Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Greyhawk Art: Ken Frank

Anyone who has followed my comic knows I've parodied and even photo-manipulated the works of many a D&D artist over the years. Time to time I have paid homage to them as well. One in particular that I bring to light is interior illustrator, Ken Frank. Ken worked for TSR during 2nd edition from 1990-1997, starting off with the Greyhawk module Vecna Lives! From this auspicious beginning, he went on to prolifically do interiors for many other Greyhawk books including the "Falcon" series, From the Ashes, Rary the Traitor and Treasures of Greyhawk. After Greyhawk went into one of its hibernations, Ken went on to do work for GDW's new Traveller line and more interiors for TSR, notably the Players Option rules series.
I'll come right out and say it, Ken's art is not everyone's cup of tea. You ask a long-time D&D or Greyhawk fan to name any ten D&D illustrators they know and Ken's name will likely never come up. But I'm here to tell you he is among the best the Greyhawk franchise ever had, and easily the best interior artist of the 2nd edition Greyhawk era. Ken Frank has a classic D&D style, black & white line-art, that tends to be on the sketchy side but full of rich detail and expressive compositions with an added knack at drawing architecture. His illustrations fall somewhere between Dave Sutherland's and Jim Roslof's early D&D figure-art and more realistic and cleanly drawn black & white art such as Larry Elmore. I'd most compare Ken's style to Jim Holloway's quirky but kinetic black & white illustraions of the same edition.  Enough art-history let's see some samples:

Halmadar the Cruel, from Vecna Lives!

Shack Town, from Falcon's Revenge

Szeverin the Shadow Dragon, from Five Shall Be One

Circle of Eight, From the Ashes
 Mr. Frank has not done any illustrations since the end of 2nd edition and I can't turn up any non-gaming related artistic work by him online. Also I haven't been able to locate any useful information on him personally like an art gallery. I can only assume he eventually found better paying work than art and just faded from the industry. I'd be keen to hear if anyone has met him or heard any stories. In any case I thank him for his service to Greyhawk and wish him the best.


Anonymous said...

Ditto on the sentiments, Mort.If you can learn anything else about Mr. Frank, please keeps us informed.

And thanks for that picture of Shack Town, I can only imagine that it is from a later time period than my story, as it is certainly more substantial than the description I read for my story, which is obviously pre-Wars. So, thanks for that.

Mystic Scholar

Anonymous said...

Ken Frank had that distinctive style in 2e Greyhawk products. His characterizations of elves & gnomes were 'iconic' IMO. I didn't know he went on to GDW's Traveller line, as that was beyond my Traveller purchases at the time.

Thanks for highlighting his art, Mort. Good stuff!
Bobjester/Dread Delgath

Mick said...

I have done a fan page on Facebook some time ago, hopefully someone will tell us what happened to him. I hope he's not doing like Carl Sargent.

William Bublitz said...

Ken Frank died in 1999, at age 75. The Greyhawk art work was at the end of his of his life, but he was very proud of that work.

Prior to that e worked for Boing, and led the team that designed the interior of the 747. After that, he worked in the art department of the Milwaukee Journal and Sentinal, before going on to head the art department for Mercury-Marine in Fon Du Lac, WI.

It was upon retiring from there that he became a freelance artist, and became involved with TSR. He lived in West Bend, WI from 1970 or 1971 till is death.

I know this as I am his nephew.

DP said...

Thank you for that update, Mr. Bublitz. I really appreciated his work, and I am thankful for your overview of his career.