Frank Frazetta, an illustrator of comic books, movie posters and paperback book covers whose visions of musclebound men fighting with swords and axes to defend scantily dressed women helped define fantasy heroes like Conan, Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, died on Monday in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 82.
The cause was complications from a stroke, said Rob Pistella and Stephen Ferzoco, Mr. Frazetta’s business managers.
Mr. Frazetta was a versatile and prolific comic book artist who, in the 1940s and ’50s, drew for comic strips like Al Capp’s “Lil’ Abner” and comic books like “Famous Funnies,” for which he contributed a series of covers depicting the futuristic adventurer Buck Rogers.
A satirical advertisement Mr. Frazetta drew for Mad earned him his first Hollywood job, the movie poster for “What’s New Pussycat?” (1965), a sex farce written by Woody Allen that starred Peter Sellers. In 1983 he collaborated with the director Ralph Bakshi to produce the animated film “Fire and Ice.”
His most prominent work, however, was on the cover of book jackets, where his signature images were of strikingly fierce, hard-bodied heroes and bosomy, callipygian damsels in distress. In 1966, his cover of “Conan the Adventurer,” a collection of four fantasy short stories written by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp, depicted a brawny long-haired warrior standing in repose on top of a pile of skeletons and other detritus, his sword thrust downward into the mound, an apparently naked young woman lying at his feet, hugging his ankle.
The cover created a new look for fantasy adventure novels and established Mr. Frazetta as an artist who could sell books. He illustrated many more Conan books (including “Conan the Conqueror,” “Conan the Usurper” and “Conan the Avenger”) and works by Edgar Rice Burroughs (including “John Carter and the Savage Apes of Mars” and “Tarzan and the Antmen”).
“Paperback publishers have been known to buy one of his paintings for use as a cover, then commission a writer to turn out a novel to go with it,” The New York Times reported in 1977, the same year that a collection of his drawings, “The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta,” sold more than 300,000 copies.
Frank Frazzetta was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 9, 1928, and as a boy studied painting at a local art school. (Early in his career, he excised one z from his last name because “with one z it just looked better,” Mr. Pistella said. “He said the two z’s and two t’s was too clumsy.”)
Mr. Frazetta began drawing for comic books of all stripes — westerns, mysteries, fantasies — when he was still a teenager. He was also a good enough baseball player to try out for the New York Giants.
The popularity of Mr. Frazetta’s work coincided with the rise of heavy metal in the early 1970s, and his otherworldly imagery showed up on a number of album covers, including Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster” and Nazareth’s “Expect No Mercy.” Last year, Kirk Hammett, the lead guitarist for Metallica, bought Mr. Frazetta’s cover artwork for the paperback reissue of Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Conqueror” for $1 million.
Mr. Frazetta married Eleanor Kelly, known as Ellie, in 1956. She served as his occasional model and as his business partner; in 2000 she started a small museum of her husband’s work on their property in East Stroudsburg, Pa. She died last year.
Mr. Frazetta is survived by three sisters, Carol, Adel and Jeanie; two sons, Alfonso Frank Frazetta, known as Frank Jr., and William Frazetta, both of East Stroudsburg; two daughters, Heidi Grabin, of Englewood, Fla., and Holly Frazetta, of Boca Grande, Fla.; and 11 grandchildren.
Frank is probably best known for his painting The Death Dealer.
I became familiar with his work as a teenager reading Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories — Frazetta did the covers to those books. Since that time, I’ve loved his work. He will be missed.
More of Frank Frazetta’s work can be seen at the Art History Archive: