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Flirting with Disaster: The album art of Frank Frazetta

Molly Hatchet - Molly Hatchet (Epic, 1979). Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

“Everybody knocks my female figures. They say they're overblown, that women don't look like that. And I agree. Certainly all women don't look like my paintings. But you can't deny some women do look like that. I don't want to paint just another woman. A painting, it's something important; you want to look at it, maybe forever. Who wants to look at just an ordinary hero forever? You want the ultimate, you pull out the stops and do everything in extremes. The extreme in beauty, if it fits; the extreme in ugliness if it fits; the extreme in terror if this is what's required. You know, I think this is one reason that so many people enjoy my stuff, because all of these extremes are jammed into it.” ― Frank Frazetta, Icon (Underwood Books, 2003).

Seminal fantasy and sci-fi artist Frank Frazetta's talent was recognized early on while he was a student in elementary school. In fact, when the five-year-old started kindergarten, his teachers were stupefied by his ability to draw at a level expected of a child twice his age. At the urging of his teachers, Frazetta's parents enrolled him in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts, which was run by artist Michael Falanga. Falanga, an Italian immigrant, had spent time in his home country studying with influential painter Domenico Morelli and sculptor Stanislao Lista. Before his unexpected death in 1942, Falanga was so taken with Frazetta's innate talent, he considered sending his young pupil to Italy to continue his studies.

Dust - Hard Attack (Kama Sutra, 1972). Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

(Left) Dust - Hard Attack (Kama Sutra, 1972).

(Right) Robert E. Howard's Conan of Cimmerian (Ace Books, 1967)

Before the demise of the Brooklyn Academy in 1944, cartoon illustrator Ralph Mayo was hired to fill Falanga's instructorship. According to Frazetta, it was Mayo who recommended he learn how to incorporate more authentic aspects of human anatomy into his deeply emotionally developed, character-driven illustrations. Mayo gave Frazetta an anatomy book, something the artist had never considered relevant inspiration for his work. But after pouring through it cover-to-cover, the change in his approach was immediate. Mayo's guidance, along with Frazetta's natural aptitude and fine arts training, would lay the groundwork for his staggering portraits of massive, muscle-bound men and women, as well as behemoth Vikings and warriors armed with their god hammers.

(Left) Nazareth - Expect No Mercy (A&M, 1977)

(Right) Eerie #8 (Warren Publishing, 1966)

Frazetta was just sixteen and using the signature "Fritz" when his work started appearing in a wide variety of comics that ran the gamut from historical themes to westerns. By the 1950s, the artist had established himself with several publishers, including the legendary EC Comics, home of MAD magazine and the popular horror comic series, Tales from the Crypt. It was Frazetta's caricature of Ringo Starr for the infamous MAD "back cover" parody feature in October 1964 that would lead to the artist's first Hollywood job as the illustrator of the movie poster for 1965's What's New Pussycat?. Within that year, the artist landed his first record cover commission - the portrait of Herman's Hermits for their 1966 album, Both Sides of Herman's Hermits (MGM, 1966). Unlike the later, better known Frazetta sleeves, Both Sides of is one of the few featuring an image that had not originated from a previous project.

Throughout the sixties, Frazetta's work became increasingly sought after by various horror mags, like Warren Publishing's Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella comics, as well as publishers of sci-fi and fantasy novels. When Ace Books began developing the first comprehensive paperback editions for Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp's Conan the Adventurer series, Frazetta was brought in to create the book art. Instantly iconic, his vivid oil paintings of Conan would be the first appearance of a more modern adaptation of the famous character and become burned into the minds of fantasy-lit fans around the world.

Molly Hatchet - Flirtin' with Disaster (Epic, 1979) and Beatin' the Odds (Epic, 1980). Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

Frazetta's works Death Dealer, Dark Kingdom and Conan the Conqueror (above) appeared on the first three Molly Hatchet LP's.

Although 70's rock legends Dust and Nazareth were the first to introduce unfamiliar music fans to the artist, the image of Frazetta's Death Dealer (1973) on Molly Hatchet's Molly Hatchet (Epic, 1978) remains the most notorious use of his work on an album cover. The band continued to feature Frazetta portraits on their follow-up's Flirtin' With Disaster (Epic, 1979) and Beatin' The Odds (Epic, 1980). Other acts like guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen followed, making Frazetta's otherworldly style seemingly synonymous with the hard rock and metal genres.

Wolfmother - Wolfmother (Modular, 2005) and "Woman" (2005). Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

Franzetta's works The Sea Witch and The Moon's Rapture (above) appeared on Wolfmother (Modular, 2005) and "Woman" (Modular, 2005).

In 2005, at the suggestion of producer Dave Sardy, Australian rock band Wolfmother resurrected images created by Frazetta for several releases. In the case of the cover of their self-titled debut, the band used one of Frazetta's more notable paintings, The Sea Witch (1967). The image, originally featured on the cover of Eerie #7, depicts an ethereal nude woman, perhaps part serpent, with her arm outstretched, appearing to be in full control of a raging ocean storm. Frazetta's artwork didn't go over well with Wal-Mart (because Wal-Mart has very distinct standards when it comes to nudity) and the category-killing chain forced the Modular Records to repackage the album using a simple white-on-black design. Frazetta's works Wolf Moon (1966) and The Moon's Rapture (1994) appear on three subsequent singles for "Mind's Eye," "Woman" and "Joker and the Thief." And for all you Scientology fans, the band opted for a variation of an image Frazetta created for L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future anthology (New Era, 1996) on their sweet 7-inch picture disc for "Love Train."

Wolfmother - Love Train (Modular, 2005). Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

(Left) Wolfmother - "Love Train" (Modular, 2005)

(Right) L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Vol. X (New Era, 1996)

For more on Frank Frazetta, check out the documentary Painting with Fire, available on Amazon and the album cover gallery below:

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