NEAL ADAMS AND FRANK FRAZETTA: Creative Powerhouses Forever in Competition

A NEAL ADAMS CHRONICLES birthday salute to the Godfather of Fantasy Art, who was born 96 years ago…


Neal Adams loved the late Frank Frazetta’s work. It’s pretty much that simple. Would he ever admit how much he loved it to the man himself? Probably not, but it was there. He used it as reference, as inspiration — and as the guy to be better than.

This is a story told to me by a 12-year-old girl who was there, so the perceptions are from a younger point of view:

There was a 1971 Phil Seuling-run comics convention where Frank Frazetta, Neal Adams and Ralph Bakshi were in attendance. Seuling invited the three of them — his absolute heroes — (and maybe a few more) to lunch at his apartment within view of Coney Island. After they ate, they probably talked comics and art and maybe someone said they should play a game outside.

Frazetta piece in the 1971 Seuling con

Football? Naw. Handball. Neal would have rocked that, but Frank (maybe) said baseball. So, they had a pick-up baseball game in a fenced-in cement court to the side of Phil’s building complex. In BROOKLYN! They were young and energetic, each one of the men trying to prove how masculine they were. Frank was born in Brooklyn. Neal grew up in Brooklyn and Coney Island and Ralph Bakshi emigrated to Brooklyn when he was young. There was a lot of machismo on display.

Neal — competitive animal he was — agree to play despite wearing a dress shirt, slacks and maybe a pair of loafers. Ralph was an artist so he wore sneakers, loose pants and a white shirt. Phil wore a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, but the man with the best physique was Frank Frazetta. He wore a tight white tee and a pair of jeans. He was certainly in shape.

Frank probably could have joined Major League Baseball. Neal was a super-competitive dude and Ralph grew up in the streets of Brooklyn. Wow… that’s some testosterone. They didn’t have 18 players, so they were just there to prove who was the best. (At least from what I’ve heard.)

Frazetta’s Death Dealer

Of all the events I’ve been told about in the comic industry, I wish I was there that day. I would give my eyeteeth to play in that game. It must have been awesome in so many ways. I have no idea who won or who hit well and who didn’t. I suspect Frazetta hit better than anyone. Probably caught better than anyone as well, It must have been one of those little moments when an incredible thing happens and no one realizes it… but maybe the people there know it.

Years later at Continuity Associates, Neal and I talked about finding Frazetta reference for a job. This is back when there were so few books devoted to Frank’s work. Just those seeming self-published art books, named “Frank Frazetta Book One,” “Two” and “Three.” You had to hold onto your copy because it would vanish in an art studio. Way, way, way before the internet. The copies we had were dog-eared and torn to pieces. Still usable, said Neal with a laugh.

“Book One”

After I found the pieces Neal needed, I mentioned that I LOVED Frank’s 6-page werewolf story from Creepy #1. Neal loved the Coney Island story (From EC Shock Suspenstories #13) because it reminded him of his youth and being under the boardwalk when he was a teenager running from the boys who wanted to beat him up.

Neal told me initially that in pencil and ink Frank would draw a punch a second before it struck a man’s chin OR a second after the impact. It was designed to be the most amount of tension that he could create. As a young 22- or 23-year-old, I loved that concept and pored over my Johnny Comet softcover collection to examine that thought. It wasn’t always the case, but there were definite examples of what Neal was trying to tell me.

Then Jim Lee hit the scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s. There were a couple years when Neal was telling the artists he was working with to look at Jim Lee for inspiration and iconic compositions. At some point I had to ask him, “Why?” Neal smiled and told me to find some Frazetta. I thought it was for another advertising job, but it was quite the opposite. He spread out the Frazetta on his conference table and then flipped open an X-Men comic Lee had drawn.

This is of course my memory, so it is not Neal’s precise words:

“Look at the compositions. Do you see how Frank centers his figures in the frame? They are always the focus of the composition… the middle. Now, look at the edges of the frame. See how it seems to fade away into smoke, sky, space or rock? Especially, the bottom of the image. You almost never see the feet of the main character. It creates a circle to focus your eyes on the main image. Sometimes the character is riding a horse. Sometimes he’s coming through the mist or climbing over rocks or in the midst of combat where his feet are simply covered by dead bodies. Here. Even look at this girl with the tigers or whatever they are. THEY obscure her feet and bring your eyes to the center of the image.”

I must admit it. My brain exploded at that moment. But he wasn’t done with me.

“Now, look at Jim Lee’s compositions. He does the same thing. He focuses his characters in a circle. In the center. There’s mist at the bottom, rocks or a fallen bad guy. He may not know it, but he and many others learned from looking at Frazetta’s paintings. Frazetta was a frickin’ genius. (Only he didn’t say frickin’.) That’s why people should look at Jim Lee. He is so commercial because Frank Frazetta was. Jim Lee gets it whether he knows it or not.”

And that’s why I loved working with Neal. It was like an uppercut from Mike Tyson. It came out of nowhere and rocked your world. You underestimated how truly smart he was.

A decade or more later, Neal was asked to do a Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cover. He had been painting at that time so he decided that he would do a painting for this one. “Pete”, he said. “Do you know that ‘cavemen rushing forward’ painting that Frazetta did?” Did I? Of course I did. “Find that cover, will you?”

Ten minutes later he had it in his hands, and he had already started sketching out the cover.

“Blow this up to cover size,” he asked. Back then, that meant exact cover size, then three percent smaller and then three percent larger. You gave him a page of Joe Kubert paper and paperclipped the reference to the paper. Then, if it was at the end of the day, you put it in his portfolio and sure enough, the next day he returned with a finished pencil. Except this time he was obviously excited about this cover. It may have been a couple or three days, but it felt like it was overnight he had painted a wonderous, Frazetta-inspired cover.

It had the mist/smoke and so forth, but it also had Neal’s Batman and his own composition. Only if you know the story can you see what Neal did. It’s so good to me… probably only because I was involved.

I mentioned that Neal was in a painting phase which was always wonderful. His color sense was amazing. Never too dramatic, never too subtle, never too black-and-white. But he had been immersed in advertising art for so long, he wanted to stretch his wings a bit. So, he pulled out the watercolors and gauche to paint a Batman running figure from the mist that even he admitted was Frazetta inspired. It’s a stunning piece even though Neal insisted on showing Batman’s feet. The swirling mists behind him are not Frazetta colors, but they make you think of Frazetta paintings. We, all of us including Neal, called it “The Frazetta Painting.” His daughter said, “It’s mine,” and Neal said “OK. It’s yours.”

In the end, Neal and Frazetta were part of the same generation… sort of. (Frank was born Feb. 8, 1928, and Neal was born June 15, 1941.) Neal loved competition and wanted to be better than anyone else. He met celebrities and directors and actors and artists. Frank hung out with Clint Eastwood, directors and actors and so, so, so many artists. But wasn’t it intellect versus emotion? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Frank was smarter than all of us and created pictures that he knew were going to last forever.

Frazetta Conan

His Conan paintings are probably the best images of that Robert E. Howard character that we will ever see. Visceral and savage. Beautifully painted. (I mean, I had them on my walls all the way through my high school years.) Does Neal paint a better Tarzan? Maybe. Didn’t we see those Leopard Men in the last Tarzan movie? I think so. Did Frank draw a better werewolf? Maybe. It certainly was an animal. Was Neal more commercial? Probably. He did have an art studio where he worked with advertising clients.

Adams Conan

Artists made the pilgrimage to the Frazetta Museum. Artists made the pilgrimage to the Continuity studio gallery to see the art on the walls.

Glorious apples and oranges, I guess.


— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite FRANK FRAZETTA 1960s ACE Paperback Covers. Click here.

THE DEATH DEALER: Frazetta in His Own Words. Click here.

Peter Stone is a writer and son-in-law of the late Neal Adams. In addition to this column, he also writes 13th Dimension’s Buried Treasure feature. Be sure to check out the family’s twice-weekly online Facebook auctions, as well as the, and their Burbank, California, comics shop Crusty Bunkers Comics and Toys.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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