Friday, November 20, 2009

Go Frank!!

Grand Master Frank Frazetta's cover painting for the Lancer paperback, Conan the Conqueror by Robert E. Howard, sold this week to a private collector for a reported $1,000,000. The previous record price for a Frazetta painting was the $251,000 All Star Auctions fetched for the cover to Escape on Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 2008.

There has always been something of a mystique surrounding Frazetta's Conan covers; partly because they were the "first" successful Conan paperbacks and the first exposure to the character for the Baby Boomer generation of readers; partly because Frank got the assignment at the time when his painting skills had improved significantly and he felt he had something to prove; partly because the Frazettas had kept all of the Conan covers for the last 40-odd years (except for Conan of Aquilonia, which was stolen from Lancer's office when the publisher went bankrupt). Burroughs and Vampirella paintings came and went, but Frank and Ellie wouldn't even entertain offers from interested buyers for the Conans.

The covers only rarely followed Howard's descriptions or story situations and when asked if he had ever read the books Frank recently replied, "I didn¹t 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 didn¹t read them."

A little Frazetta swagger decades after the fact, but he was genuinely excited by the opportunity at the time (and relied on friend Roy Krenkel to feed him descriptions and plot summaries) and it shows in the resulting covers – with Conan the Conqueror perhaps the penultimate painting in the canon.

And, yes, people did read the books.

All of the Conan covers have been displayed at the Frazetta Museum in East Stroudsburg over the last decade. Whether the others will be offered for sale in the future isn't known at this time.

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