When I was 12, I spent great amounts of time staring at a large poster of a painting that hung in my room: a wizard standing atop a rocky crag, arms extended upward, magical light of cosmic colors pouring forth from his hands and swirling around him. I never had an interest in power over other people, but I deeply wanted the sort of magic that allowed this wizard to become one with the cosmos.

Soon I discovered Jeff Easley. His world was darker, his palette even more colorful, and his magic brighter than anything I’d encountered, and I wanted intensely to dive into this world and explore it. To this day, Easley’s art stirs something profound and magical in my imagination.

A year later, I lost my sister. I struggled with heartbreak and confusion about the cruelty of life. I had never felt this alone, and I needed an escape to somewhere new. Somewhere that better suited my grief.

My mother and I were temporarily staying with friends and family, and all I had were my guitar and a small selection of paperback books to occupy my time. Several of these books had come from my father’s collection. As I flipped through them, deciding what to read next, one cover grabbed me by the gut, and I couldn’t look away. Here was a painting that looked nothing like me or my life, yet somehow reflected the grief I was feeling.

It was the first Conan paperback by Lancer/Ace Books. This Conan was not a hero in gleaming armor, nor was he even a fearless warrior, confidently facing his enemies. Rather, Conan’s face here is a mix of terror and fury, facing his mortality against a primitive ape-like beast who also cries in terror and fury. This is not a battle of good versus evil. It is purely a battle of survival, and one or both of the combatants is about to suffer and die. The mood here is of brutal desperation in an ancient world where the terror of the unknown lurked in every shadow. I felt a deep sense of dread, and I wanted more of it, so I opened the book and started reading.

I read Conan, and then I read the next book in that series, Conan of Cimmeria. Again, I found myself mesmerized by the cover art as much as the words within. Here we have Conan, not as a hero, but as a desperate man, utterly alone, struggling to survive a world determined to kill him. This time, he faces two massive men with axes and murderous intent.

But it was not the antagonists, this time, that held my attention. It was the hopelessness and desolation of the environment. A solitary Conan faces his assailants in the secluded depths of frozen peaks. As with many of Frazetta’s paintings, the landscape is only vaguely detailed, and yet it is that hostile, amorphous terrain that invokes such feelings of dread—the terror of becoming lost in those exposed peaks and tenebrous valleys. Even if Conan comes out of this battle victorious, one might think, it appears likely he will soon be a frozen corpse, having died meaninglessly on some icy slope.

In my childhood, I can point to several turning points that led, bit by bit, to my desire to write. Those book covers (along with the stories within) are among the earliest and most profound. I wanted to invoke those deep and primal feelings and fears that our modern society has buried deep and forgotten, but that our collective memory can still sense lurking in the recesses of our minds—the same awe and dread that Robert E. Howard and Frank Frazetta had inspired in me.

I’ve since experienced that same sense of awe and fascination in other works, such as Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son, or William Blake’s Nebuchadnezzar. This puts Frazetta in good company. Sure, he did some highly commercial work and comic art that, despite its greatness, doesn’t stab me so deeply in the gut. But when the man tapped his well of inspiration, spiritual creations emerged.

As I wandered the museum, I felt these emotions time and again. It connected me back to that grieving child who found a strange solace in these dark works of art.

It was like looking into a mirror that reflects only the parts of my mind others are quick to look away from. When my sister died, my friends avoided me, and when I saw them, they were uncomfortable about talking to me. I had no one. But when I looked into a Frazetta painting, I felt for a moment I had a friend who was unafraid of the dark place I was in and was willing to look back at me unflinchingly.

About the Frank Frazetta Museum

The museum is in Stroudsburg, PA, nestled in a beautiful remote riverside dale of the Pocono Mountains. This was Frank’s home, which he designed himself many years ago. It seemed the perfect home for such an artist, and the perfect location for his museum.

The Dane Chronicle Newsletter

Don't miss the latest news about Dane's projects. Want free stuff? You'll get that, too.