I'd really like to move on from Frazetta a little (as Monk has tried to do), but I'd like to address your point about "Whether Frazetta read Howard or not as many say not leaves me wondering" (that's a very uniquely-structured phrase, BTW). One of the "many" to "say" (and the first) was Frazetta himself. Since you seem unfamiliar with the particulars, you might want to check out this article:
I didn’t read any of it. It was too opposite of what I do. I told them that. So, I drew him my way. It was really rugged. And it caught on. I didn’t care about what people thought. People who bought the books never complained about it. They probably didn’t read them.
Frank said it. More than once. We know for a fact that Roy G. Krenkel, Frank's close friend, was a major REH fan (he wrote a great intro to Sowers of the Thunder). We also know that Frank gave credit to RGK for helping to finalize the composition of "The Barbarian" (the CtA cover). Taking Mr. Frazetta's remarks about not reading REH into consideration, it seems likely that Krenkel just gave him the Cliff Notes of the tales and Frank ran with that info. When one considers how closely FF stuck to the "facts" when illustrating Tarzan and the Barsoom books (we know he read Burroughs), it would explain the deviations from Howard's descriptions.
Since you seem a little rusty on the subject of Frazetta, you might want to check out these articles as well:
I admit that I would certainly qualify as one of those who happens to be rusty on the subject of Frazetta, my only references (aside from the art itself) being the documentary Painting With Fire
and the book Icon
. On the subject of the Lancers (wading through all the nauseating MATTPOP stuff by Fenner) I found this quote by Frazetta on pg. 86 of Icon
that is relevant to the question of whether or not he read REH and why he was more loose with his interpretation of Howard as opposed to Burroughs:
"Although I have enjoyed illustrating the works of ERB, I find them a bit slow and Victorian and the fans are too prone to condemn the artist if he hasn't been faithful to the text. I much prefer illustrating the tales of REH. They are much stronger in mood and narraration than those of Burroughs and allow a wider range of illustrative interpretations. As St. John is remembered for ERB and Tarzan, I would like to be remembered for REH and Conan. I feel a certain sense of loss that Howard isn't alive to appreciate what I've done with Conan."
So I suppose it depends on which Frazetta one is prone to believe, but let's take this statement and break it down logically: We know for a fact that Roy G. Krenkel, Frank's close friend, was a major REH fan (he wrote a great intro to Sowers of the Thunder). We also know that Frank gave credit to RGK for helping to finalize the composition of "The Barbarian" (the CtA cover). Taking Mr. Frazetta's remarks about not reading REH into consideration, it seems likely that Krenkel just gave him the Cliff Notes of the tales and Frank ran with that info.
Correct me if I'm wrong, my being rusty on the artistic process of commisioned illustrations, but I always assumed that when an artist is hired to illustrate a book, the publisher sends him a copy of the text with the implicit understanding that he's going to read it. Taking your statement at face value, Frazetta was too lazy to do what he was getting paid to do and asked his friend Roy Krenkel to take notes for him and deliver them to him either via phone, snail mail, or in person. One has to ask why Krenkel would agree to such a demand, even from a friend. Doesn't he have his own illustrations to work on (which includes reading the text)? And if Frazetta had such a sloppy and unprofessional work ethic, wouldn't have someone caught on to it at some point in his career? And if he did it with Howard, would he not do it with other commisions? Plus, from Frazetta's point of view, wouldn't it be easier to just read the damn stories than to go to the trouble of asking Roy Krenkel to do his homework for him and waiting on him to get back to him? It's not like the Lancer volumes are that long or that Howard is difficult to read. Frazetta was frequently slammed for being a commercial artist/illustrator. One of his defenders quipped that Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel work would fall under the same rubric. Right on. Now if Michelangelo had painted God the Father as Satan, I imagine that some people (including the Pope, who was paying for it) would object. Why? It wasn't what he was getting paid to do. They would've known that Michelangelo had gotten it wrong because they'd read the "guide" (and read it BEFORE they saw the painting; it was often the reverse with FF and REH).
Michelangelo never did something as extreme as painting God the Father as Satan, but then, Frazetta never painted Conan as Thoth Amon. But I would note that Michelangelo did
take liberties with the original source material. Frazetta pulled off a couple Conan covers ("Berzerker" is probably the prime example) through sheer talent and attitude. As Amster points out, it has very little to do with what it was illustrating. You (and Amster) make it sound as if there's no possible way it could've been any different and still been great.
I'm no expert on art, but I can as someone who appreciates it, that's not how I experience it. I've been to many famous museums and have seen plenty of original artwork dating from the ancient world through the Classical period to contemporary masters, and I've never said to myself "He could have done it differently and it still would have been great". OTOH, Buscema and BWS both seem to have read the Conan yarns closely. I've never had any particular gripe about how they illustrated the stories (or the Hyborian Age in general). Once again, the "strait-jacket" doesn't seem to have cramped them too much. Gianni and Manchess (both straight-up illustrators) also did just fine sticking with Robert E. Howard's guidelines.
I really don't see how either Buscema of Smith took less liberties than Frazetta. In the case of Buscema, he's stated that Frazetta was his inspiration for his own interpretation of Conan. In the case of Manchess, lets see how his Picts compare to Howars's descriptions: Short men, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, lean-hipped, they were naked except for scanty loin-clouts. The firelight brought out the play of their swelling muscles in bold relief. Their dark faces were immobile, but their narrow eyes glittered with the fire that burns in the eyes of a stalking tiger. Their tangled manes were bound back with bands of copper. Swords and axes were in their hands. Crude bandages banded the limbs of some, and smears of blood were dried on their dark skins.
Looking at the illustration on page 81, I don't see tangled manes bound by bands of copper. I see mohawks, a detail that REH surely would have included had he intended it to be interpreted that way. IMO Frazetta's illustrations of Rogues in the House, the Frost Giants Daughter and the Scarlett Citadel are more accurate than a lot of Manchess' work in volume 3. But don't get me wrong, I love Manchess, I'm just not going to second guess his every artistic decision and say that "He could have made his Picts exactly like REH described them and they still would have been just as good." Maybe so, maybe not, but it would be a different piece of art with it's own strengths and weaknesses. Because his art is so good and, IMO, captures the spirit of REH's stories, I'm willing to give him a little slack.
So why did Manchess (or the Keegans, for that matter) make a consious choice to break with Howard's literal descriptions? I don't know. You'd have to ask them. I would surmise that they were trying to emphasize the American frontier metaphore that Howard was going for. Dealing with metaphore is different in illustration than in print; you have to be more overt to get the message across. So yeah, based on that, I would find such a rubric to be creatively stiffiling from an artists point of view, a proverbial REH commitee looking over your shoulder and saying "I see where you're trying to go with this interpretation, but you must stick to Howard's descriptions. Trust me. It will be just as good if you do." Art just doesn't work that way.
Edited by amsterdamaged, 30 December 2011 - 05:47 AM.