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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Discovering RGK!

I was a fan of Roy G. Krenkel, long before I even knew who he was, it seems.

Always an amateur artists, avid reader, obsessed vintage movie watcher... I guess I always had a sense of the romantic in me, and thus also romantic style artwork or illustration was my magnet. Maxfield Parrish was a favorite even at an early age, and I loved the storytelling and sense of place of Norman Rockwell. Probably one of the few 10 years old that had a collection of Rockwell book retrospectives in her bedroom, I'd think. :-)

So, how did Krenkel allude me for so long.... I'm not very sure... not for lack of not trying to discover him I assure you. As a kid, I probably spent more time in the library than I did at home!! Either there, or catching insects in the woods, that is.

However, fresh out of high school in my home town of Texarkana, Texas, newly in college, and with a set of friends very much into fantasy art and the books of Robert E. Howard, I was convinced by said friends to traverse the long miles to Dallas, Texas (okay, only three hours, but in those days that seemed like half the world to me), and attend a convention called the Dallas Fantasty Faire.

I think it was Patricia, John (aka Zero), Teresa & Steve and Steve and myself, all loaded up in one truck as I recall! A cooler of sandwiches and soda, and road trip ensued.

And I'm glad it did! In some ways, this crazy trip led to the path I'm on now, the path my life naturally took-- working with artists, writing books, agenting talent. This was kinda the start of it all.

Through the Dallas Fantasy Faire, I met so many folks, many that would be my lasting friends like Jim Salicrup, Steve Saffel, Dave Stevens, Mike Kaluta...met many folks that would cross my path in life later again, such as Stan Lee, George Takai, Mike Zeck, Tom DeFalco, Larry Niven, and the list goes on and on... I worked for the DFF doing public relations for 2 years following college too, and this directly led to working in comics, and then film. One door leads to another as I always like to say.

Oh, and it was this very first show where I also met my dear friend writer Ric Meyers, who later introduced me to Jackie Chan. but that's another story for another time and another article....

But more on this one: You know when you stop at one of those all you can eat buffets, and you wonder briefly how long the foods had been sitting out, and then you convince yourself that it's probably okay. Well.... it seems at the end of the aforementioned road trip, my crew and I decided to stop and have Chinese food at just such a place. I can't remember the name. My brain has mericfully blocked it, and it's probably long since been shut down by food inspectors anyway!!

As you've guessed by now, it wasn't the--'cough,cough'--freshest, and I spent the first morning of my first convention, sick as a dog. Remembering vividly for hours the Kung Po Chicken of the night before....

I finally fell asleep in the sofa at the hotel lobby (our rooms weren't ready yet) , where, Ric, as he likes to relate, "discovered me asleep, in a shaft of light, head to one side," and I no doubt a bit of drool as well. Hey, I had food poisoning, okay?!? We've been friends ever since. :-)

But I digress... RGK!

It was also at this same show where I discovered original art, and that you could actually BUY it and have it for your very own! ... sometimes for a pretty reasonable sum.

I spent most of the show rifeling through boxes of dusty material, and scored big time. I didn't know some of the names then, their history, who they were, so really just bought what I liked. And later on found out that the pieces I picked up for a song were by guys like Wally Wood and....Roy G. Krenkel. One of my favorites is the prelim attached here. A beautiful pencil sketch for a painting from John Carter of Mars, it seems. (I haven't' found out if the final piece was ever done... if you know, let me know!)

Even then, a novice, I knew what I liked, and I liked THIS! The beauty, the elegance, the storytelling attracted me to RGK's work even then. And it stands the test of time.

So, reading the humble interview below, reminded me of my Krenkel piece, and the joy of discovering this amazing, oft forgotten talent. It's a glimpse too into the isolation that is often an artist's life. We look at their work and are inspired to see landscapes of wonder in our minds, from pieces often created in the isolation of one room.

It reminds me of when I tell people that I work on film crews, and they imagine that as being glamorous. And I burst that bubble by relating, that no, it actually involves 20 hour days, 4 hours of sleep, during which you get to sit down for 30 minutes to eat. It can be fun, rewarding, but no glamor involved. Sorry. The life of an artist has at times seemed the same way.

The end result is magic. The process of getting there, sometimes no so much....reality as part of the fantasy.

All I can say is, if you don't know Krenkel's work, you should go out and discover it, now!! He's one of the ones who paved the way in fantasy illustration for many working today, and one of my favorites.



Looking Back at RGK: Roy G. Krenkel-- An article from Scoop, and Interview with Krenkel by Russ Cochran:

Among the many creators interviewed over the years by comics historian, enthusiast and publisher Russ Cochran was the artist Roy G. Krenkel, an illustrator sadly overlooked by many modern fans. In addition to other work, Krenkel, a Hugo Award-winning artist, created the covers for more than 20 Edgar Rice Burroughs and other genre paperbacks.

Cochran interviewed him at his home in 1978 for the third volume of the now long out of print Edgar Rice Burroughs Library of Illustration. With the recent passing of Frank Frazetta, Cochran found himself looking back at the work of Krenkel, who was a good friend of Frazetta's, and he gave us permission to share this historic interview with our readers:

Roy Gerald Krenkel was born in the Bronx in 1918, and lived in the New York area his entire life except for a short stay in the Philippines during World War II. He grew up reading the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Talbut Mundy and Robert E.Howard.

He attended Hogarth's School of Visual

Arts, New York Artists' League and Cooper Union, and he drew and doodled incessantly. Krenkel never had a regular job. He lived with his parents in their home in Queens; he evidently had enough income from them to meet his Spartan needs, and he continued doodling and working around the fringes of the professional art world until Al Williamson

asked him for assistance in backgrounds for some of the EC science fiction stories that Al was illustrating.

His doodles and drawings were published in the fanzine AMRA where Ace editor Donald Wollheim saw them. When Wollheim (Ace) started publishing the Burroughs series in 1962, he naturally thought of Roy Krenkel for the illustrations, in the St. John tradition.

I first met Roy at a comic convention in New York in the mid 1960s. My first impression was that he was somewhat eccentric although nowadays he would not seem so at all. He wore white tennis shoes with slacks and a sport coat, had wild white hair and was always ready to engage you in one of his famous animated conversations. He was very interesting to talk to; watching his expressions change and listening to his voice and watching him wave his arms and gesticulate magnificently. I immediately took a strong liking to him, and we talked many times over the years as we would see each other about once a year at Phil Seuling's Comic Art Convention.

I visited him in his home in September of 1978. Following Roy's directions, I drove to his home and pulled up in front of an older house in a middle-class Long Island neighborhood. All the yards were neatly kept, except one: Roy's. It had a Graham Ingels atmosphere: the house did not look lived in and grass and weeds in the front yard were knee-high. I knocked on the front door...no answer...and then noticed that the front door was nailed shut from the inside. I went around to the side door through the knee-deep weeds and tried again. Soon, Roy appeared at the door and greeted me.

The inside of Roy's house was just as you would expect to find in the home of a fiftyish bachelor collector.Books everywhere, stacks all around the room, covering the floor and all the chairs, with narrow pathways open to walk through the room. It was the type of clutter that most of us who are true collectors can identify with. We sat down in the middle of it all in Roy's living room and I recorded the following interview:

Cochran: When did you first encounter the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs?

Krenkel: I think I was about nine or ten years old, something like that, and Ihad a friend, Earl Kridlen. Through him and his brother, Ed, I read my first Tarzan book, Tarzan and the Golden Lion.... I remember that it was the old yellow-covered first edition. It was the first time I saw St. John, and while I kinda liked Burroughs, I just flipped over St. John. It was some of the first actual reading that I did. More than any other single factor, seeing this book and this St. John artwork led me into fantasy and later into science fiction. Then I started to read Amazing Stories and gradually discovered all the rest.

The thing that stuck in my mind about the book, though, was those pictures. I didn't know a thing about "art"at the time, but, God!, the sense of wonder and other worlds, and the segiant men walking around full of muscles and all that crap...wonderful! The pictures led me into reading the books more avidly...and I recall being highly disappointed that there were no pictures in some of the Burroughs novels. The stories were pretty damn good, but secondary to the pictures.

Cochran: How did you meet Frank Frazetta?

Krenkel:Al Williamson introduced me to him. I'm not sure when the exact first time was...I either met Frank in Al's company, or perhaps Al and I went over to Frank's house in Brooklyn. This would have been during the early 1950s, when Al was working at EC and we would occasionally help him out with a job. So, we became acquainted, and started to discuss nonsense of one kind or another.

He wasn't called The Great Frazetta in those days...but we were all awed by his talent. He could do anything! And we knew him for a couple of years before we knew about his background, and of little things like the "Snowman" and the funny little animals that he did in comic books. We knew that he was doing"Dan Brand"...at the time we met, he was just starting to futz around with Dan Brand. Of course, he was influenced by Foster then, and at times he was the equal of Foster. We were impressed! In fact, in those days, the only thing Frank wanted to do was to quit drawing and go out and play baseball. Later on, he got married, and about the only thing he really wanted to do was to quit the drawing board and go out and play baseball! At the age of thirty-five, all he wanted to do was to quit and go out and play baseball! (laughs) And that's Frank!

Cochran: Do you think that he just has such a gift that he can only turn it on at certain times, and if he tried to work twenty-four hours a day, it wouldn't come?

Krenkel: That's what he always said. I leaned on him for years, and it got to be a running gag between us: "Goddamn it, Frank, don't you want to kill them all? Don't you want to make them break all their pencils?" And Frank would say, innocently, "I don't want to kill anybody. Why should I want them to break their pencils?" Typical.

To give a more serious answer to that question, he is probably right. Looking at it as an older person now, I think he's right. Doing his kind of thing at his own pace when he damn well felt like doing it is probably a very big part of Frank's success.He wouldn't be him if he tried to force it, or just be clever. When it's clever time, you be clever, and when it's knock-it-out time, you knock it out.

Cochran: How would you compare Frazetta and St. John?

Krenkel: To me, St. John was the great Burroughs illustrator. When Frank does an illustration it is basically an illustration, whereas St. John hovered in the "picture" area. St. John's actions were not realistic in the sense that Frank's are realistic. Frank's are carried to the height of action, whereas St. John would do impossible things. One that comes to mind is of Tarzan hurling an arrow in the mouth of a lion. The lion is about four inches away from the arrow. If Tarzan ever got into that position, both he and the lion would fall down in a heap, but it made a beautiful "clump", it made a nice picture. Frazetta, and Foster, had a style that was strictly real, almost a photographic stop-action correctness of action. Frank and I have argued this point endlessly.Frank didn't always approve of St. John's actions because there was not enough tension, and St. John didn't play the muscles up when he would strain. Frank would say, "Now, the entire body would surge this way and that way as he did this or that"...well, true, but St. John was doing it from a different point of view. Personally, since I grew up on St.John, it is natural for me to think of St. John as The Man. Also, there was an atmosphere of innocent mystery and wonder in St. John's work which is not in Frank's...and, it wasn't in Foster's. Foster had no mystery...Foster was just there.

But, St. John's interpretation fit Burroughs' writing. For instance, in Burroughs' jungles, and in St.John's depictions, there were no bugs. If a snake bites you, it's either completely venomous and you drop dead, or you recuperate.There's no in between, you never suffer and die a lingering death. This is sort of a clean jungle, there are good guys and there are bad guys.With Frazetta, there are overtones of the reality of the world. His world is more brutal, more sensual. You can get hurt in Frank's world. You get bopped, and you're in trouble, whereas with St. John, Tarzan would just tap you on the head and you'd gently fall asleep, then recuperate and wonder what happened.

Cochran: Is this because St.John was raised as a well-to-do boy in a very genteel society, and Frank was raised in Brooklyn and had to be tougher?

Krenkel:I don't think so. St. John was doing his level best to do a jungleman...pretty much like I would, not so much a real man in a real jungle,but a chance to do a graceful, beautiful figure and light it properly and then hang a label on it, like, "Tarzan leaped to the left", or whatever. Frank is interested in capturing a character and the event and doing it beautifully, but from a different point of view. Foster was trying to cinematize the whole thing, and he had plenty of imagination, but it was straight stuff...you could believe Foster's Tarzan. Frank and I often argued about who was better in depicting Tarzan, St. John or Foster. He'd plunk for Foster, and I'd plunk for St. John, only on the basis of personal preference, because it was more romantic. I had to admit that Foster really captured Tarzan and made him real. In that sense, Foster did the definitive Tarzan...he had everything! But St. John was a damn fine picture-maker.

Cochran: Where do you place Roy Krenkel in this continuum?

Krenkel: I just had fun with it, when I could. When it wasn't a chore, I had fun with it. I enjoyed doing it when it worked, and when it didn't work, I screamed and ranted.

Cochran: In the middle 1950s, you did some work for EC, mostly helping Al Williamson. Then in the early 1960s, you started doing the Ace paperback covers for the Burroughs novels. What did you do in between these times?

Krenkel:I have been asked that before, and, frankly, I don't know. I was probably just putzing around, doing whatever I felt like doing,learning this and that, and, as always, collecting.

Cochran: When you got your first assignments on the Ace covers, how did Don Wollheim first contact you, and how did he know about you and your work?

Krenkel: I think he saw my stuff in the fanzine AMRA, and he liked it. He called me and one or two others. He didn't know about Frazetta at that time.Frank was doing Li'l Abner then. Anyhow, I had done lots of pen and ink work but never anything at all in color, and, not knowing what I was up against, I thought, "Oh, sure...if you can do it in black and white, you can do it in color."...the idiot statement of the year! So I did one or two covers which Don thought were acceptable. The very first one I did was for Planet of Peril by Otis A. Kline. It was pretty bad. I did the first few covers by myself, and then somewhere down the line, maybe the fourth one, if memory serves, I dragged Frankin to helping me with the difficult areas. Not so much with the idea, but the painting, which Frank could do and I couldn't. When he would help me, Frank's problem was to try and make it look like mine. It was very difficult for him to attempt to confine himself to my rigid, dull style at that time. Frank would paint the hair, and work out how lighting would go across a face, or a hand, he picked up the color...little details, highlights. He knew just how to "pop it." When I would get to an area that I was unsure of, and didn't want to kill the thing at that point, I'd say, "you'd better take it, Frank." And, he would dutifully try to keep it as rigid as the rest of the damn stuff.I didn't know, for instance, how an eye would go when the head was tipped down. I couldn't figure out where it would be dark and where it would be light. Frank knew all this, and he had great control, which I didn't have. I was pretty sloppy in those days, and am getting sloppier now. He did all that stuff with great sighing and moaning, naturally.He'd say, "Oh, God, you can do that. Surely you can do that!" And I'd say, "No, Frank. I'm afraid of it."

Cochran: When you would deliver a painting to Ace, would you give credit to both yourself and Frazetta...and is this how Frazetta got a crack at doing some covers on his own?

Krenkel: After the first few, I kept saying to Wollheim, "You gotta get this guy Frazetta!" They were reluctant at first because his background was comic books...as soon as they heard he was a comic book man they'd look at him ten times more critically. It was an uphill battle to convince them that comic men are artists, they wouldn't believe it. Finally they gave him some work, and after that it was clear sailing for him.

Cochran: Do you consider yourself more of a pen and ink man than a paint man?

Krenkel:Yes, especially at that time. Now, I'm trying to push out in other directions, but at that time I was really good with pen and ink. But I was afraid of the whole idea of paint. Paint baffled me. I was scared of the damn stuff. Oddly enough, I wasn't afraid of the stuff when I first started; it was after two or three that I got more chicken as I got to realize what the problems really were. Frank was helping me, and doing paintings on his own by that time, and Frank always would go bang, bang, bang...no sweat, for him. He just sat down and did it. I finally got to the point where I was really inhibited. I hated to dothe paintings; mostly on account of I was afraid of them.

Cochran: Did you and Frank always do preliminary roughs for your paintings?Krenkel:At first we did roughs on everything and got them approved. Often, theroughs were superior to the finished art. The roughs had more charm,more color, more everything. Then, finally, I gave up doing roughsaltogether. Frank would say, "The hell with roughing this thing...That'sdoing it twice! You know I can do it. They'll take the final paintingand like it...the hell with the rough!" And, it worked.

Cochran: So, you don't do roughs anymore?

Krenkel:Not unless I want one for my own use, but not as a procedure...because they always lose out anyhow. If you do a really good rough, the final is never as good. That's a let down, at least to the guy who did it, if not to the editor. There really isn't any need for it...Frank's been proving it now for years and years. So much for roughs.

Cochran: How would you like to be remembered by Burroughs fans?

Krenkel:Certainly nothing to do with the quality, the amount, or the enthusiasm I put into the work of doing Burroughs stuff. To this day I remain as much as ever a Burroughs fan...and a fan of Burroughs illustration. My happiest thought is getting away from doing it myself, and enjoying all the goodies the other guys have done. I love to see what the other guy has done, but I hate like hell to try to beat them at their own game.

Cochran: Judging from all the doodles and sketches that you do, you must really like the material in Burroughs stories.

Krenkel:I like the material, not so much in terms of the Burroughs mythos...it's a setting for nice little figure drawings and nice little compositions.In that sense, it's glorious. I view the whole scene as an opportunity to wander around doing what amounts to still-lifes, using little figures and backgrounds that are appropriate. When they're more or less Burroughsian, I push them in that direction. And, sometimes, out comes a nice little picture.

Cochran: How do you work? Here in the living room?

Krenkel: Sitting, with a drawing board in my lap, and I'm watching The Doctors or All Our Dead Children,or whatever the title of the stupid soap opera is. I'm off in pixieland somewhere, drawing people riding dinosaurs, watching television all the while.

Cochran: Do you watch television a lot?

Krenkel:Yeah. I'm hooked on the damn stuff. It breaks up the monotony...there'snothing else going on in this place. I watch it from morning to night,and work around it, with one eye cocked on the television and the other eye on whatever I'm doing.

Cochran: Do you have any plans to do any Burroughs artwork in the future?

Krenkel:Not unless I'm shotgunned into it in some fashion. I want to get out of doing illustration completely. What I call illustration, what most people call illustration...I never did like it!

Cochran: What would you like to do?

Krenkel:Pictures. Pictures. Whatever I felt like doing...which might be fantasy,and might involve a Burroughs-type character. But, it's not an illustration, it's a picture. I can think picture, but I'll be damned if I can think illustration.

Cochran: What is the difference between a picture and an illustration?

Krenkel:This is the sort of thing that drove me out of illustration: Get this:"Seven gorillas, dressed in tuxedos, burst through the door, machine guns blazing. In the corner, the princess crouched, trembling,clutching the Amulet of Thoth to her bosom." The illustrator must: Show Amulet of Thoth. Show girl cringing. Show bosom. Show all seven gorillas as they burst through the door. Show that they are wearing tuxedos and that their machine guns are blazing! Well, screw that! I mean, there are guys who can do this.... I ain't one of them fellows.Good luck.

But a picture is an entirely different thing. You sit down with an idea for a figure action. If it works and you're lucky, you draw this great figure and you put a sword in his hand...you see the background as a mist-shrouded land going off in the gloomy distance with a single light glowing in some evil castle. An invisible moon is casting dim light in the foreground. Well, I can do that. But who the hell can do the seven gorillas with machine guns blazing? To hell with the Amulet of Thoth! Get the distinction?

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