True or False

RUMOR “Frank Frazetta Ruined Some of his Paintings”

Photograph by Topper Helmers

Photograph by Rob Pistella

Maybe you have read or heard stories about Frank Frazetta, how towards the end of his career he had ruined some of his painting. I had the opportunity to get some clarification about this rumor recently, completely unexpectedly and unprompted.

That said, the best way to explain this is to say the word “ruin” is a very misleading term and not one that shouldn’t be thrown around so lightly. It conjures certain preconceptions that are inaccurate and inappropriate when talking about an artist who’s had the lasting impact that Frazetta has had on our community.

To illustrate what has happened and how this idea of Frazetta “ruining” his painting in the later part of his career, we need to understand when and how this is being interpreted. Since it started happening a lot earlier than one might think… actually from this point forward in the article I’m going to use the word “reworking” because that seems much more respectful and technically accurate.

Frazetta catgirl 1Original Catgirl (left) Reworked Catgirl (right)

Around 1994-95 I was fortunate enough to go to the Frazetta Museum and see the original Catgirl in all its glory… or at least what I thought was the original. At the time I had no idea that this was one of the painting Frazetta had reworked. Since then, there have been photographs shared online that show some of the various stage or version of Catgirl. I believe at some point it was also documented in one of the many Frazetta artbook, at least to some degree.

creepy16 frank frazettaCreepy 16 1967 (left) Dark Horse Collected Creepy vol 4 2023 (right)

Catgirl first appeared as a cover to Creepy 16, 1967. As you can see, it looks like a completely different painting. I never would have believed that it was the same painting, because they are both so different on many levels.

catgirl framed Photograph by The Frazetta Art Museum

I’ve always said that no reproduction has ever done Catgirl justice, it must be seen in person. This is because of the texture, which has an impasto feel to it, how light travels across the painting and most importantly the green moss and bark of the trees.

I had no idea that these features were things that Frazetta had built up painting over the original version. And even now armed with that knowledge it doesn’t affect my love for this piece in the slightest. Both versions offer very different interpretations of the same scene or idea. Personally, what I still find most striking and a vast improvement in the final version of Catgirl is the lighting.

Frazetta catgirl 2

As I understand it, the main issues some have taken with this particular painting, compared to the original, arises in the composition of Catgirl herself. In the original from Creepy 16 (left), Catgirl is positioned differently, most notably her left arm and leg. In the original, she has a much more natural pose that works with the environment. However when certain elements were changed, like the exclusion of the big cat she has her arm around, the pose no longer makes sense and  Frazetta changed it accordingly. In making these changes, she seems more posed in a modern pin up way, as opposed to the original. Also, comparing her left foot and leg placement, instead of it being behind her in shadow the foot is now visible.

Anyhow, as you can see, one man’s “ruined” is another man’s “reimagined”. As to the rumors of Frazetta “ruining” some of his painting in his later years, I’m going to debunk this as “False”. For two reasons. While he did began to reimagine some of his earlier works in the late 70’s early 80’s, they are certainly not ruined as many of us would interpret that word to mean. Secondly, many times over the years this rumor has had implied that the reworking had happened much later, like the 90’s. The last version of Catgirl is signed 1984.

One final note, The Frazetta Art Museum did a wonderful posting on Facebook showing some of the phases Catgirl underwent over the years. The museums FB post does predates this articles publication by a few days.

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