Remembering A Veteran Artist
Veteran fantasy artist Frank Thorne just passed away on Monday night and here Heavy Metal just paid tribute to him…
Frank Thorne, the grey-bearded wizard of comics famous for his portrayals of alluring female warriors — most famously, Red Sonja — has died at the age of 90. Thorne and his wife Marilyn reportedly died within six hours of each other.
Thorne’s career began in the Golden Age, the pre-Marvel era during which DC Comics owned the superhero genre but numerous other now-forgotten companies were successful with other genres. Beginning in the early ’50s, when Thorne was in his early 20s, he penciled several stories for the Dell Four-Color series, which featured a different subject from month to month — often licensed properties such as TV shows or Disney movies. He also has credits for issues of Teen-Age Romances and Wartime Romances for St. John Publishing Co. around the same time.
In the ’60s, Thorne began working for Gold Key, on titles including Boris Karloff: Tales of Mystery, Mighty Samson and The Twilight Zone. Toward the decade’s end, he began getting regular work for DC, with a long run on Tomahawk followed by stints on Korak, Son of Tarzan and House of Mystery in the ’70s. He was a talented illustrator, somewhat in the style of Joe Kubert — but he wasn’t really Frank Thorne as we know him yet. Frank Thorne’s legacy doesn’t have anything to do with excellent splashes like these from Korak, Son of Tarzan:
Red Sonja, a character from the Conan-verse created by Robert E. Howard, made her Marvel Comics debut in Marvel Feature #1, penciled by Dick Giordano. Thorne took over as artist in the second issue, and remained Red Sonja’s artist through the title’s seventh and final issue, dated November 1976. Red Sonja got her own title beginning in January 1977, illustrated by Thorne (he did it all — pencils, inks, colors and lettering, and cover art) through issue 11.
Thorne clearly relished Red Sonja; his association with the title went beyond a job and became part of his identity. There was also a performative aspect — Thorne would show up at conventions dressed in a wizard costume, accompanied by a model or few (calling themselves “The Hyborean Players”) wearing the famous scale-mail bikini of Red Sonja. One of the Red Sonja models was Wendy Pini, who managed to make conventions and photo shoots when she wasn’t illustrating the series that would make her famous in the comics world: ElfQuest. Yup, that Wendy Pini.
Dressing up at cons, performing skits and awarding prizes was an anomaly in the ’70s, but it’s fundamental to fandom today. And it has a name, of course: cosplay. It’s hard to imagine a con today without cosplayers, and we may have Frank Thorne to thank, to some extent. On Sunday, DC Comics editor and historian Paul Levitz wrote that Thorne “was probably the first working mainstream artist to revel in cosplay.”
(Ok, but he was not the first male human to revel in the company of female humans wearing bikinis. He was innovating, but he was also just having a good time.)
After Red Sonja, Thorne created his own heroine, the Sonja-like Ghita of Alizarr. Well, she was like Sonja in that she was a sword-wielding female adventurer in bikini-style armor; she was unlike Sonja in that she had more adult storylines involving nudity and sex. Thorne couldn’t write and draw his heroines the way he wanted at Marvel or DC, so for the rest of his career he worked with publishers who were comfortable with more provocative material.
Thorne went sci-fi with his next heroine, Lann, whose story was serialized in Heavy Metal in 1984:
Starting in 1980, Thorne took on the work he would later say was the favorite of his career — providing cartoons for Playboy magazine. Thorne did many of the racy one-page gags that Playboy is known for, and created a comedic character named Moonshine McJugs who had her own sexy backwoods adventures:
Through the end of the ’80s and into the ’90s, Thorne continued to tell new tales in his own style and milieu — Ribit!, The Iron Devil, and its sequel, The Devil’s Angel. These last two collections were the most taboo-busting material of Thorne’s career, and if he was trying to piss someone off, it worked. The Devil’s Angel was one of several books cited in the Oklahoma v. Planet Comics obscenity case.
Frank Thorne was an original; a talented artist who was also one of the great characters of the comics community. He dressed up as his own characters for public appearances, and put himself into his own comics — it all speaks to an outward joy for the medium we don’t often see. In a 2011 interview, his terse answers were the words of a man who got to do exactly what he wanted with his life:
Ambition? “All I ever wanted to be was a cartoonist.”
Likes? “I LOVE drawing women.”
Dislikes? “I don’t like superheroes.”
Philosophy? “Better hand-to-mouth than 9-to-5.”
We can’t sum up Frank Thorne any better than his friend Walt Simonson, who shared his thoughts about Thorne on Facebook when he heard the news. Here’s how it ends:
He was terribly modest about his work, but I was a big fan, following it throughout the years, and it was a delight to me and Weezie to get to know both him and his wife. Godspeed, Frank and Marilyn. Thank you for both work and friendship. I’m glad you could go together.
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Remembering A Veteran Artist Veteran fantasy artist Frank Thorne just passed away on Monday night and here Heavy Metal just paid tribute to him… Frank Thorne, the grey-bearded wizard of comics famous for his portrayals of alluring female warriors — most famously, Red Sonja — has died at the age of 90. Thorne and his
The post Heavy Metals Pays Tribute To Fantasy Artist Frank Thorne appeared first on TRIPWIRE.Read MoreTRIPWIRE