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In Memoriam: Frank Kelly Freas

Worlds of wonder within his head...and his brush.
At 4am Sunday, January 2nd, 2005, the world of Science Fiction lost one of its all-time legends with the passing of legendary artist Frank Kelly Freas (pronounced freeze). A leading Science Fiction artist since the early 1950s, Freas’ style was immediately recognizable and nearly omni-present.

Kelly started out painting bomber noses (a passion that he attempted to rekindle in his final years, searching for a private bomber owner who might be interested in using one of his designs). Around 1950, his art began to appear on book and magazine covers. It’s difficult to accurately estimate the number of covers he painted, but it is certainly greater than several hundred, and possibly more than a thousand. Among these were a few of the most well-remembered covers of Analog. He also painted the covers of the 1970s Laser series of books, all 58 of them. While the books were seldom anything of note, many of the covers were classics. He also painted covers for several of the books in the GURPS gaming system.

For most Fanboy Planet readers, his most memorable achievement might be Alfred E. Neuman for MAD magazine. A personal favorite of publisher William Gaines, he painted covers from 1955 to 1962, several of which are among the most valuable issues of MAD. He also painted the cover for DC’s 1982 Star Trek Annual.

In addition to the obvious works, Kelly did many pieces for many diverse groups. He painted more than five hundred Saints for The Franciscans, the Skylab I patch for NASA, and did medical illustration. An adaptation of one of his most famous covers for Analog was used for Queen’s album News of the World. The same image, of a Robot holding a man in its hand, was used in an exhibit on robotics that toured the USA. His work can be seen in the Smithsonian at the Air & Space Museum, in the collection of the Computer History Museum and the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, in the private collections of many science fiction authors and several filmmakers.

Somewhere in there may be an actual alien spacecraft.
Freas won eleven Hugo Awards for Best Professional Artist, including a streak of five in a row, a record for the category. In addition, he won the Frank R. Paul Award, The Skylark, several Chesleys and a myriad of other awards that cluttered up his living room. His influence on three generations of artists is quite evident, especially in recent artists such as Hugo winner Frank Wu.

Frank Kelly Freas’ influence on my being a part of Science Fiction Fandom is huge. Somewhere, there’s a picture of baby Christopher Garcia, baby Chris’ Mom and Dad and Mr. Freas from the first North American Science Fiction Convention in 1975. The first science fiction book I ever read on my own was Phillip Jose Farmer’s A Woman a Day with a Freas cover featuring a naked woman on an examining table. One of his 1971 Analog covers was the first issue I ever bought used, starting my collection that has grown to several hundred.

One of my great pleasures was to get to spend several hours with Kelly at Silicon in 2002. He presented a fine slide show and then Kelly, his wife Laura, myself and a couple of other friends enjoyed dinner with them. He told some great stories of the old days and of WorldCons and the work he did over the years. And he told all the stories while wearing an original prop jacket from Battlestar Galactica.

Frank Kelly Freas was 82.

Chris Garcia

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