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Roy Krenkel: Friend and Mentor

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Roy Krenkel: Friend and Mentor

 
Roy G. Krenkel (July 11, 1918 - February 24 1983) born in The Bronx, was an American illustrator who specialized in fantasy and historical drawings and paintings for books, magazines and comic books. Krenkel was an avid collector and a life-long student, constantly seeking inspiration from the greats which came before him, such as J Allen St John, Norman Lindsay and Franklin Booth. He left behind a considerable legacy, reviving the writing of Edgar Rice Burroughs with his gorgeous paperback covers, and influenced at least three generations of fantasy and science fiction artists, including his dear friend, Frank Frazetta.
 
(Roy Krenkel. Photo courtesy of: REHWORLD.com)

Before serving as a Private in the U.S. Army in the Philippines in World War II, Krenkel studied at the Art Students League of New York under George Bridgman.  After World War II, he attended Burne Hogarth's classes at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, which became the School of Visual Arts.  Professionally, Krenkel first drew comics for EC and other houses. It was through this schooling and comic work, he met and worked with Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, Ernie Bache, John Severin, Wally Wood, and others. Krenkel met Frazetta for the first time through their mutual friend, Al Williamson. He and Al drove to Frazetta's Brooklyn home in the early 1950s. Krenkel remarked, "He wasn’t called "The Great Frazetta" in those days…but we were all awed by his talent. He could do anything! And we knew him for a couple of years before we knew about his background, and of little things like the “Snowman” and the funny little animals that he did in comic books. We knew that he was doing “Dan Brand”…at the time we met, he was just starting to futz around with Dan Brand. Of course, he was influenced by Foster then, and at times he was the equal of Foster. We were impressed!"
(Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta, 1950s)
Krenkel, Williamson and Frazetta became close friends fairly quickly after their meeting. Together, they enjoyed each other's unique perspectives, talent and sense of humor. They had fun when they worked and never really felt like they were working. Williamson called it, "a labor of love." A notable collaboration for the group, nicknamed, "The Fleagle Gang," was a 7-page story in Weird Fantasy #20, "I Rocket" (EC, 1953.) Williamson, Frazetta and Krenkel teamed up to illustrate the classic tale adapted from a story by sci-fi legend, Ray Bradbury. The pages, pencilled by Williamson, inked by Frazetta and detailed by Krenkel, were absolutely stunning, like all of the artwork they collaborated on.


Krenkel went on to illustrate for SF magazines, paperback covers for historical novels and most notably, set a new standard for excellence for fantasy art with his covers he painted for Ace Books. Don Wolheim, author and editor in the paperback field, discovered Roy from his work in the fanzine AMRA and tapped him to illustrate the new line of  ACE Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks.  Krenkel knocked it out of the park with his cover for ERB "At The Earth's Core" (Ace books, 1962.)  

(Roy Krenkels "At The Earths Core" Paperback Cover Artwork)

Roy's success with ACE led to more work than he wished to handle. So, he called his friend, Frank Frazetta, who helped him with the covers for Tarzan the
Invincible, Back To The Stone Age, and The Mastermind of Mars. Krenkel recalled calling on Frazetta in an interview with Russ Cochran from 1978, "I did the first few covers by myself, and then somewhere down the line, maybe the fourth one, if memory serves, I dragged Frank in to helping me with the difficult areas. Not so much with the idea, but the painting, which Frank could do and I couldn’t. When he would help me, Frank’s problem was to try and make it look like mine. It was very difficult for him to attempt to confine himself to my rigid, dull style at that time. Frank would paint the hair, and work out how lighting would go across a face, or a hand, he picked up the color…little details, highlights. He knew just how to “pop it.” When I would get to an area that I was unsure of, and didn’t want to kill the thing at that point, I’d say, “you’d better take it, Frank.” And, he would dutifully try to keep it as rigid as the rest of the damn stuff. I didn’t know, for instance, how an eye would go when the head was tipped down. I couldn’t figure out where it would be dark and where it would be light. Frank knew all this, and he had great control, which I didn’t have. I was pretty sloppy in those days, and am getting sloppier now." 

After the first few collaborative covers, Krenkel kept suggesting to Wollheim, “You gotta get this guy Frazetta!” Wollheim was reluctant at first because Frazetta's background was comic books. Krenkel said that it was an uphill battle to convince them that comic men are artists. Finally they gave Frazetta some work, and after that it was clear sailing for him. A few years later, Krenkel and Frazetta once again joined forces when Krenkel created preliminary roughs for Frazetta's "Dracula V Wolfman" and "Gargoyle" which would be published on the covers of Creepy and Eerie (Warren Publishing.) Krenkel and Frazetta remained colleagues and life-long friends until Krenkel passed away from cancer in 1983. 

In an interview conducted shortly after Krenkel’s death, Frazetta remembered his old friend this way: " I thought of Roy as just a wonderful inspiration, a lot of fun, a lot of laughs. Certainly, he made me go. There are a few people that made me go in my career, but he was certainly a major factor. Roy really introduced me to books and showed me art and showed me just how far you could really go. I was awfully casual about it; I just did my thing my way and really didn't make any pretensions of going to high places or anything quite like that. And Roy said: you must do this, Frank. Look at these guys, look at these guys.’ And he'd show me this wonderful art that really got me fired up. Not that I wanted to be like them, but it just amazed me as to the kind of talent that really was out there that I wasn't aware of. Whether they were alive or dead, you know? And it really got me fired, just like it seems I inspire younger artists. These guys inspired the hell out of me, forced me to look! It was great. It was great conversation about the many, many nuances of art. What makes it work, what doesn't make it work, and it was quite an education." 

 

 Fantasy fans and Frazetta fans alike, owe a great debt to Roy Krenkel for
getting Frazetta involved in painting book covers for Ace Books in the early sixties. Without Roy, Frazetta's career may have gone in another path. We thank you, Mr. Roy G Krenkel.

 

*A special thank you to my friend, Steven Ringgenberg for all of your dedication and knowledge. 

  © Frazetta Girls, LLC 

 

 

 

 

 

2 comments

  • Kevin Conley: September 13, 2021

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful interview, reflection, on two greats’ early years!

  • Paul Monkcom: September 13, 2021

    A lovely insight into a small part of Franks history and what an important factor Roy was, there just doesn’t seem to be enough of these around to read, thank you for sharing.

    Would be great to read an illustrated Frazetta Girls book someday, all about Frank the man, as well as Frank the artist.

    Best regards,
    Paul

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