Hash’s Faves” Frank Kelly Freas

25 Jan

This week’s General Fave is the science-fiction artist Frank Kelly Freas, more commonlyFreas 1
known as Kelly Freas. He was an incredibly prolific artist; I’m guessing his science-fiction work alone numbers well into the thousands, of book and magazine covers as well as interior illustrations. He also painted the official insignia for Skylab I, more than 500 portraits of saints for the Franciscans, and numerous cover paintings for Mad Magazine (although Norman Mingo was the more-or-less official artist for Alfred E. Neuman’s likeness, Freas did quite a lot of Neuman covers, and they’re every bit as good as Mingo’s).

Although I’m guessing I saw many of those Mad covers, I didn’t really Freas_2become aware of Freas’ work until I saw his cover for Analog Magazine in May of 1967. I had been a science-fiction reader (hardcore fans almost NEVER call it “sci-fi”) since I was very young; I think Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time was my first, checked out from my grammar school’s reading room in 1962, followed by *Andre Norton’s Daybreak 2250 A.D.,* purchased from a mail-order book club. I wasn’t into the magazines so much, but some thing about Freas’ cover painting compelled me to buy this one; I have no memory whatsoever of the story that it illustrated.

Born in 1922, he sold his first magazine cover painting to the venerable Weird Tales in 1950. Gnome Press published Freas_3three book covers in 1952, and he started working for Astounding Science Fiction magazine in 1953; Astounding changed its name to Analog and Freas worked for them until 2003. He started working for Mad in 1957, and painted most of their covers until 1962, which would have been right around the time that I started reading the magazine. He also painted hundreds of covers for the paperback publishers Ace, DAW, Signet, Avon, Ballantine and Lancer.

His style is instantly recognizable. His draftsmanship is clean, and his color palette really made some of his book covers (more so than the magazine covers) literally jump off the racks. His black-and-white work was always beautiful as well; he had a technique that I especially
Freas_4jpgloved, pen and ink on a textured illustration board that used to be called either Ross board or coquille board; sports cartoonists used to use the technique a lot. After the
main illustration was done with the brush, he’s go over it and add shade values with a lithographic crayon. He also did a lot of scratchboard work, as well as straight-ahead pen and ink.

Like all artists, he had some visual tropes – the Kelly Freas spaceship, which owed a lot to the kind of streamlined spaceships drawn by Flash Gordon artist Mac Raboy; futuristic cities and space stations; robots; and of course, sexy (and usually scantily clad) women. Good lord, those Kelly Freas women! But like all artists, great and not-so, every once in a while he painted something that was completely uncharacteristic, like these cute lil’ creatures:

Freas_5

He was nominated for the annual Hugo Award for best science-fiction artist a remarkable 20 times, and won the award 11 times, an unbroken record. He died in 2005, and by all accounts he was a warm, humorous guy, a frequent guest of honor or simple attendee at many science-fiction conventions. He dominated the field in a way that I think no one before or since has.

Freas_6jpg

 

Freas_7

 

Freas_12

 

Freas_10

 

Freas_9

 

Freas_7

 

Freas_4

 

Freas_2

 

Freas_6

 

–Steve Hashimoto

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net

163984_190498084309709_7503578_n

Steve Hashimoto

Leave a Reply

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

%d bloggers like this: