Frank Frazetta vs. Boris Vallejo… Resolved!

Standard

1aaFrazetta+witch

This is a lecture I have given for two years at SAW (the comics school where I teach: http://sequentialartistsworkshop.org/wordpress/), of course as any of my students know, my lectures are rather more like very well organized and colorful rants… dare I say… like pretentious, contentious, though no less than divine poetic experiences. by the way, my self-esteem is not really so grand as all that, but I did start this entry as sort of a pick-me-up, so I’m picking-me-up!

OK, the Frazetta verus Vallejo argument has been raging so long as there have been geeks around to debate it. But see, the thing is, and it’s something I’ve often observed… one side is wrong. So, let me explain that bit of elitism (it’s like this): I once had this argument with someone about whether or not the Beatles were better than AC/DC (notice I’m not mining this wealth of material), and after I shook my head and told him the Beatles were better and there is no debate here, his attempted end to the argument was, “Well, that’s just your opinion.”

I offered to explain it to him this way, and to any of you who can’t quite get past the finality of “that’s just your opinion.” Well, no, it’s not. The Beatles were better than AC/DC. That is not a matter of opinion, that is a matter of fact. Now, whether or not one likes Mozart or Beethoven better, that, group, is a matter of opinion.

The same is true here, Frazetta is better than Vallejo. And I mean this much better: Frazetta is an artist, Vallejo really isn’t, not in the same way. There are some concretes, and by comparing similar paintings side by side I think we can come to grips with this. Let’s start with a classic action scene… as seen realized by both painters:

1avallejo31bafrazetta-conan-the-destroyer-1971

Let’s start with the real problem, the one that rules over all the others: in the above painting (and all of his paintings) Frank Fazetta’s characters are fighting for their lives, Vallejo’s “warrior” not only looks like, but IS, some bimbo he picked up at the gym. There is NO urgency to her, to her struggles, nor to the painting. One painting shows a dramatic moment in time, the other shows a well-lit model with a vapid expression on her face. In my lectures I also discuss the importance of diagonals, and the Frazetta painting is full of dramatic and conflicting angles, by comparison Vallejo’s painting is practically on a grid. Additionally, notice the atmosphere in Frazetta’s painting, how it’s in turmoil, while Vallejo’s background looks like a hellish high school yearbook photo backdrop. Now even if you’re one who doesn’t go for genre or fantasy art, the differences are staggering. Similarly, observe the below painting by Frazetta which again shows his potent solution to this visual challenge:

1bfrazettaswords

The below paintings are another fine example of who is who between the two painters. As you can see in Vallejo’s painting, that “dude” (as Tom Hart noted) “has no interest in that Cerberus,” no, Tom, he is far too obsessed with his pecs. Once again he’s just some guy Vallejo picked up in a gym, or some guy he ran into at the mall shopping for specialty vitamins. And THAT is all he is. Not so with Frazetta, that woman, too is facing down ferocious canine jaws, and again… she is fighting for her life! For her life and the life of her child. The strain is palpable, LOOK at her thighs, the backs of her knees! And somehow, with Frazetta, you know she is going to be alright–see that… THAT right there, that is what makes Frazetta a master. Notice that I started building a narrative around the painting, but NOT for Vallejo’s painting. Sure, one might “argue” that Vallejo’s painting and his Cerberus are “bad-ass,” but that’s not a narrative. There is NO narrative to the Vallejo painting. None, it is stripped of urgency, of power, of even the dignity of being a half-assed daydream. I mean, when I look at that woman I can smell the panic and determination, when I look at that guy I can smell the sporty deodorant.

1c1Vallejo - Cerberos1c2frazettawolf

The below painting of the encounter with a serpent is another fine example. I’m not going to repeat my rant against Vallejo, as everything I said before applies to the painting below… but I will repeat one thing: those people are NOT in a life and death moment. Not so in Frazetta’s painting, just look at the strain, the muscles in the back! They may be fanciful, but the narrative quality is incredible, you can feel the tension in your own back by looking, and though the snake’s head is not as “fantastic” as the Vallejo head… everything else about Frazetta’s serpent is far more spectacular.

1eVallejo1ffrazetta_conan_usurper_painting

Now while this lecture/rant is all good fun, and yes, I meant every word of it, something more important happens in the class at this time. I usually stand back at this point with these serpent paintings and ask my students to pick up the rant for me… because for all the fun we’ve had, NOW they see it for themselves! What is more, through doing this I helped them learn how to draw an action or fantasy scene, how to make it count, make it real, and how to truly propel their readers into that sort of place. They also saw how the human body reacts to tension. In the Vallejo paintings the muscles are “ripped” but there is no real tension or struggle, just posing, whereas Frazetta’s muscles are RIPPING! And lastly, my students can truly see how to make an argument for great art over mediocrity. No, it’s not all down to opinion, some opinions are uneducated, misinformed, and of no real potency. If this proved to just be a rant, I wouldn’t use it in the classroom. I learned while teaching in South Korea that if people are laughing they are learning. Now, I can’t always make ’em laugh, but I can at least entertain them, and to me nothing is cheap as a teaching technique if the end result is that the students not only connect with what you are showing them, but retain more of it. Enthusiasm for your subject matters, as does honesty. I have not manipulated my students by doing this, ’cause I never play devil’s advocate, I advocate what I damn-well mean to advocate.

Before I go, the same things I said about fantasy and violence go for sex, for good cheesecake fantasy. Not only is the woman in the Vallejo painting bloodless and ordinary looking, I can’t for a moment buy this woman in that get-up–but I could see her getting all goofy over Travis Tritt songs when she goes out Country line-dancing at the Boot-n-Scoot Saloon. The woman in the Frazetta painting, well, she belongs butt-naked in that tree… doesn’t she?

1d1vallejo21d2frazetta_the_moons_rapture

.

.

,

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

(There is a lot of my art accessible through “galleries” on my homepage (barefootjustine.com).)

(If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy “Writing Off Disney…?” https://barefootjustine.com/2013/11/03/writing-off-disney/)

I have written an expanded version of this lecture for the SAW website (the school where I teach), for a more in-depth look at this topic, check this out: http://sequentialartistsworkshop.org/wordpress/2015/09/3388/

55 responses »

  1. Frazetta sort of stumbled into the SF/T&A thing but he was initially more eclectic as a commercial artist, doing movie posters, album covers, work for MAD, and early on was an artist on Li’l Abner.

  2. One important detail that should be mentioned is that Frazetta did not use models or photos for reference (Barring a few exceptions for the purpose of troubleshooting a lighting issue). I read an interview where he mentioned that he would project the image from his mind to the paper or canvas. His son described his father’s process as starting with a one-stroke outline. Conversely, Vallejo was a “slave to the photograph” to such a degree that you could almost tell what kind of lights he used in his studio.
    You’re totally right, these guys are apples and oranges, like comparing The Beatles to, rather than AC/DC, a cover band. And I love the language in your critiques. Especially about the female fighter with the “vapid expression”. Nicely done.

    • Thanks, nice addition! It’s always dangerous ground to tread when you compare fan favorite artists… but in this case the piece was inspired by a lecture I give in class that is intended to make a point about urgency, energy, and believability in regards to illustration that involves storytelling. It plays well with students, and makes the intended point.

    • That’s not necessarily true, his stuff has an obviously more stylized anatomy, but he could have used models (or photo references) mostly all the time, which is not really detracting. It’s a bit though that he’d just rip-off some of the reference as the closest thing to a digital copy-and-paste one could do in non-digital media, such as Zdenek Burian’s work.

  3. Justine, I always thought that Vallejo paints soulless “kitsch”. Vallejo is on a par with Thomas Kincaid, Frazetta’s peer might be Norman Rockwell or Andrew Wyeth. Frazetta paints an entire dark universe, inhabited by mythic demons and heroes, Vallejo paints models with airbrushed tans and photoshopped torsos. The only reason these comparisons exist is Vallejo copped Frazetta’s style and has been living off it for 45 years. Nicely written and great demo paintings that completely prove your point.

    • Thanks, John, to trained eyes, the differences are abundantly clear, but as a teacher of art I find that this comparison and lecture helps my students see things they sorely need to learn to see for themselves.

      • Indeed he would, or J. Allen St. John, or any number of Pulp illustrators, but when Frazetta and Boris were both at their peak of popularity, so many people were debating them that now, as an art teacher, this has become a teachable lesson that my students can clearly see. I think some people misunderstand the actual point of this blog, which was that differences can be quantified, seen, understood, learned from. Also, I would never compare Wyeth to Frazetta because both painters had attained greatness.

  4. I enjoyed your article. I wrote something similar in college. My view is close to yours, Frazetta was my first Art Idol. But I think the lines of defeat are a little blurry when looking at both artist’s preliminary sketches and studies. Boris has admitted heavy use of the model although in the early preliminary art his wildly expressive ink drawing within the tightly rendered life drawing are beautiful to look at. They are obvious Vallejo originals. Frazetta, on the other hand has denied using any models or reference for his drawings. Which I have discovered to be incorrect.
    I have not found any paintings that have been plagiarized, but in looking through a book of drawings by Heinrich Kley I have found several pen & ink drawings featured in the book that are so close to to Frazettas they have to be referenced or inspired by . I can’t bring myself to say swiped.

    • Well said, and well observed. Yes, Frazetta was obviously influenced by Kley… hard to hold that against him, though. And though I didn’t say as much in my piece, I love a lot of Vallejo’s earlier work, some of those paintings are beautiful fantasy paintings… I was playing, admittedly, a game of extremes in my piece. And yes, many of Vallejo’s drawings and studies are spectacular. I was a little hard on Vallejo to make a point… and these newer paintings are, frankly, dreadful.

  5. I’ve said it for years….Frazetta is the pinnacle. Vallejo technical skills capture more realistic skin tones/details, but they are soulless…which is odd, because a lot of his stuff in the 70’s was clsoer to Frazetta’s in action/ambiance (apart from my pet peeve of him using his own face and that of his first wife in 90% of what he did). I visited Frazetta’s museum in East Stroudsberg, PA a year before he died, was the highlight of my vacation. You knew you were near the place when you noticed old logs in the wood-line that had be carved into giant lizards on one end….

    • The museum is fabulous, been there myself. Your observations are spot-on. I have been wanting to write a follow-up spotlighting some of the earlier Vallejo work that I admire, but haven’t gotten around to it. Vallejo was good at times, had his place, but we who know ALL KNOW that Frazetta was the ONE!

  6. Great Article! Would you consider the movie 300 to be live-action Vallejo and Peter Jackson’s take on LORD OF THE RINGS Frazetta-esque? Do you know if Jackson, del Toro, etc. acknowledge their debt to Frazetta and other fantasy artists? Thanks.

    • Thanks, Dave, those are good points and observations. No, I don’t know much about who influenced those films in that regard. I know Jackson had hired Alan Lee to do design work (rather weak artists, to tell the truth), but beyond that, I know nothing else,

  7. Pingback: The Sequential Artists Workshop | » New work from Barefoot Justine

  8. love the subject franzetta is hands down the artist of choise here no contest , i love hoffman but do not compere him to franzetta due to the simple explaination given action sence of motion with urgency . I would love to here your take on the styles and insainly delicious obcession to detail between Tim Vigil and Jay Anacletto both of whome I do rank up there with Frank .

    terry

  9. Hello Justine. As I started reading your “lecture” I began to notice the things you were pointing out about the differences in the artwork of Frazetta and Vallejo. Though I always knew there was something missing from the art I liked so much, I never realized what it was about Boris Vallejo’s art that left me wanting. After your enlightenment while seeing Frazetta next to it, it is obvious. I will say there are a few paintings of Boris´s that actually do not depend on this urgency to make them interesting. The first painting to attract my attention to Boris Vallejo was of a man´s bicep with a tattoo of a dragon coming to life and turning to bite his arm. This struck me as vivid and lifelike, but the urgency of Frazetta is not in that painting either.

    I would be curious to hear your thoughts about the mentioned painting and the other one with a small dragon on the back of a model also coming alive.. Neither needed urgency in order to be stunning artwork.

    In all honesty I will still love both artists, though perhaps respect Frazetta´s work more thanks to your eye opening insights.

    • Thank you for your well thought-out comments. While I stand beside everything I said in my lecture, please keep in mind that the lecture is far more about making a point (especially to my students–as I do this lecture in my classes) about developing a discerning eye, and in this example, through recognizing the “urgency” so obvious in Frazetta’s work as a storytelling illustrator, but with all that said, there are a number of Boris paintings that I not only love, but respect. I know the paintings you are talking about well, but for the best of Boris, I think, you have to go back in time and look at his earlier work. For some time now I have been tempted to write an addition in which I celebrate the best of Boris Vallejo’s work.

      All that said… Frazetta was the MAN!

      I am glad I got you to look closer, and am humbly delighted to think that I just might have helped you develop a more discerning eye too.

  10. What is your opinion of Alex Ross’ work? I’m not asking for a direct comparison, but I’d like to know if you think he suffers from the same issues that you’ve pointed out for Vallejo.

    • I never developed an opinion, but taking a closer look… I think you’re right. The stuff is shiny and beautifully crafted, rather captures the noble nature of the hero, but none of the action or urgency of saving the world from bad guys.

  11. Hi – I enjoyed your article, I have been trying to explain this difference for years – you articulated this better than I have been able to this far! Are you familiar with Gerald Brom? Very distinctive style, a master of darkish fantasy.

    • That’s an awesome point (about the faces in shadow), and believe it or not, one of my students brought that up last week when I gave this lecture. I wish I had included it in the body of the text. And sometimes… the shadows themselves tell the story too!

  12. Haha.. Like so many commentators here, I’m grateful for your 10 pound hammer critique of these two giants of fantasy art. Myself, I love both artists – but, thanks (to you), I have now drawn some lines in the sand.
    As an artist, (you know) you do get side-tracked on technique, and come on, Vallejo does have it – in spades – when compared to the oh-so many. Frank has soul. Boris has, well.. time on his hands obviously, time enough to slavishly recreate elaborate photo-shoots in his basement.
    I came across some stories about Frank and his lifestyle and approach, through my research (well i call it research) on Wally Wood (my all time hero). Can you imagine hanging out with these guys? Frank looked like a f..ing film-star too! and his misses, no wonder he did the bare minimum to get stuff in on deadline! Too busy partying..
    As much as I drool over the techniques of artists I revere, It’s also great fun to try and place them in a social context, it can shed light on their strengths, and shortcomings. From Duchamp to Herriman.
    It can also be a mirror through which to view our own creative journey..

    what do you think of our Simon Bisley then?

    • Yeah, Wally Wood is THE greatest! His work can simply astonish even the most educated eye. Regards Bisley, I don’t have anything to say one way or the other, on a purely subjective level, I never responded to his work, but there are a lot of good artists out there I simply don’t respond to… you know how it is, some stuff rings your bell, some stuff doesn’t.

      Regards technique… the breath of life is far more important, energy, audacity, all that.

  13. Thanks for such a great article and expanding my perception of art and the artists in it. I recently discovered Alex Horely and he ended up doing a cover for my ZombieCageFighter comic book. This style of artwork I feel belongs with the greats of old.

  14. Hello, happened across this article and really enjoyed it, maybe because I share the same opinion about the merits of Frazetta’s work and the very boring work of Boris Vallejo. Boris did start out doing some very nice work (Skywald Magazine covers, Marvel Magazine covers from 1973 and 1974, some early PB covers) but eventually his work lost all elements of any type of imagination and certainly demonstrated no “soul”. I also have no great love for the work of Alex Ross and of course the Beatles are better than AC DC. I have enjoyed Frazetta’s cousin Ken Kelly, especially his Warren Magazine covers and PB’s from the 1970’s. He shows a strong Frazetta influence (go figure) but his imagination shows through (and he is one of the nicest professional artists I have met). An artist I haven’t heard mentioned yet is Jeff Jones. In the late 1960’s to the mid 1970’s if a fantasy paperback didn’t have a Frazetta cover there was a good chance it had a Jeff Jones cover. Frazetta also called Jeff Jones the greatest artist alive (and always referred to Vallejo as “my imitator”). Mike Kaluta and Begin Wrightson also were inspired by the work of Frank Frazetta and have produced many beautiful artistic works. It is also incredibly rewarding to partake of the works of Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, and NC Wyeth (illustrators) and Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth, Will Eisner, Vaughn Bode, Wallace Wood, Walt Kelly, Al Capp, Carl Barks, Alex Raymond, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Al Williamson, Jack Cole, Harvey Kurtzman, Richard Corben, Barry Windsor-Smith, Steve Rude, Bernie Krigstein, Alex Toth, Robert Crumb, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Shary Flenniken, Art Spiegelman, Daniel Clowes, Alex Nino, Curt Swan, CC Beck, and Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, along with the already mentioned Wrightson and Kaluta (graphic artists). Just wanted to drop lots of names to see what you might think on some of them. Back to Frazetta, in the early 1970’s when I first became a serious reader Frank Frazetta along with Bode, Eisner, Corben, Ditko, Kirby, and Wrightson were my very favorite artists as I always felt they transmitted me to the world they created in their art. Thank you.

    • Wow… there’s a lot going on there. For a start, Jeffrey Catherine Jones was one of my mentors, I learned a lot from Jeff… a truly lovely person whom I miss dearly. I should write about Jeffrey, and I actually plan too soon. Regarding the many other names you mentioned, I mention many of the same artists in my lectures at SAW. There are so many people I should write about.

      The reason I chose frazetta and Vallejo is that this started as a lecture for my classes, and the comparison is a good direct lesson on many key issues, primarily on creating believable action and worlds, and the issue of whether or not the worlds and characters students create have soul. Frazetta’s people have souls, Vallejo’s do not.

      And yes, Vallejo did some wonderful early work, I have often considered, just for fun, writing about that early work, too.

      • Hi, of course the original subject was Frazetta and Vallejo. There is so much to be said on that subject but I do think you summed it up effectively. I would have a hard time imagining anyone believing Vallejo to be the better artist but…I also find it hard to believe that anyone could arrive at the decision that AC DC are better than the Beatles. Still, looking over the list I submitted I feel lucky indeed to have had the opportunity to enjoy the gifts they have bestowed upon the world. Frazetta is simply the best (but Jeffrey Catherine Jones is/was an incredible artist, and should probably be ranked right after Frazetta by eeryone). Neat to hear Jeffrey was a mentor of yours. As a fan I have so many great memories of Jeff’s work (Idyl in National Lampoon, his Father & Gray Mouser, Thongor, and Kothar PB covers, the great Robert Howard Zebra PB covers, and that great cover he did for the first issue of Weird Tales of the Macabre).
        A few more terrific graphic artists deserving of attention are Basil Wolverton, Alfredo Alcala, Mac Raboy, John Severin, Shelly Mayer, Kurt Schaffenberger, and Russ Heath.
        Thank you

  15. Hello Justine,
    Thank you for this fine piece. I completely agree with you on your observations. Frazetta’s work never felt or looked posed. Which is the complete contrary when looking at any work by Boris. I have a question for you. I know Frazetta never published any books on technique. Do you know of decent books that teach or offer suggestions on “how to” create action or physical urgency along the lines of Frazetta? I have looked at some many of Frazetta’s sketches, and nearly all have some implied physicality that leaps from the page. I would appreciate any suggestions.

    Kindest Regards,

    Gentry

    • Thanks so much for your feedback. Your question is an excellent one. While I don’t know of any books that specifically deal with that (though if there isn’t one… there should be), I teach a class on that topic at the comics school where I work (sequentialartistsworkshop.org), granted it’s only a day or so in my year-long curriculum, but it’s a great lesson. If I hear of any books on that topic, I will let you know. I think that the topic is challenging, though teachable. Though this is one of those things where we know it when we see it, the difference between what works and what does not work we know more at the gut level than the intellectual level. Frazetta had great guts!

      Also, on our school’s web-site, I wrote an expanded teaching edition of this very topic… it might help.

      http://sequentialartistsworkshop.org/wordpress/2015/09/3388/

    • Hi Justine, I hope you don’t mind my butting in..

      But there is a fantastic compilation – that i’m sure you’re aware of – that may be the thing Gentry is looking for, George G Bridgman was a tutor at the hugely influential Artist Students League of New York.

      Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing From Life – George B. Bridgman is a combination of all of his books, i believe.

      Unlike some anatomy books his approach is not overly medical, and by breaking down limbs into shapes he enables the artist to start from scratch – and with practice (like a lot!) – without reference.

      It’s not always specifically about creating action, but the dynamism and flow is so inherent in his technique it leaps from the page.

      • I studied Bridgman extensively. You’re right on both counts, while he does help the student learn how to invent figurative poses, he doesn’t really focus on action in particular, nor how to create poses that don’t look static or posed. Regardless, Bridgman is a great start for greater understanding of the figure. Thanks for your “butting in.”

  16. Thank you Justine, I like your rant and I couldn’t agree with you more, Frazetta belongs in the same category as the great visual storytellers and Brandywime artist/illustrators such as Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth as well as Heinrich Kley and Arthur Rackham.
    Frazetta’s classic painting style also aided him in conveying emotion, atmosphere, suspense and tension you speak of. I believe many Vallejo fans have always been oohing and aahing over his “polished”, air-brush like painting technique especially today with so much cgi rendered overload, but again it does nothing to convey emotion.
    Another thing Frazetta was a master of and what makes great art, that is Strong Composition. Very evident in your example painting of the pack of wolves threatening the woman and child.
    Frazetta had THE imagination. I could go on and on…

  17. Very interesting comparison and critique. Both artists have had success in their careers but side by side, the difference is very clear. Also, the influence Frazzetta had on future artists is undeniable although I have yet to see him successfully copied by anyone.

  18. Spot on with the Frazetta, Vallejo comparison! Although Vallejo’s skin tones and anatomy are good the breadth of his work is soulless. His rough sketches are usually better than his finished paintings. Frazetta is phenomenal!

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are moderated by Justine's webmaster, "ANONYMOUS" comments are auto-deleted, Justine will respond to all appropriate comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s