Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Hugo Award-winning illustrator Frank Kelly Freas is best known for his drawings of MAD's iconic character, Alfred E. Newman.
Illustrator Frank Kelly Freas was born in New York and raised in Canada. After World War II, he attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. While a student, Freas submitted artwork for Weird Tales magazine. The editors liked it enough to give him a commission to create a cover. With that, Freas began a long, illustrious art career. His illustrations graced the covers of many magazines, including MAD and Analog, and he won ten Hugo Awards for his science fiction work. Freas continued illustrated into the new millennium until his death in 2005.
Frank Kelly Freas was born in Hornell, New York in 1922. Freas was raised in Canada and gravitated toward science fiction at a young age. Though he considered medicine and engineering as possible occupations, he eventually committed himself to art. Freas' earliest work was created during World War II, when he served in the U.S. Army Air Forces and painted iconic pictures of buxom women on the noses of bombers. After the war, Freas began work as an illustrator and enrolled at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
Freas had been creating illustrations for medical textbooks when a friend suggested that he submit his work to a science fiction magazine called Weird Tales. He did, and soon received an assignment for the magazine's November 1950 cover. Freas touched up one of the images he had submitted as a sample, that of a Pan-figure dancing and playing music under a full moon. So began Freas' long string of science fiction and fantasy illustrations. His work appeared in number of formats. One of note was the science fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction. As an illustrator, Freas worked with the magazine's editor, John W. Campbell, for 20 years and developed a "marvelous" relationship with him. Campbell gave Freas plenty of artistic control and few specifications for an illustration. Freas could run wild with his vivid imagination. His science fiction work was soon turning heads.
In 1955, Freas won the first of many Hugo Awards, an honor given to recognize achievement in science fiction. Freas would eventually collect ten Hugo Awards for his work, including a "Retro Hugo Award" in 2001 for his 1951 art, when the World Science Fiction Society's World Convention did not give out awards. In 1958, Freas picked up another assignment, this time for the iconic MAD magazine character Alfred E. Neuman. Freas did not invent the character (that distinction belongs to Norman Mingo), but he did paint most of the magazine's covers featuring the signature prankster from 1958 until 1962, when Freas left MAD.
Following his stint at MAD, Freas returned to creating illustrations for Astounding Science Fiction, which by this time had taken the name Analog. He also began doing more book cover illustrations. In 1973, Freas had the chance to illustrate science reality, when he was commissioned to design the crew patch for the Skylab I NASA mission. He also painted posters for NASA to promote the space program, and these posters are now displayed at the Smithsonian Institution. During the second half of the 1970s, Freas was commissioned by Laser Books to illustrate a line of science fiction novels. He created the cover art for the entire series, 58 books in all. In 1977, Freas turned his talents to the inside of books, writing a memoir of his work, which contained images of his illustrations, tales from his career, and thoughts on illustrating. That year, the band Queen contacted him to create the album cover for News of the World, based on an illustration Freas had done more than 20 years earlier. Freas continued his work through the 80s, 90s and into the new millennium, still illustrating book covers and continuing his long-standing work with Analog magazine to the end of his career.
He died in 2005 in Los Angeles.
Selected Magazine Covers:
Weird Tales, November 1950. Rockville, MD: Wildside Press.
Mad #40, July 1958. New York City: EC Publications.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, August 1965.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, June 2001. Norwalk, CT: Penny Press/Dell Magazines.
Frank Kelly Freas: The Art of Science Fiction. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Company Publishers, 1977.
A Separate Star. Virginia Beach, VA: Greenswamp Publications, 1984.
Skylab Patchwork. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Washington, D.C., 1973.
Martin, Douglas. "F. K. Freas, Who Drew the Devilish Face of Mad Magazine, Dies at 82." The New York Times 5 Jan. 2005, natl. ed.: C13.