The sad news that has been buzzing around the Internet today was confirmed earlier — legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta has died at the age of 82.
The cause of death has been given as a stroke.
Frazetta's iconic work is instantly recognizable to anyone who has read fantasy novels, browsed through yearly calendars or picked up a metal album. Known mostly for his commercial work, Frazetta essentially invented the look of modern fantasy art with his lush paintings of fantastic and fearsome beasts, rough-hewn men, and women seemingly coaxed from the smoothest and deadliest alabaster. Even you didn't know the name, you knew the work; Tarzan, John Carter from Mars, Conan the Barbarian and his own creation, the Death Dealer, were all given the Frazetta stamp, cementing the image of these and other characters for generations.
I distinctly remember my first the time I felt the impact of Frazetta's work — it was the cover to Molly Hatchet's self-title debut album, featuring the Death Dealer himself.
I was fascinated by the cover, with the obscured warrior who seemed to be made of black and gray, of shadow and steel, and who seemed to drain all the color, all the life, out of the world itself. I would study this cover with more attention than I probably ever gave the music inside, imagining what kind of world this demon-soldier haunted, wondering what damnation stoked his eyes to a glowing red, amazed at the sheer muscularity of the enormous, night-black warhorse.
With that one cover Frazetta, as much as anyone or anything, came to symbolize rock 'n' roll to me. Soon enough, his work became shorthand for fantasy, adventure, sex, heroism and an entire pop culture era for me, as I'm sure it is for a lot of other people out there.
There have been plenty of other artists who are maybe just as good, but they all owe a debt to Frazetta. With work that is erotic, powerful and otherworldly, Frazetta was one of those rare artists who defined a style, and with it an entire genre.