Frank Frazetta’s Dark Kingdom artwork, sold for a record $5m at Heritage Auctions.

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Dark Kingdom by Frank Frazetta (1928-2010) was first published as the cover for Karl Edward Wagner’s 1976 Kane series Dark Crusade novel.

In addition to being one of Frazetta’s most popular prints, it has been a favoured image in every Frazetta anthology, as well as being one of the most popular attractions at the Frazetta Museum in East Strousberg, Pennsylvania, for decades.

On the first day of the auction the 18in x 2ft (45.5 x 61cm) oil on pressboard sold for $5m (£3.9m), which proved to be the highest price for any lot in the sale. With buyer’s premium, the $6m all-in figure broke the record held since 2019 by Egyptian Queen, a 1969 work also by Frazetta, which was used as the cover of Eerie magazine No 23 that year. Heritage sold that image in 2019 for $4.32m (£3.4m) or $5.4m with premium (ATG No 2399).

That work had in turn beaten the previous record held by another Frazetta image, Death Dealer 6, which Heritage had sold for $1.5m (£1.11m) – or $1.792m with premium – in May 2018 (ATG No 2344).

From comics to book jackets

Frazetta had begun drawing for comic books when only a teenager. His surname was actually Frazzetta but he dropped one z because “it just looked better”. In the 1940s and 50s he drew for comic strips such as Lil’ Abner and comic books including Famous Funnies. His first Hollywood job was drawing the poster artwork for the 1965 movie What’s New Pussycat? written by Woody Allen.

His best-known work was for book jackets involving his fantasy images of fierce, tough heroes and buxom damsels. In 1966 his design for the cover of Conan the Adventurer, a collection of four fantasy short stories, established Frazetta as an artist whose work would sell books.

His popularity also coincided with the rise of heavy metal music in the 1970s and his pictures were used on a range of album covers.

US rock band Molly Hatchet used Frazetta’s artwork on three albums. The Dark Kingdom image appeared on Flirtin’ with Disaster in 1979. It looked like a perfect match. The group had named itself after a lady of the night who allegedly mutilated and decapitated her clients (one can only assume she was never concerned by the lack of repeat business).

If Frazetta artwork appeals but an original is beyond your budget, a paperback copy of the Dark Crusade book featuring the Dark Kingdom image costs about £30 on AbeBooks (plus shipping), whereas on May 18 this year a copy of the vinyl album Flirtin’ with Disaster appeared in an auction at Barry Hawkins in Norfolk alongside the two other Molly Hatchet records that featured Frazetta’s work. The lot achieved a hammer price of £23.