In praise of RGK
To warn, this is just rant I need to get out so, if it doesn't interest you, just don't waste time
on this one.
I was having a conversation with 3 guys yesterday. Now understand that where I live, with the
exception of a couple of comic artists who are rather poor at their work I believe, there were no
others who were interested in illustration and commercial art that I knew of, till I met these guys
and got together.
At some point of course, the great Frank Frazetta was mentioned. Now, Frank is undisputed...but
there's many out there who, in my opinion, are also so great and inspiring, but maybe just weren't
as lucky to find the product that would give them fame, tho Frank did eventually supersede that.
I mentioned one of my favorites, Roy G Krenkel. Now Krenkel's stuff is something else. Frank him-
self, it as been stated, loved the guy, praised his art and considered him to be an awesome artist,
a guy who didn't accept mediocrity or laziness.
This is very very easy to see. Krenkel was a "lunatic". Many if not most of his pen illustrations I've
seen, are epic, with multiple characters going about doing things, with masses of architecture and
loads of trinkets, clothing styles and anything else, creating a whole civilization right there. He just
couldn't stand not creating or at least hinting at some huge, fantastic, alien civilization.
Also, where most of us go for a square format, save proportions of our space to be illustrated, Roy
would turn it all into a design, a vignette or sorts, that helps the composition, and adds to the
beauty of all illustrated, as if the fantastic hyperbole of designs on doors, banners, pendants or
whatever wasn't enough.
And, to be even more crazy, the final kick in the groin...his ink marks and brushwork in his paintings,
all have varied direction, shape, texture, do what there're supposed to in regards to rendering form,
but also work together in a whole as a total design!!! In fact, many times it seems he would rather
simplify or ignore form, in favor of the total design that would look like a splendid embroidery in the end.
Now, I've seen this elsewhere too, in varying levels but RGK just took it to the max almost every
time. There're many artist whose work I admire and love, Frank Frazetta, being right up there, but
fewseem to kick me in the teeth, bash my brains out and seem to be screaming to me "Kid, you
have much to learn so get your ass in gear".
Anyway, I mention RGK to these guys. One of them didn't know him. The other two dismissed him
on the grounds that his characters looked "weird", that ink art isn't important (I guess Gustave Dore
is considered just as lame huh? Yea Dore didn't create "ink" art but you get my point). Upon hearing
this I was shocked. I mentioned all the above which you cannot dismiss even if anatomy and rendering
of form on a character are second rate. To no avail.
Regardless, my only concern is if this is a trend elsewhere. I wouldn't be surprised. Most great
artists today have an awesome, ultra realistic style to their credit. This confounds the minds of
most of us and I think we stay on that a little too much, but I think it's dangerous when it may
get in the way of looking at, admire and study other elements of great picture-making whose
mastery Roy Krenkel showed that he possessed so effortlessly. On the other hand maybe it's just
my lack of skill at these qualities that cause his art to shout at me so much...
All I can say is, I hope in my journey as an artist, I get to learn more from his work, and that
more of him rubs off on me, because it's so great in my mind, that at present, I dare not even
try to emulate it.
End of rant.
No you are right Roy was a genius. His compositions and his sense of design are not equaled. Frazetta, Wood and Williamson owe a lot of what they know to Krenkel and have said so openly throughout their careers back in the day. Roy's problem was he liked sketching and creating his ideas but wasn't very good with finish or deadlines. There are a couple of great books on him that show how good he was and you can still see his influence on comics to this day. He was the layout guy for a lot of the guys we consider the greats in the Silver Age of comics. I feel a RGK appreciation thread coming on.
Goddammit why haven't I heard of this guy before... I hope this does turn into a giant thread of Roy Krenkel images, because what I'm seeing so far is mighty sweet. That composition, daaang... I know if I tried to throw that much stuff in one picture, I'd have a heck of a time pulling it off and not ending up with a crowded mess, but he seems to handle it brilliantly.
(Also I have to admire the way he's handling line weight and tone there... Something I still struggle with.)
I didn't know those details about him but, at the same time isn't it great how a guy
made a career out of sketching?
This one blows my mind and I get into an angry frustrated rage yelling
"OK Krenkel, fuck you, do this yourself, I'm outta here!" I mean, just look
Aye, Krenkel was great with pen and ink. Though Virgil Finlay was not only great, but unmatched.
I like both of them but Roy makes it look effortless. Like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, Kelly was great but you were always aware at how hard he worked where Astaire made it look like anyone could dance like that. Until you try it yourself. Finlay was great at tight stuff but never could get the level of raw emotion into his work Krenkel did. You are always aware of how much Finlay used ref in his work. He was the master of stipple though.
Originally Posted by arenhaus
That is the Krenkel stuff I love ^^^! The Lost Worlds epic shots - and the Barsoom illos of course.
Another (looks to be related to the same story dpaint posted in #2 - though may not be):
Others influenced by Krenkel include Michael Kaluta, Berni Wrightson and William Stout.
What I know is....
Krenkel admitted that he didn't understand lighting. And he also couldn't draw faces all that well. Because he always insisted on drawing out of his head, he developed an excellent imagination for some things and never progressed in some other areas. Because of his refusal to use models or paint from nature, he never became what he could have become as an artist. He never understood value, color, or form.
Krenkel was totally intimidated by Frazetta, witnessed him knock out a few masterpieces overnight, or over coffee. Knew he couldn't compete at that level.
Krenkel knew more about composition that almost anyone. This was mostly self-taught. Krenkel would steal art books from every library in new york and smuggle them out under his shirt (Kaluta told me this story, fyi.) But RGK could only get his visionary compositions to work in pen and ink without lighting. This was a serious limitation.
Krenkel was very influenced by Franklin Booth and Norman Lindsay. And he was a great booster of both Frazetta and Williamson, and then later the Studio guys.
Krenkel loved art. And he was one hell of a lettering artist!
Yeah I think there was a story about Frazetta getting his first cover jobs because Roy had blown his deadlines and begged Frank to finish the series. I think it was those Canaveral books in the 60's. You can see Frank is trying to do a Krenkel style but its still way better because its Frazetta in those books.
Here is another great Krenkel composition
Dpaint's view that RGK's art is emotionally packed is right. Kev's added info is awesome
but it's also a kick in the nuts! If this is what he could do on instinct, I cower to what he
would have become had he developed. The light thingI really don't see. Maybe he meant
painting in a realistic manner?
As for Frazetta, ok I don't think that there's one artist that wouldn't be intimidated by
Frazetta's ability to take a piss and give us Death Dealer and who cares about the
But still, despite his shortcomings (which I feel were probably mostly psychological)
he had an awesome skill for design, and Kev said what I've always thought about but
wouldn't dare utter due to lack of knowledge...composition. There's many magnificent
compositions out there, but hey, I can't think of many, at least ink images, even of
Frazetta's that don't eat RGK's dust.
Looking at my Frazetta Icon book, I detected what Dpaint's talking about. Roy wasn't begging
Frank to help. Quite the contrary, Frank didn't have much work and was eager to help. Don Wollenheim
of Ace Books, wouldn't give Frank any work, and Roy was pressing to have them try Frank out. Then
oy began to fall back with the workload, so theygave Frank a shot.
What's interesting is how there can be a lot of wonky details in these things (odd proportions, iffy anatomy,) but unless you scrutinize the pictures for a while you barely notice the odd details because the composition as a whole is so strong... The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
I guess that's the power of a good composition. With it, you can get away with murder in the details, without it, all the perfect details in the world won't save the picture.
I have two books on Krenkel: Scenes and cities of the ancient world which was published before his death, it has an interview with Krenkel called "Some Comments on Doodling And other Irreverent Observations.
And Swordsmaen and Saurians which was published after Roy's death and has an introduction by Bill Stout who was friends with Roy. He has two quotes in the book one from Williamson and one from Frazetta.
Williamson said "There is so much of Roy in me its almost like hes my father. He was just so alive, I learned a great deal from working with him. He was a very strong influence, and not just artwise, but on my way of thinking. He clarified so many things for me by just being with him. He was one of those human beings that just naturally made others think. He also inspired people to make better work- not by saying so but he made you want to do better work because he loved art so much"
Frazetta is quoted saying
"This was the kind of guy he was, he lifted your spirits, he was always a lot of laughs... we began to see the good in each other and appreciate each others opinions more and more through the years... I never heard anybody, never met anybody that didn't like him. He was very special... I don't know anyone in this world, and this is the gospel truth, that I loved as much as him."
Here is a bio of Krenkel written by Stout for the last book on Krenkel
havent heard that name before either, and let me thank you for bringing it up. amazing compositions especially in posts #6 and #9.
also thanks to kev for the insight. (ive read this after ive written the following paragraph, ill keep it there though.)
i wouldnt compare rgk and frazetta though. both obviously had they qualities. if its ment to be a vs id take frazetta, i like frazettas sense for design better (there are tangents and repetition in rgks pictures i havent seen in frazettas pictures, women? no way ;).). to me frazetta is raw power, expressed within a minimum of marks, medium beeing design-juice. his figures are much more expressive and pleasing at the same time imo. design/shape, lineweight, action, and an appreciation for buxom curves is always in there.
concluding, i dont think youre doing him justice mentioning him and frazetta in the same sentence/paragraph. sounds like a monet vs mucha argument to me. all were interested in different things, with expertise in different matters.
Some years ago a friend shared with me a Krenkel doodle he'd acquired. it depicted a market-place in Pompei, focussing on a single lane winding into the picture plane, close up lined with elaborate tents and pavilions, gradually giving way to delicately spired palaces, rich gardens and marble galleries marching down to docks where stately triremes languidly drift. Finally, far in the distance, you see a couple of tendrils of smoke ominously rising from the summit of Vesuvius...
There, in one "doodle", the majesty, romance, and tragedy of Antiquity beautifully evoked, compositionally worthy of a mural, and all of 5" on a side!
Now have fun here!
You're thinking of later Frazetta when he eclipsed his colleagues and you'll get no argument from me there. But the time frame we are talking about there is clearly crossover and Roy never could paint, we aren't saying that, but he could compose and his pen and ink work is very strong and when you see his work and compare it to Franks at the time I think it is obvious. Frazetta is clearly not painting at the level he shows us with his Lancer covers for Conan. Take a look for yourselves, better than Krenkel but not much better and plenty of tangents to go around.
Originally Posted by sone_one
And a Krenkel Tarzan
What's weird about RGK as a person is that he loved art so much, energized, supported and helped
all these guys get work and stuff, had formal training, yet had very little confidence. I remember reading
somewhere, Frank Frazetta recalling how Roy would find new artists each week and look into them
and copy them, take up some of their stuff, yet at the same time he regarded him so much as a
person and artist telling him to show people what he had up his sleeve. I dunno but if I had Frazetta
over my shoulder, telling me to go ahead with my own stuff cause he thought it's great, well I can't
imagine a more inspiring critique than that.
I can't verify this but I think the war changed Krenkel. I can't imagine being stationed in the Philippines during WWII and what he saw as a soldier, even if he didn't see any combat, which I don't know if he did or didn't. He seems like he was a very insecure and very sensitive and couldn't conform to deadlines or any type of structure.
Krenkel spent most of his time on KP duty because he was simply not capable of dealing with responsibility or authority. I don't think he saw action. When I say he was irresponsible, I mean it. Late in life, after all his family members had died off, he had to cook for himself. So he ate Twinkies exclusively. (As it turned out, this was not a good meal plan.)
Krenkel and Williamson met up in Burne Hogarth's cartoon school in the early 1950s, which later became SVA.
Armand, Frazetta completely hacked out those covers, most of them overnight. The publishers had the rights to the art, and were keeping the originals, so Frazetta said in an interview that he wasn't about to do great work at those low prices and not even have his art to show for it. He said that company completely disrespected him and he was essentially giving them a middle finger by doing crummy work.
Here's a painting that Frazetta did in the late 50s, before he ever was involved in book covers in the 60s. I think this easily proves that he was telling the truth about hacking out those covers. (I found a shot of this on the net with a bad glare and did some digital restoration on it in order to get it to look presentable.)
Influences: Norman Lindsay (bawdy bacchanalia)
Influences: Franklin Booth (dreamlike cities in background and find pen work)
Influence: J. Allen St. John (action, clothing and helmet styles, and pen and ink technique.)
I get your meaning. Yes, Finlay was all about finesse where Krenkel was about flow and rhythm. And Frazetta was about raw energy. Three of my favorite pen and ink artists from that era. :)
Originally Posted by dpaint
I always loved how Booth had that "looks like wood engraving or contemporary scratchboard" look with ink. Just incredible. Love the stuff being posted here.
another Krenkel influence
William Walcot, this is an etching
Different strokes for different folks, I guess. But I yak at Virgil Finlay's work. Its all like a block of Parmesan... sharp, stiff, aged cheese. Every idea he has is about figuring out a way to collage the main symbolic clichés about the topic into a tolerable design so they can be rendered to death. Either his figures are directly copied from photoref with a ton of prettified rendering or they're gummy and amateurish. His work makes me shudder. To me he is even worse than Hannes Bok because at least Bok had a sense of fun, no matter how crappy his work: http://shrineodreams.files.wordpress...06/bok_fsf.jpg
Edd Cartier and Kelly Freas were much better artists. (Just speaking of the sci fi artists during the 40s and 50s.)
Dang! I already sent out my Virgil Finlay Christmas cards kev! Well...just don't open yours.
I always thought of Finlay as more of a designer really. Great analysis on Krenkel for sure - always considered him a draughtsman rather than a painter (obviously)...and it shows in his influences as well. Here's a study (with pretty well developed light I might add) and then the "painting" (which ends up looking more like a spot tinted drawing - and not trying to turn this into an "anti-praise RGK" thread - it's still great stuff):
Wonderful stuff that's coming up here. Definitely the type of discussion I'd rather
have face to face but alas.
RGK it seems, manages to capture our attention with very little. That's why I really
praise the guy. He wasn't the greatest draughtsman out there, wasn't a painter really,
yet what he did, he did magnificently. His influences are clear, distinct and yet all
nicely fused together.
I'm also enjoying Kev's insight and sharing of knowledge on other artists too. I'd
never heard of Edd Cartier or Kelly Freas, but checking some stuff out just now, I
like what I see. It's all so weird, mysterious and alien. Today I feel we have a little
too much "realism", but maybe it's just me.
Exposure to all this, with RGK as a starting point always made me wonder how
it was that many of these artists who otherwise lacked skill in so man other aspects
of picture making even had a career. I feel that the chances of any one of them
having a career today with what they made, is zero...which begs two questions
1) If chances for a career today are zero, why do we (mostly ADs who hire artists)
admire their art since it's not on par (theoretically) with what we are exposed to today
2) if there was a slight chance, why aren't there artists of the like out there (as
least I don't know any).
Roy Krenkel didn't have a career.
He was known for a few book covers and some interior pen and ink stuff here and there. He put a lot of his sketches in fanzines, which paid nothing. He probably made more money doing a few things in comics in the 1950s than he ever did later on. Late in life he realized he needed some money so he put together books of his sketches.
That's odd, I didn't realize that about RGK. How the hell did he make a living then?
How and why did he have the conncetions he did?
Still, my questions included people like the artists you mentioned Kev. I've been
gawking at Kelly Freas' work, truelly magical stuff. He had an awesome career from
what I read. Still, how would a guy like that fair in today's work place?
Also, and because the stuff I'm seeing from him is great and take the mind to
places, like their supposed to in order to sell a book, I'm solidifying in my mind the
notion that many artists of the era had a common thread. I dunno if it was the
fiction of the day but, all the art is of anything that would be a good design, but
weird to the exeryday experiece, be it weird alien worlds and their protagonists,
incredible acritecture and creatures, as well as mysterious color combinations. It
seems to me like Frazetta and others (and not that it's a small feat) had the skill
to do the same thing with a higher quality and fine art flair. Is my supposition far
from the truth on this?