In The Gutter: Frank Thorne Interview

thorne_redsonjaFrank Thorne is the artist behind countless comics, and the writer of some of the best illustrated erotica ever to see print. Frank Thorne’s career rocketed into orbit after his epic run on the original “Red Sonja” series of the 1970s, after which he created some of the world of comicdom’s most memorable women including: “Ghita of Alizarr” (for the Warren publication 1984) , “Lann” (Heavy Metal Magazine) , Moonshine “McJugs”  (Playboy), and “Danger Rangerette” (National Lampoon/High-Times). Most recently he has returned to Playboy where you can catch his gag cartoons, run in almost every new issue of the magazine.

Note: I have never given myself credit for authoring any of the articles found on the Carnal Comics blog. But since Mr. Thorne mentions me by name, I guess you know now. Enjoy the interview.

  1. In your memoir, “Drawing Sexy Women,” you site Alex Raymond as your main inspiration for wanting to become a cartoonist: yet, you also describe writing him a fan letter and receiving a rather off-putting response; and then later meeting him in person, only to again have a less than favorable encounter. What made you want to press on in cartooning, even after one of your favorite, if not your #1 favorite artist, turned out to be such a disappointment?

In reflection, Raymond’s gift was so enormous that all is forgiven. He was taken from us at a young age, a terrible loss. And here I am, resembling Methuselah, still at the board, cranking out Playboy gags.

Now a word about Nick Blodgett before what is sure to be a series of unconscionable harangues. Nick is a lad of twenty thorne_ghita_alizarr_v1_cvrharvests, very bright, which gainsays his contacting me for this torrent of verbiage. Nick is no mere fan boy; he has broad interests, which makes him very good company. Although for the near term his vision is limited, he has the g imlet eye of a seasoned practitioner of the craft. Nick is also my rep, which makes him the youngest agent representing the world’s oldest cartoonist. Nick has placed books two and three of “The Alizarrian Trilogy” with the diverse and funky Carnal Comics, which has a special meaning for me.  Carnal and Holly-Go- Lightly Weinberg connected me with the fabulous Tiffany Million. Now retired, Tiff was one of the top adult actresses of all time. She performed in a video as Ghita of Alizarr, it was shot in the same studio that my Playboy Channel segment with Linda Behrle was produced.  I love actors; in the presence of a toothsome actress with ample bosoms I become oleomargarine.

2. You’re perhaps best known for your incredible run on the “Red Sonja” series of the nineteen seventies, a series which garnered not only praise from your typical male comic reader, but had an enormous female following as well. Why di­­d this heroine succeed in pleasing both boys and girls alike when so many others had failed in the past? After all, Red Sonja was the first character to have a convention dedicated entirely to her, not even Wonder Woman achieved this honor.

ITEM: For the uninitiated it must be noted that all the above occurred over 30 years ago. For those that resonate with the Sonja phenomenon, and have access to comic book archives, I reference my last comic book done before Sonja in 1975: “Son of Dracula,” published by Atlas, cover price 12 cents.  It’s evident that I was ready stylistically, then fate stepped in and Archie Goodwin plopped “The Redhead” in my lap. Kismet! Sonja was easy; I fell madly in love with her. She was as real to me as your old pair of sneakers. Ham that I am, I connived with the help of a sizable bevy of talented people, the shows, the convention hoopla, and the rest.  Sonja, from her very first appearances, stirred unseemly emotions in both males and females. I’m told it was the sexiest title on the stands at the time, which explains why young males grabbed the books. I received a lot of mail from both genders while drawing the fiery-haired swordswoman. Perhaps her female fans identified with the fact that Sonja was a virgin, and no man could have her lest he first defeat her in combat with a sword, which is the granddaddy of all phallic symbols.  Great concept, and we have Roy Thomas to thank for that. Robert E. Howard’s Sonja was just a smidgen in his novella “Shadow Of The Vulture.” Remember, I just drew the dame; it’s Roy who should get the credit for Sonja’s success.

ITEM: Moroto is my favorite Sonja delineator, Howie Chayken’s was fresh, loose, and very alive, Smith’s looked like a guy, Buscema’s was pure poetry, but Estaban remains my favorite.

3. You’ve met a great many beautiful women over the course of your career, and have a great many more pictures of cuties in your scrapbook collection. What is it about your wife that stole the heart of the Wizard Frank Thorne and continues to keep it under lock and key?

Marilyn is my one and only immortal beloved, all the rest is preposterous fantasy. It’s been 62 years of bliss.

4. In an interview conducted in the magazine, “Amazing Heroes,” circa 1987, you stated that you weren’t so sure if comics should be considered high art. Has that opinion changed over the years?

Comics have come a long way since the eighties when that interview was conducted. A graphic novel has even won a Pulitzer Prize, if you still don’t consider them “high art” then what is?

To me, the Pulitzer Prize winner, “Maus,” was ponderous and crudely drawn, but, because I am a staunch supporter of  Israel, the book was important. I still don’t consider comics “high art.” It’s great that somebody does; the value of my originals has skyrocketed, especially the Sonja stuff, the looming new Sonja movie has created renewed interest in all things pertaining to The Redhead.

5. You have remarked before that comics are very similar to theater, but you have never really expounded on that idea. Are there any specific plays or playwrights that have particularly inspired your work?

Among contemporary playwrights David Mamet comes to the fore, especially “Glengarry Glen Ross.” It’s better than “Death of a Salesman” by a country mile. Mamet’s output is wildly uneven. Lucky guy, he was once married to Lindsey Crouse. Fellini, although not a playwright, had a great influence on my work. When Ghita was published in Italian I received a letter from the maestro; it’s framed and hangs on my studio wall.

6. Long time fans of yours have probably noticed that a familiar character appears in most of your tales, that of yourself. What is the reason for including your likeness as one of the characters, and which one do you most identify with?

Having been an amateur magician for a short period early in my ignoble career, Thenef/Ford is me.  As a functional alcoholic and a dispenser of fraudulent myths, I proudly shamble to stage front and do an arabesque and a pirouette passé.

7. You seem to draw fuel for crafting the personalities and appearances of those that populate your worlds from real people. For example, Ghita is modeled after Linda Behrle, with a few other personality traits of the original Sonja models thrown in, am I right?  If this is the case, then what led to the creation of the sub-troll, Dahib?

Dahib can freely express his love for the tawdry Golden Goddess, the wizard is dumb to the task, for his fealty was ever to his beloved Masalina, who was murdered along with her unborn child at the outset of the stories. In “Sprite,” the second book of the trilogy, soon to be published by Carnal, Dahib is transformed by sorcery into Brael, a handsome human who has unbridled sex with Ghita, the reigning nympho queen of golden-spired Alizarr.

8. This is somewhat of a selfish question, as not all of our readers may be familiar with one of your most recent books, “The Crystal Ballroom,” chronicling your high school years. But whatever happened to the lovely, sweet, albeit, troubled girl, Alice Southern, whom you developed somewhat of a romance with?

Alice was a real person, although I changed the spelling of her last name. The rest of the account is true, alas, I never learned of her fate. She was among muses of my youth. Not to forget Lenore Lans, which was her real name, in later years she morphed into “Lann.” Of course there was Alex Raymond’s Dale Arden, the raven-haired beauty with the wasp waist who roamed alien worlds with “Flash Gordon.”

9. Continuing along the lines of the same subject, your more recent work has seemed to deal with the consequences of the emotions that go hand in hand with sex, as well as the negative effects of sexual abuse. Are you in some way trying to make amends for previous work, which only placed the spotlight on the fun one can have with sex, or is it just another way for you to explore the subject matter?

Voilá! You’ve hit the very heart of the matter! And makes it evident that you read “Nymph,” the first book of the trilogy, published in 2006 by Fantagraphics. Thanks, Nick!

Item: Only in prose fiction can you get into the exquisite inner workings of a character’s psyche. In “Nymph” sexual abuse of children is ventilated, while incest, sodomy, and homosexuality are rendered easily in prose.  A “Nymph” graphic novel would be the size of the Manhattan telephone book. Each book of the trilogy is amply illustrated with pencil drawings, one every page or two, but they don’t impede the flow of prose. I’m reaching for a different audience with this series, and the mail I’ve received concerning “Nymph” is far from the usual correspondence.

10. During the past several years you’ve returned to “Playboy” magazine where the adventures of another of your blonde bombshells, “Moonshine McJugs” was first published. Recently your work for “Playboy” has been a little bit different than what it was in the past; instead of comic strips you are doing full page gags. How do the two compare, and are the gags as satisfying for you as drawing a strip?c79c25a9c4509cbe

The Playboy full color, full-page gag,s are the ultimate challenge and it’s the best fun ever; and a high-wire act for an old geezer.  Example: For several years I’ve been trying to develop a cartoon that renders the Niagara of porn on the Internet. Finally nailed it and Hef bought the gag. It’s funny too; it HAS to be funny. You can have a beautiful drawing with any number of gorgeous dames, but if the funny part is missing it won’t play in Podunck. The Internet is also the biggest brothel in the history of mankind and for some time I’ve been trying to envision it in a single (funny) image.

11. I think a question all of your fans would like an answer to, is when will you attend another convention? Surely you must have at least enough energy for one more San Diego Comic Con stored in that impressive beard of yours?

Humm, looking into my crystal ball I see no conventions in my future.

12. The late Tom Sutton was one of your good friends, at least a good phone buddy as you described him. With the death of Mr. Sutton, and so many others of your contemporaries, do you ever feel as though the world of comics has gone and passed you by? What drives you to continue to create, even at the age of almost eighty? Sorry to bring up your age, but it’s easily available on Wikipedia anyway.

Think of me as the figurehead on The Flying Dutchman plowing through the roiling seas of dotage. Many of my generation of craftsmen have passed, yet a remnant remains, and I hope they’re working. In this racket you don’t have to retire. I can’t retire; I never had a job.

13. Your work has gained quite a reputation for being at the center of controversy, with an issue of the hardcore series, “Iron Devil,” being seized by Oklahoma Police, and “Lann” being taken off the shelves in Finland. In both of the above mentioned cases these pieces were labeled as pedophilia. What is your stance on minors portrayed in sexual situations in art? Is it okay because they’re just drawings, and drawings don’t have ages, or is there a definitive line someone can cross, where their art should now be considered obscene in the eyes of the law?

The sequence in Lann, wherein the rejuvenated Shard (Me) beds the porn star, is one of the funniest I’ve ever done; the whole of the second half of Lann is good for a few chuckles. Label it pornography, pedophilia’ or whatever you will, if it’s really funny and elegantly drawn, it warrants an audience. I enjoy being a pornographer.  Times and mores change. Twenty years ago the local press wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot bargepole, now I’m turning down interviews. Until you flew from CA for a visit, and to arrange this interview, all of the reporters have been fetching young women. I mean some of my stuff is really dirty, and here I am sitting facing these babes talking about my “métier” while thinking unchaste thoughts.

Item: Yes, Nick, to answer your excellent question, the line can be crossed, but it’s fading with each passing year. I’ve crossed it; I hope that I’ve done so with a certain grace.

14. Have any of your children or grandchildren expressed an interest in following in your footsteps?

None. Marilyn is an extremely gifted, Julliard trained musician; all of our children received the music talent.

15. Although you’ve made a living out of drawing and writing comics, you have said before that you do not read many comics. Out of the few you have read which ones have captured your attention and interest? Can you specifically speak on the art of Richard Corben, whom you have admitted to being a fan of?

Corben? I’m his #1 fan. Al Williamson did some great work; talk about grace, Al had it all. Although he cannot produce because of his illness, his stuff will linger with his fans long after we both are dust.

16. Your series “Ghita of Alizarr” was once optioned as a film, but never hit the silver screen. Would you care to comment on the current status of the property, is there any chance it might ever become a fantastic flick?

Ryder Windham, one of the top writers at Lucasfilm is developing a screen treatment for a PG13 version of Ghita of Alizarr. What I’ve seen of it so far is wonderful. When the property was first optioned I attempted the treatment; it was awful. Ryder is coming in with an astonishing concept, fresh and very now. I take pride in having had a small part in the realization of the Sonja movies.

17. Does Frank Thorne, the Wizard of comics, believe in magic?

Alas, no, the laws of nature have never been reversed. There is no unexplained phenomenon.

18. Before you became a professional gun for hire in the comics’ industry, you had somewhat of a successful run as a jazz musician. At what point did you decide to give up music? This decision must have been a difficult one. Do you ever wonder what would have happened had you gone in the direction of music instead?

I played some impressive gigs in my youth, but I didn’t have the real talent to have a career in music. Marilyn has it; she’s been a professional musician all her life.

19. Are there any projects or books Frank Thorne fans should look out for in the future?

The co mpletion of The Alizarrian Trilogy, and a book of the Playboy cartoons Hef passed on. After all these years there’s a sizable number, and with commentary, it would be terrific book. Hey, Nick; you’re my agent, find me a publisher!

20. How do you want the world to remember you?

I’m thinking, I’m THINKING. Wait! My Johnson died, but I’m still producing, this proves that there IS life after death! That’s it! Thorne outlived his Johnson! fthorne4

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2 Responses to “In The Gutter: Frank Thorne Interview”

  1. please give credit to this inmense artist… and write correctly his name, which is Esteban Maroto…

  2. heavy metal september 1984 p.59 : “lann”, by Frank Thorne.

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