Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Frazetta And Flash Gordon

The conventional wisdom about Frazetta and the science-fiction genre is that he had little motivation for the subject matter. Frank explained in several interviews that he had to push himself to get motivated enough to draw or paint in that genre. He much preferred the worlds of ER Burroughs and RE Howard.

There are a couple of exceptions to this. The story goes that early in their friendship he was visiting Al Williamson. Al was showing a 16mm print of an early Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serial to some friends. Al, of course, loved those early Flash Gordon episodes and never tired of viewing the adventures of Flash and Ming the Merciless. In an earlier post I showcased the original art where Frank was showing Williamson how to draw Flash and add zip-a-tone textures

While viewing the movie Frank sat down at Al's drawing board and started drawing a large version of Flash Gordon. He added a big monster and a shot of Dale in the background. Flash had his obligatory signature headpiece on, of course. Everyone thought that headpiece was extremely "cool". Frank brought the original back to his studio and did the final inking. This was in late 1950 or so. Later, Frank offered this piece to Steve Douglas, the art director at Famous Funnies that Al had introduced him to, for possible use as a Buster Crabbe Comics cover. Steve turned it down because he wanted shots of Buster Crabbe on the cover, not Flash Gordon. Frank threw the cover on top of his cabinet and there it stayed until many years later when a friend (Frank said it was Larry Ivie) grabbed a bunch of originals off the cabinet top and partially tore several pieces. Unfortunately, this FLASH cover got torn and is now missing a small portion of the monster's left wing. Frank never repaired it. He just left it. Many years after that Frank sold the original art to rock star Glenn Danzig. Glenn had it for many years before moving it to Hollywood writer and famous SEINFELD writer David Mandel. A number of years after that I was able to pry it from Dave's hands by offering a top quality Wattterson watercolor featuring Calvin and Hobbes. That watercolor originally was intended as a ROLLING STONE cover and it was traded from Watterson to comic historian Rick Marschall. I suspected that Rick traded him a Krazy Kat sunday for it. Luckily, it finally ended up in my hands.

I took the FLASH cover to Frank. He suggested that we simply cover up the torn area with a nice logo/stat. He told me what to do and I did it according to his directions. The cover is a huge 15x24 making it as large as the Weird Science Fantasy #29 cover, the largest of Frank's illustrations.

The other finished Flash Gordon illustration dates from 1976. I asked Frank its origin and he told me that it was just done for fun. I suspect that it was probably earmarked for the last Middle Earth portfolio, Woman Of The Ages, published in 1977. If anyone else has other info on this drawing I would love to hear it. I asked Frank about it several times and his answer was the same each time, namely, he did it for fun. Shortly after completing it, Frank gave it to his son, Billy. Short of cash, Billy reluctantly sold it many years later. It is a magnificent drawing with very energetic brushowork that pulses with life. The princess, of course, is sexy and sultry as only Frazetta can do it. Flash's finger touching her breast is an understated and very sensual touch to an already highly eroticized composition. I asked what the "F" stood for on the cod piece. Frank said it represented "Flash" and "Frazetta". He said that he couldn't just let Flash have all the fun with that girl! He wanted to be in on the action. That's Frank!

Frank ultimately drew precious few images of Flash Gordon. In the very early 50's he drew two pencil images of Buster Crabbe. One was partially watercolored. It was published as the back cover to one of the early WITZEND fanzines. The other was a simple head shot of Buster Crabbe. Both pieces were drawn with photo reference from well known stills from the first two FLASH GORDON serials. Later, he drew a wonderful sketch of Flash Gordon that was traded to Charlie Roberts. That sketch appeared on the cover of the infamous bootleg, Frazetta 300 Drawings, an effort of very poor quality. But, again, collectors and fans didn't care, we just wanted to see more and more Frazetta art.

(c) 2012 Doc Dave Winiewicz


  1. Dave: I have always believed that FLASH GORDON & DALE piece to have been intended for the back cover of HERITAGE -- the Doug Murray/Richard Garrison fanzine on and about Flash Gordon. A Frazetta back cover had been advertised, but we got Wally Wood instead. The timing is about right - I figured that Doug and Richard couldn't wait for Frazetta to finish the piece having missed the deadline, extended however many times it may have been. I have not tried to confirm this with Richard or Doug.

  2. Certainly sounds plausible.

    Thanks Ray!


  3. Hi Dave,

    Did you realize you posted this on Buster Crabbes birthday???

    quick question, I have noticed on some of the old inks like the second one, the pencil is left in certain areas, is that a marker for the halftone or just because it was never erased?

    thanks and All the best


  4. Tracy:

    I was wondering if anyone would catch that!! LOL. I LOVE Buster Crabbe. My favorite sci-fi films are the first two Flash serials. I have custom made models of Flash and Ming's rocketships sitting on my desk. I look at them every day. I much prefer those serials over Star Wars...personal preference. My other favorite is FORBIDDEN PLANET. Everything else falls far behind those three IMHO.

    The background pencils were indications for possible landscape elements. Frank decided to leave them out and never erased them. He left open the option of adding it later. He liked the simple look of the central images without more distracting elements. The original is damn impressive.


  5. Thanks Dave,

    I too am a HUGE Flash fan, and Buster was the best!! I remember a show on PBS called Matinee at the Bijou and first saw the Flash serials there as a kid and have been a fan ever since. All my space and sci/fi stuff still has that look.

    Would love to see a pic of the rockett ships sometimes.maybe in person if I ever get out your way!!

    Thanks again for all you do

    All the best


  6. From what I can make out ff did the 76 fg pic in two tone ink. One bold to outline the definitive parts of the the figure the other been a wash of 3:5 the consistency - compare the detail on the torso to the outline

  7. ....those watered down inks certainly soften the figure in the intended areas. A fine lesson in inking by ff

  8. Thanks so much for all of the awesomely large scans, Dave! It's great to see these at a size where the work can really be appreciated!

  9. Thanks Joe! I'm a connoisseur of this art, just like you. I always delight when I can see good images of things. I do the best I can. I wish more people would post bigger scans. Why not?

    All the best!


  10. Dave: Actually the Buster Crabbe image on the back of WITZEND was not derived from a Flash Gordon still. Instead the image was derived from a still from the Buster Crabbe Universal film, KING OF THE JUNGLE, which was based on the C. T. Stoneham novel THE LION'S WAY -- a very good pseudo-Tarzan novel about Kaspa the lion man.

  11. Thank you. There is a VERY similar image in the first flash serial.