Step inside the fantasy world of Frank Frazetta

A hefty new monograph from Taschen celebrates the illustrator’s work – from bristling depictions of Tarzan and Conan to heavy metal record sleeves and high fantasy concept art

The Fantastic Worlds of Frank Frazetta re-assesses the artist’s influence on visual culture in the wake of his ever-increasing popularity (the publisher’s press release points out that his Egyptian Queen painting broke records in 2019, when it sold for $5.4m).

Known for his contributions to fantasy and science fiction magazines of the 50s and 60s, as well as his portrayal of pulp magazine hero Conan The Barbarian, Frazetta was, writes curator Dan Nadel, “gloriously vulgar”. “He didn’t imagine narrative scenes so much as emotional and psychological spaces not so dissimilar from the psychedelic mind space in which no rules apply,” says Nadel in the book’s introduction.

Top image: Sea Witch, for the cover of Eerie No. 7, 1966; Above: The Encounter, for the cover of L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume V, 1988
Swords of Mars, for the cover of Swords of Mars & Synthetic Men of Mars, 1974. Courtesy of the Korshak Collection and Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc
Painting created for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Escape On Venus, 1972. Courtesy of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc

Frazetta started drawing and painting in his teens, becoming a published cartoonist aged just 16. He went on to make work for various pulp publishers including EC Comics – which was the company behind horror comic Tales From The Crypt – as well as producing his own Tarzan-esque adventure story, set in the jungle. He rarely stayed anywhere for too long, but according to Nadel he had a serious influence on the fantasy art style.

The monograph journeys through Frazetta’s work, divided into chronological chapters that focus on his most significant projects, and with plenty of big images to pore over. The book doesn’t shy away from his more difficult aspects either, acknowledging Frazetta’s problematic depictions of women and people of colour, as well as the artist’s own, significant ego.

Dawn Attack, for L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume VII, 1985
The cover for Buck Rogers Featured in Famous Funnies, 1954

In one memorable part of the introduction, Nadel returns to a 1977 Esquire profile of the artist at his peak. “His drafting table was in the living room – he painted mostly at night, entertained visitors, and enjoyed his notoriety,” Nadel writes. “He didn’t read the books he illustrated or listen to the bands who worshipped him.”

The Fantastic Worlds of Frank Frazetta is published by Taschen;