What have I got that's so unusual?
RINGGENBERG: It would kind of hard right now to find the kind of lush jungles that you paint. So much of it has disappeared.
FRAZETTA: Oh, not really. Not at all. Hell, you can find 'em right in Mexico. You can find lush jungle anywhere if you want to.
RINGGENBERG: I guess if they could make Predator, they could make a film from your stuff.
FRAZETTA: It's how you shoot it. It's the lighting you use and so on. That's no problem. It's how I would stage it and have the guy move from here to there, and his attitude and so on, like that. If you want to catch the drama, the same kind of drama, and the power. I mean I paint it, so I know what I'm doing. And a lot of those stunt men thought I was crazy when I asked them to do certain things, and I had to show them. It was really funny. `Aw, a person can't do that.' So, I would do it. It's like the cameras are going and you get a little adrenaline going for you. How dare they say it's impossible, you know? But I had to prove that if I did it in a painting, it's possible.
RINGGENBERG: So where is the film project? Are you just at the talking stage?
FRAZETTA: Oh, well, sure, but Danzig has a lot of pull, and a lot of enthusiasm and we get along just great. And if anything's going to come of this, we've got the right people this time. And then so we'll see.
RINGGENBERG: Well, I wish you well with it, Frank. All that sounds exciting.
FRAZETTA: I'm also in the process of moving to Florida.
RINGGENBERG: Oh, really? Going to give up the house, huh?
FRAZETTA: Well, the house is going to stay put for a while, but we bought a building in Florida on Boca Grande. It's an island off the west coast, and it's gorgeous. We're going to move the museum there. That'll be on the main floor, and there's the apartments, and then I have a condo there as well. And I just love it. It's a tropical island, you know.
RINGGENBERG: When are you planning on moving?
FRAZETTA: Pretty soon. We're, as a matter of fact, Ellie and I are flying down Tuesday to just go over the building and get some last-minute things done like air conditioning and so on. But we're not concerned as to whether it's a little awkward for people to get there or anything. That's not the point. It's a gorgeous spot, and it's a safe spot. And certainly Frazetta fans living in Florida or nearby states won't mind.
RINGGENBERG: Well, I hope there's some good golf courses in the area.
FRAZETTA: I don't worry about that. I mean, I like golf, but unlike what you may have heard, I'm not a fanatic. I'm really not. In fact, I think I may learn to fish. It's paradise. If you've ever dreamed of living on a tropical island without the negative side of it, this is it. It's an absolute paradise. It's about as close as you're going to get to paradise. I kid you not.
RINGGENBERG: It sounds like it'll be a beautiful place to live.
FRAZETTA: That's my project, that's my main project. That's the uppermost thing in my mind at this point. And it's been there for quite a few months.
RINGGENBERG: I hope your family's well.
FRAZETTA: They're fine. Everybody's doing great here.
RINGGENBERG: How's your grandchild?
FRAZETTA: My grandchild? How's my seven grandchildren?
RINGGENBERG: Your seven grandchildren.
FRAZETTA: We don't fool around. Italians don't fool around.
RINGGENBERG: I guess not.
FRAZETTA: Jesus. Yeah, can you believe it? Seven of them. Let's count how many girls. We got one, two, three, four. Four girls and three boys.
RINGGENBERG: I had spoken to (Frazetta Cards publisher) Hank Rose just last spring and he said your daughter had just had a child.
FRAZETTA: Yeah, well that must be Heidi. And there'll be more coming from that area. Holly's finished, she had her three. Frankie, my son, had twins. Billy's got a daughter and Heidi's going to have some more, so I'll probably have eight to ten grandchildren when they're done.
RINGGENBERG: Is the whole family going to move down there or just you and Ellie?
FRAZETTA: Well, they just haven't got the facilities to go at this point, but I'm pretty sure that I'll be able to lure them down, once we're settled there. They love it. They love it. They just don't know how to deal with it, with their business things and all that. It's sort of a big step. But I tell them, `Don't worry about it. You'll miss us and you'll come a'runnin'.' And they will. I promise you. I know they've already promised to spend all winters down there with us.
RINGGENBERG: Compared to Pennsylvania in the winter that's a good trade.
FRAZETTA: Yeah. Besides, this area is getting screwed up now.
RINGGENBERG: Really? Too crowded?
FRAZETTA: Oh my God! Oh my god. Everybody, in the last ten years, has discovered the Poconos. And it's like millions of New Yorkers and New Jersey people are coming up here like they've discovered Paradise and they've created a traffic hell up here. It's sickening. And of course, along with them will come the crime, and along with them will come gambling, and the place is going to go to pot. I always make these predictions. I've been right more often than not.
RINGGENBERG: You moved into where you're living now in the mid-sixties, correct?
FRAZETTA: No, actually 1971. And it was nice. It was simple, it was quiet. It was inspiring. And that was it. It was country, and I had these woods and I started to explore the area. Suddenly I looked out and there were traffic jams. Can you imagine? Traffic jams right out in front of my damn entrance.
RINGGENBERG: That's hard to conceive of.
FRAZETTA: Well, you just drive up and see for yourself. You won't believe it. Let's put it this way. The cars are bumper to bumper from New York to here. And I mean here. I mean it's a big state, but they've all decided to exit right here. Because they keep advertising it. They've been advertising it for ten years. Take route eighty, exit fifty-two. Fifty-two! And that's all they know. It's such a big state but nobody exits below us or above us. Right here. Fifty-two. You know, you chalk it up to ignorance. They don't know. They think that's the only way you get into Pennsylvania.
RINGGENBERG: I can see why you'd want to get out of there.
FRAZETTA: Oh, I hate it. I hate it. It's harder to get around here than it is in Brooklyn. That's how it's become. Traffic lights are going up all over the place. The roads are too small. They are backed up everywhere, particularly weekends. And it's getting worse by the minute.