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Monday
May102010

frazetta

/////////////////////////// ART LEGEND ASCENDS TO VALHALLA

"And let me say this: copying someone else is not art."

The paintings Frank Frazetta created in the mid-1960s to accompany re-releases of Robert E. Howard's 'sword and sorcery' stories visually redefined the fantasy sub-genre and have exerted a tremendous influence ever since. Frazetta, born in 1928 in Brooklyn, NY, a lifelong Mets fan, passed away at the age of 82 on Monday, May 10th 2010.

While it is positioned as a wholly original work, the aesthetic & tone of S:S&S EP owes much to the works of Howard, Frazetta & those who came after. For an article prepared by a representative of Superbrothers Inc. on this topic, please read on.

Note: The artwork above was created for an extraordinary mega-post of Frazetta-inspired artwork at submitted by artists at Double Fine Studios, Blizzard Entertainment, Adam Atomic, iD Software & Capy to Kotaku's Stephen Totilo & Michael McWhertor. Should you wish to investigate the Kotaku post, click here.

 

"LONG AGO, IN AN AGE UNDREAMED OF...

As far as we can tell, all of this began in Texas.

The son of a country doctor and an ailing mother, the young Robert E. Howard lived at home while he crafted his stories of detectives, cowboys & marauding barbarians. Finding success alongside authors such as H.P. Lovecraft by selling his stories of high adventure to the pulp serials of the late 1920s and early 1930s he became a wealthy man, a rarity indeed in a landscape wracked by depression. The marauder stories were exceptional - full bodied, meaty, bristling with energy, always plunging headlong into excitement, always emerging triumphant with a mighty laugh.

Voluptuous women, hardened men, snake worshippers, doom cults, unstoppable primates & weird unknowable secrets glimpsed through a cloud of opium - to today's videogame enthusiasts all of this is par for the course, but it's worth remembering that many of these scenarios go back to the young Texan who, after creating Conan & myriad other rugged merceneries, shot himself in the head at the age of 30, on the same day his mother succumbed to Tubercolosis. 

A generation later, in a time when a handful of writers were working in the shadow of Howard, author Fritz Leiber coined the term 'sword and sorcery' to describe the swashbuckling subgenre of fantasy fiction epitmozed by the Conan stories, a style of storytelling that is far removed in tone from the overwrought & annoyingly effete subgenre termed 'epic fantasy', made popular by a professor of English at Oxford. Whereas Tolkien's generally asexual yarns were spun from a tradition of Victorian fairy stories & children's literature, Howard's bold tales of yore erupted from a hard-boiled New World tradition of rollicking adventure & tall tales.

The mythic world Howard created came roaring to life again in the mid 1960s when emerging art legend Frank Frazetta began to illustrate the covers for some of the Conan adventure stories. Frazetta's contributions absolutely redefined the tone and style of sword and sorcery, exposing the subgenre to a new generation of young people. The immensity of his raw talent & the quality of his imagination were unmatched, but it was the counter culture vibe - the promise of sex, drugs & rock'n'roll in every steamy, bloody, action-packed composition - that must have set (probably male, possibly teenage) pulses racing. 

As videogame creators and enthusiasts it's worth noting Howard & particularly Frazetta's influence on the nascent sword and sorcery role playing game Dungeons & Dragons, a 1970s phenomenon that has had a hugely significant influence on the style and content of computer & videogames, and on nerd culture in general, from the early days of computing right up to Monday May 10 2010, and beyond.

In effect, we all live in Frazetta's dark, brooding, horned shadow... whether we know it or not. 

* * *

When the folks at Capy & representatives from Superbrothers began to talk about what we'd like to build together, we were keen to try to build something stylistically fresh within an archetypical videogame aesthetic, to craft a new experience in an imagined world that felt ancient & ageless, a world that would resonate with a videogame enthusiast audience.

We arrived at the title 'Sword & Sworcery', an intentional misspelling & attractive typesetting of what seemed to us to be a perfectly generic term that encapsulated disparate influences like The Legend of Zelda, Mike Mignola's Hellboy, Beowulf, Gawain & The Green Knight and other such histories with a supernatural element. We hoped to tell a story of swashbuckling warriors in forgotten kingdoms, to present something deeply dreamlike and weirdly credible, to introduce something unknowable and dark, something amusingly serious with just an occasional touch of wry wit. We agreed that S:S&S EP would be a hybrid videogame including a combat element - the sword - placed within an adventure thick with intrigue, mystery & lurking horror - the sworcery. On a lot of levels the title felt right.

At Superbrothers Inc., we like to know where something comes from, to get to the root of an idea, and as we started to get familiar with the term 'sword and sorcery', we began to understand how it all led back to Howard... and how visually, artistically, almost everything we associate with sword and sorcery draws from the work of Frank Frazetta.

His influence is felt in the work of Yusuke Nakano, the artist at Nintendo responsible for The Legend of Zelda (along with Shigeru Miyamoto), who counts Frazetta amongst his primary influences. More recently, Scott Campbell & the many incredible artists at Double Fine likely spent long hours poring over Frazetta's work while working on Brutal Legend. Everything Mike Mignola has done, of course, is a respectful & original take on the eerie worlds carved out by Howard, Lovecraft & above all, Frazetta. While Frazetta may not have been a direct inspiration at the S:S&S EP project's conception, his indirect influence was undeniable, inescapable.

Frazetta is many things - a 20th century old master, a pop surrealist pioneer, one of the finest book illustrators who ever lived - but those descriptors can't communicate the enormity of his legacy. If a painting is awesome, if it kicks you in the teeth & grins, if the darks are dark, the skies afire, the men hard and heavy with muscle & sinew, the women voluptious and/or diabolical, the figures masterfully sculpted, the creatures immaculately constructed, the action over-the-top, the colors vivid, the compositions bold & striking & bloody & fierce ... if an eerie moon rises above a craggy mountaintop castle, then it's likely that Frazetta lurks within... and he's probably watching the Mets.

REST IN PEACE OUT MY NINJA."

 

 

 

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