Monday, October 5, 2015

Dr Dave

by Arnie Fenner

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Dr. David Winiewicz is, without question, the Frazetta expert. Though I had spent a lot of time over the years with Frank and his wife Ellie (and their kids, too), have written thousands of words about Frank, and edited a batch of books with Cathy about him…I'm a piker in comparison when it comes to Dave's knowledge and personal experiences.

He was, after all, Frank's best friend and probably knew him better than anyone (family included).

Oh, plenty of people might make—and have made and are making—the same claim following Frazetta's death in 2010, but they're mistaken. Frank and Dave understood each other; even though they came from wildly different social backgrounds and despite an age difference of around twenty years there was a unique commonality that ensured an abiding friendship. They spent a tremendous amount of time together and talked frequently on the phone about virtually everything and everybody; they struck deals and made trades and did favors for one another; Dave was Frank's trusted confidant.

Which, eventually, didn't set well Ellie. The whole Frazetta story—the true story, not the myths and baloney endlessly repeated—is, well, complicated. The Frazetta household was always mercurial and you were never quite sure whether you were entering a love nest or a battlefield when stepping across their threshold (or know when one might morph into the other)—but Dave always knew and that created something of an uneasy dynamic when he, Frank, and Ellie were under the same roof. People have been shocked by some of Dave's memoirs detailing various incidents—his blog site was even hacked and taken down for a time by an incensed sycophant after one particularly revealing post—but anyone who actually knew the Frazettas and spent any time with them merely nodded and acknowledged the accuracy of Dave's stories.

Above: On the left is the poster announcing the auction that was distributed at SDCCI featuring Frazetta's gouache cover for Tarzan the Invincible (Ace Books, 1963). On the right is the catalog cover featuring an ink drawing from Tarzan and the Castaways.

Frank and Dave were talking on the phone one day in 2001 while Ellie was out when Frank suddenly collapsed with his second major stroke; Dave's quick response got an ambulance on the way in time and Frazetta lived nearly another nine years, thanks to that phone call. Long enough to see the resurgence of interest in his work. Long enough to see a series of retrospective books published and become bestsellers. Long enough to be the subject of a documentary. Long enough to see his museum built and attract visitors from around the world. Long enough to spend time with his grandchildren. Long enough to see one his illustrations sell for a million bucks.

Yeah, when I say that Dr. Dave was Frank Frazetta's best friend, there's a lot to back it up.

Above: One of the iconic interior drawings from the 1965 Canaveral Press edition of Tarzan and the Castaways. Frank was at the peak of his skills with brush and ink when he illustrated the book. Though they pack a big punch (the Canaveral illos have been regularly reprinted in one place or another over the last 50 years), the actual drawings are very modest in size. This one is about 8"x10".

Dave's passion for Frank's art is second to none and his collection—with its primary focus on Frazetta's ink work—is the finest outside the family's various holdings. I mean, his trade of a ridiculously gorgeous and rare and extremely valuable watercolor of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson for a 1950s drawing Frank did of Flash Gordon left me incredulous. Not only are any Watterson originals in private hands few and far between, but this watercolor was simply one of Bill's best. "It was the only thing the collector would take for it," Dave calmly told me, "and I wanted that drawing of Flash."

THAT'S how much he loves Frank's brush work.

Above: "Kubla's Anguish," a plate from the Kubla Khan Portfolio [1977].

So obviously I was very surprised when he dropped me a note telling me he had decided to auction everything: all the art, all the photos, publications, and ephemera. "I turned 65 in May," he told me, "and realized it was time."

Dr. Dave contracted with Profiles in History to auction everything lock-stock-and-barrel December 11. Deep-pocketed collectors have been circling since the sale's announcement at the San Diego Comicon in July and several have tried to strike pre-auction deals directly with Dave without success. "Everyone will have to wait," he says.

While they're waiting, they can order a catalog (which includes the backstory on each of the works being offered) from the auction house at the link above and…wait for December 11.

Above: Two more works based on the fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The one on the left is also for Tarzan and the Castaways while the one on the right was painted as the cover for Tarzan At the Earth's Core [Ace, 1962]. This is "the famous 'dried-in-oven' painting" which bowed so severely that it broke in half when Frazetta tried to flatten it. Frank quickly repainted the art and delivered the second piece to Ace to use for the cover; the first (shown here) was repaired by Frazetta and is considered by many to be the better work, crack and all. 

Above: This is an unpublished comp Frazetta considered painting for the cover of Conan the Buccaneer for Lancer Books. He wound up taking a completely different direction for the final art. 

Above: A Flash Gordon drawing. No, not the one Dave traded the Watterson original for.
He says, "I suspect it was earmarked to be published in the early Heritage fanzine that was
devoted to Flash Gordon, but Frank never made the deadline."

Above: How does Dr. Dave really feel about Frazetta's art. Well…watch.


  1. That Flash Gordon makes me feel like I don't know *anything* about drawing...

    Loved hearing Dr. Dave discourse, though - thanks, Arnie!

  2. Many many thanks for this gracious and much-appreciated profile, Arnie. We have been through a lot over the years, haven't we? This auction is a complete roll of the dice, but I am hoping that some collectors will recognize the intrinsic auality of these amazing pieces. I think Frazetta's reputation will continue to grow and grow over the next years.
    Again, a thousand heartfelt thanks!


  3. Thanks Dave! Looking forward to seeing the catalog.

  4. Sigh...Frazetta originals on sale, and me with little money at present. However, I will go to LA for a preview, and get the catalog. Maybe there's something I could escape with. I have read Dave W's Frazetta insights for many years now, and found them very interesting. FF is certainly one of my own inspirations since Jr. High School, and he stands the test of time. It's interesting to compare his work with that of the modern brush master, Mark Schultz, who of course stands firmly on Frazetta's shoulders. As technically, compositionally, and otherwise skilled as Mark has become, there is still a difference in the feel of the best Frazetta ink drawings (like several of those featured in this post). The flow of soul, as DW says.

    1. Virtually all of Frank's ink work was shot for line whenever it was printed by the various publishers, but he had absolutely the lightest touch with a brush. The originals show a veritable wealth of detail and subtly that is missing in most reproductions; the catalog should open up a lot of people's eyes. And I agree: Mark Schultz and Frank Cho are influenced/inspired by Frazetta and are walking the same path, even as they create some amazingly original ink work that really couldn't be done by anyone but them. Schultz & Cho are unique...just like Frazetta was.

    2. Thanks Arnie. Words are funny things, and I worried my comment might be taken as a backhanded jab at Mark Schultz. It's not: he is my favorite artist currently working, and the level of control he's developed with the brush is amazing. He seems to be a real student of his craft, and always working to improve. I just find him a fascinating contrast with Frazetta, both in terms of his art, and, for example, his famously meticulous and lengthy work process, and concern for the perfection of the finished image, while the stories I've heard and read about Frazetta indicate a much more informal, off the cuff, extremely rapid working method.

      I do hope to get to LA to at least see the originals, and your description of the nuances of those images makes that an even higher priority.

    3. No, I didn't take it that you were jabbing at Schultz, but were paying him a compliment. Others have taken the occasional shot at Mark over the years because of his FF influence (and the Williamson influence, too), but he and Frank had/have an entirely unique sensibility. Maybe it's fair to say that Frank's approach was more instinctive (though he did roughs for virtually everything he ever drew or painted, so there was always a certain amount of planning) and Mark's is more contemplative. When Frank decided on a direction, doing the art was almost like a race: he'd work at it until he was done (which usually was in a matter of hours). He also preferred to work relatively small and after the strokes he was frustrated that he no longer had the steady right hand and control.

      I hope you get a chance to see the preview: you'll definitely be in for a treat.

  5. Frazetta is my favorite artist of all time .He created some truly marvelous art during his life.Thanks Doc Dave for the many insights you've given into the man himself .It's always fascinating to hear some context to the paintings and sketches

  6. Wow.... I might have to pick up that catalog, holy cow.

  7. Hi Doc,

    Do you still have the painting you bought from my dad?

    Betsy Wollheim

  8. interested in contacting David Winiewicz

  9. interested in contacting David Winiewicz


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