Unearthing the Horror Behind Frazetta's Creepy Wolfman

Let's get the obvious out of the way upfront: Frank Frazetta is one of the most important and influential fantasy, horror, and science fiction artists of the past century.  Frazetta developed an aesthetic that has influenced thousands of other artists over the past sixty years.  Countless of his paintings are familiar icons to both fandom and the mainstream audience at large.  That's why his original art is so sought after.  Heritage recently auctioned his Warren Publishing Eerie #23 cover, Egyptian Queen, for a record-breaking $5.4 million.  This week, his cover for another Warren Publishing magazine, a piece called Wolfman for Creepy #4, is on the auction block at the 2020 November 19 – 22 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction coming up from Heritage Auctions this week.

Frank Frazetta Wolfman original artwork cover for Creepy #4, Warren Publishing.
Frank Frazetta Wolfman original artwork cover for Creepy #4, Warren Publishing.

Frazetta considered his time working on these and other Warren Publishing magazine covers a pivotal moment in his development as an artist. "I was a little fresh in the business: I didn't dare go too far," he told the Comics Journal in 1994. "But here was something…Oh boy! The minute they mentioned it, images popped right into my head. But actually the turning point was not Conan, but the work I did for Jim Warren at Creepy. I kind of forgot that little period. That was my happiest time. He didn't pay much, but I could do anything  my heart desired, and of course I kept the art."

"The minute they mentioned it, images popped right into my head," appears to be no exaggeration on Frazetta's part. His process during this period is invariably described as effortless. " Publisher James Warren told Comic Book Artist's Jon B. Cooke in 1998/1999: "I was at Frank's house one day, and during the course of conversation I mentioned that another artist had gotten sick and couldn't deliver his painting for one of our Eerie covers. Without saying a word, Frank went downstairs into his basement and returned with a piece of old plywood. Right in front of my eyes he put the plywood up on his easel—and 30 minutes later he finished the Neanderthal cover [Creepy #15]."

Still, those powerful images that Frazetta seemed to effortlessly transfer directly from his head to his artboard (…or plywood, as the case may be) usually seem to have been generally inspired by the contents of the issue in question.  Perhaps a brief description or story synopsis conveyed by James Warren or someone else at Warren Publishing.  For example, Creepy #15's Neanderthal cover appears to have been inspired by the concept behind Archie Goodwin and Neal Adams's "The Terror Beyond Time" in that issue.  Eerie #23's Egyptian Queen is a fit for the concept behind the story "Beyond Nefera's Tomb" by Ernie Colon and Bill Parente from that issue's contents.

As for the Wolfman piece created for the cover of Creepy #4, Heritage notes:

Frazetta titled the piece 'Wolfman," and over the years it became as ubiquitous as it is iconic, this orange-moon-glow drenched painting of the furry beast poised to pounce on his prey (who resembles, more than a bit, a certain count with his own penchant for blood). Frazetta, who so adored classic horror films that he often revisited and interpreted them without sacrificing their scares, larded his painting with tropes made fresh and frightening — the mountaintop castle, bats silhouetted against the auburn moon, a skull and spine emerging from the muck.

The figure facing the Wolfman does indeed look a fair bit like a certain count, but it would appear that he's actually a stand-in for a Transylvanian of a different kind. The antagonist of a story from that issue called "Monster Rally" is a Transylvanian mad scientist called Doctor Habeus.  In the remote confines of his ancient castle laboratory, the doctor had captured a menagerie of classic monsters — vampires, werewolves, mummies, and so on — to use in experiments aimed at unlocking the secret of eternal life.  Ultimately, the monsters including the Wolfman end up turning on their captor.

It's an appropriately creepy story that utilizes all of the classic horror elements portrayed in this iconic cover by Frank Frazetta. Wolfman for Creepy #4 is up for auction at the 2020 November 19 – 22 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction coming up from Heritage Auctions this week.

Frank Frazetta Wolfman original artwork cover for Creepy #4, Warren Publishing.
Frank Frazetta Wolfman original artwork cover for Creepy #4, Warren Publishing.

About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.

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