This story comes about thanks to an exchange on the Illustration Magazine group on Facebook. Bob had been sharing some photos of the art in his collection and he put up the watercolor and the final oil versions of Frank Frazetta’s painting of TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN. A number of questions were asked and a tale was told about its acquisition that I thought was just too good to let go. Bob has a habit of scrubbing his posts on Facebook so this is the only place you’ll find the backstory of this great Frazetta painting. I put all the bits together to make them more chronological, did some editing and ran it by Bob. He added more details and now we have a full-fledged memoir piece.
(Click on the art to see larger images.)
In the summer of 1945, a few months before my ninth birthday, I picked up an interesting comic book at our local drug store titled Vic Verity Magazine. It was an anthology comic featuring various story genres. The one that intrigued my young mind was “Tom Travis and the Little People.” It was the story of a race of tiny, insect-sized people and their adventures. I liked it so much that I collected every issue of that comic until it was discontinued. Ever since, I’ve been a fan of stories about people reduced to the size of insects and their adventures in the “jungles” of the insect world.
That same year, my dad gave me a small, thick little book entitled Tarzan and the Ant Men. Being so intrigued by “Tom Travis and the Little People,” I started reading it immediately. I loved the story! I was aware of the Tarzan movies but didn’t know that there were Tarzan books, so this was my first introduction to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan. I loved John Coleman Burroughs’ cover and Rex Maxon’s interior illustrations. I wasn’t aware of the dislike Burroughs fans had for the Maxon art—to my eight-year old eye they looked just fine! It wasn’t until 1950 that I was able to read the real ERB novel when Grosset & Dunlap reprinted it in their “Books for Boys and Girls” series. It’s still one of my favorite Tarzan stories.
Years later, in 1967, I got to know Frank and Ellie Frazetta and visited them and their family at their home in N. Merrick, L.I. While there I purchased the cover to Creepy #9, “Winged Terror,” from him. At the time that I bought it, Frank didn’t think it was a very important piece — which is probably why he sold it to me for $300! During that visit I first saw his watercolor painting of Tarzan and the Ant Men. Of course I loved it immediately. I had no idea that I would one day own that fantastic painting.
Seven years later I received a call from Ellie Frazetta telling me that they would like to trade me another painting in return for the Creepy cover. During the intervening years they had begun to get more and more feedback on that cover and it finally dawned on them that, “Hey, we should have kept that one!” Because they wanted it back so badly, they offered me two or three quite nice paintings in trade, including the recently published new cover for The Moon Men. I wasn’t really interested in any of those, but I had always wanted one of Frank’s Tarzan paintings. So I mentioned Tarzan and the Ant Men.
Frank painted T&AM in watercolors back in 1961. It was never used for a book cover but Vern Coriell knew of it and asked to use it for the second all-Frazetta issue of The Burroughs Bulletin (#29) in 1970. After BB#29 was published and the painting didn’t come back, Frank began to ask Vern to return it — to no avail! In the summer of 1972 I happened to be talking to Frank on the telephone and mentioned that I was going to Kansas City to visit Vern. Frank asked me to pick up the painting and send it back to him, which I agreed to do. When I got to Vern’s, I told Vern that Frank wanted his painting back and I was to pick it up, but he refused saying that he wasn’t going to give the painting up to me. For some reason Vern had gotten it into his head that it now belonged to him! Vern had had two full-size color photos of the painting made and he gave me one of those to take with me. When I got home I sent it up to Frank to sign.
Sometime after that, Vern finally did return the art and Frank started to revise the painting in oils, but then left it unfinished. When Frank made the revisions, he painted over the parts of the watercolor that he wanted to change. When Ellie called me about getting the Creepy cover back, I asked her if Frank would finish the oil revision of Tarzan and the Ant Men and trade that for the painting. She asked me to hold the phone while she discussed it with Frank. When she came back she said, yes, Frank would, indeed, complete the Tarzan painting for me.
When my wife and I traveled to Washington D. C. for the 1974 World Science Fiction Convention I brought the Creepy painting along and we bussed up to East Stroudsburg to complete the trade.
Frank didn’t begin to finish the revised painting until the night before we were to arrive. Both he and Ellie told me that while he was working on it a huge thunder and lightning storm was raging outside! While we were sitting at the kitchen table, Frank left to bring in the painting and propped it on the window sill. He told me that I should be careful with it since the oil had not quite dried. I remarked that I needed to get it under glass after we got home, but Frank told me that I shouldn’t put it under glass just leave it open. I said, “But Frank, it’s painted on illustration board and the elements in the air will react on the paper.” Frank said, “That’s why I said what I did. The painting will look better after the board has begun to darken and not be so stark white.”
Just as we were getting ready to leave, Ellie told us to wait. She got up from the kitchen table and left the room. When she returned she handed me an original pen and ink illustration from the Doubleday Science Fiction Book Club edition of Thuvia, Maid of Mars & The Chessmen of Mars. It was the frontispiece for Thuvia: “With a savage cry of triumph, Thar Ban vaulted to the back of his thoat, Thuvia of Ptarth still in his arms.” Ellie said, “Bob, I believe that we are getting the better of this deal and I want you to have this drawing to make it more fair to you.” She reminded me that two years previously, after the Doubleday volume had been published, I told them that if they ever decided to sell that particular original, I would like to have the opportunity to purchase it. Needless to say I was surprised and pleased by their generosity.
When my wife and I returned to Washington D. C. and the SF Con, I showed Vern the newly revised painting. Vern immediately scoffed at the revision, saying that he didn’t like the “wash-board belly” and that the original, watercolor version was the best — a pure expression of sour grapes! Of course I disagreed with him!
Frazetta’s cover art for TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN never did appear on the cover of that Burroughs book. But it was finally used on a large softcover album in Europe that reprinted Bob Lubbers’ Sunday Tarzan strip adapting TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN.
—Robert R. Barrett