Frank Kelly Freas: He Could've Been a Contender


I've long said that January boasts the birthdays of more heavy hitters in the weird fiction/SFF realm than any other month. However, on January 2, 2005, SFF lost one of its greats: Frank Kelly Freas. Freas--pronounced “freeze", by the way--possesses far greater stature in the field of SF art than he does in that of fantasy. This post will look at what fantasy art FKF left us and what a loss it was that he didn't pursue fantasy art commissions more vigorously.

To a some extent, this blog entry is an addendum--certainly not a rebuttal--to Morgan Holmes' "Forgotten Sword and Sorcery Artists: Three From the Pulps." Holmes looked at some of Freas' S&S-adjacent art, plus the one unquestionable work of S&S art created by FKF: The Coming of Conan.

Freas started out in fantasy, hitting it out of the park with his first sale to Weird Tales. Dorothy McIlwraith gave him the cover for Weird Tales, November 1950. He had a dry spell, than another cover for November 1951 and then a final cover for the January 1953 issue. That issue also included a great Freas illo for Munn's "The Werewolf of Ponkert."

Something else happened in 1953. Gnome Press published The Coming of Conan with a Freas cover. I've heard some bitching about FKF's rendition. May Set devour their souls. While Freas' rendition may not conform to the stereotypical artistic image of Conan the Cimmerian we see now, it is certainly accurate to Robert E. Howard's description of Conan. Freas' Conan has the "unruly mop/tousled mane" and "gusty laugh/gigantic mirths" that REH actually described. Hell, FKF even gets Conan's chest hair in there, something we hardly ever see nowadays in this era of oiled and shaved "Roided-Out Gym Rat Conan." To top it off, Freas gave Conan an honest Northern/Medieval-style sword rather than the gladii and/or overwrought Hollywood blades we see so often. 


Freas has nothing to be ashamed of. His Conan--up to that point--was the best from an artistic standpoint and the most accurate to REH.

As I've noted elsewhere, the '50s were lean times for fantasy/S&S. Freas apparently noticed this and hammered the sci-fi market, which was as close as he could get to doing fantasy art and still pay the rent. He was such a hit with SF fans that he never returned in any major way to the genre where he started.

From then on, as Holmes noted in his blog entry, Freas created several "not quite S&S" covers and illos, but never again the real thing. Morgan discussed and posted pics of several of those "not quite" Freas works. Let's look at some things he left out. 

Freas painted the cover to Pratt and de Camp's The Carnelian Cube in 1967. In 1969, he did the cool cover for The Space Barbarians. His 1971 cover for "A Spaceship For the King" is badass. FKF's plethora of covers for Laser Books included his striking painting for Tim Powers' The Sky Discrowned--an underappreciated planetary adventure novel, in my opinion. Freas returned to Weird Tales one last time with his glorious cover for the Summer 1990 issue.

Well, that about wraps it up. Fantasy art's loss was definitely SF art's gain. Feel free to check out the Freas gallery below, where I've also included lots of cool "stray" illos that I didn't discuss above.