Roy G. (for Gerald) Krenkel was a talented contradiction. Born in 1918 (around the time of Virgil Partch, Bernard Krigstein and Ronald Searle), he studied for a year with George Bridgman at the Art Students League circa 1938, but other than that, his misspent youth consisted of "drawing a lot, reading and collecting art books, going to art museums, and associating with a few other young art students," according to Sanford Zane Meschkow in his preface to the excellent 1974 Cities and Scenes From the Ancient World. Sketching and "doodling" were his raison d'être.
World War II interrupted this idyllic existence. The less said about that, the better. Regimentation was never a part of his makeup.
After the war, he studied with Burne Hogarth at the Cartoonists' and Illustrators' School. There he met Al Williamson, who was to become a lifelong friend and collaborator. For a while in the late 1940's and early 1950's, Roy worked with other Hogarth alumni doing comic book stories. His backgrounds were submerged beneath the stylistic inks of Wally Wood or lost behind the slap-dash efforts of Harry Harrison and Ernie Bache. It was only with Williamson that he found a sympatico talent to resonate with his muse. Together they would create beautiful stories for companies like ACG, Atlas, Eastern, the legendary EC, Harvey and Warren. He did the marvelous background city in the panels at right from the Al Williamson story, "The Unknown Ones", in Atlas' Astonishing Tales #57 in 1957.
But back to the early Fifties. Roy was making a stab at making a living. He actually drew at least one comic story all by his lonesome. At right is the splash panel for "I Was a P.O.W." from Youthful's Attack #4 (November 1952). [click the image for an enlargement.]
Some of his most intricate work was done at this time. The oft-reprinted splash page for EC's "Food for Thought" that he did with Williamson is a classic. Some lesser-known samples of his earliest solo work are in the pulp magazines of the early 50's.
Marvel Science Fiction
|Space Science Fiction - Sept. 1953||
|Click the above images for enlargements|
The earliest I've uncovered from this period is from Marvel Science Fiction (May 1952) and the latest is the sultry tribute to Norman Lindsay at the top of the page from Science Fiction Adventures (May 1954). There are also Lindsay-inspired drawings to be found in various issues of American Aphrodite, a mid-Fifties hardback "Quarterly for the Fancy-Free." The Cretan beauty at right is from volume 5, number 20. The rest of the Fifties, though, is quite spotty. Roy preferred to "doodle" and the results could fill a dozen books. The two sketches at the top of this page are just two of a dozen or so that Bud Plant, Al Davoren and I printed in Promethean Enterprises, a magazine we published circa 1970—and dozens of other fanzines of the 60's and 70's were also beneficiaries of his largess.
Well, let's face it, most of Roy's "career" consists of occasional bursts of commercial output mixed with prolonged submersion into personal creativity. He told Bhob Stewart that he "did the minimal amount of commercial work that would give him just enough to live on so he could spend his time drawing his own ideas -- with no one to please but himself." Non-paying gigs like his uncounted contributions to the Sword and Sorcery fanzine, Amra, and the Burroughs fanzine, ERB-dom, were much more interesting to Roy than getting paid to illustrate some stories in Analog. He did five or six of the latter and hundreds of the former in the early Sixties. Roy's focus was always the past, not the future.
Roy's knowledge of the past, both artistic and historic, was brought into play when Ace Books hired him to produce covers for their early 60's revival of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was this canon of three dozen books that would start a revival of fantasy fiction in that decade. The earliest to see print was At The Earth's Core for which he produced the lush jungle and figures at left. Each book had the extra bonus of a small RGK frontispiece in pen & ink. Halfway through the project, he enlisted Frank Frazetta's help. The thought of the self-effacing Krenkel trying to convince the self-assured Frazetta that Frank would actually be a success at painting goes contrary to everything we know about the two men. Still, after a couple of collaborative efforts, Roy sent Frank out on his own and the rest is history.
And speaking of history, as an inveterate collector, bookstore haunt, and student of art, Roy was the resident mentor in the history of illustration for many a young artist over the years. It was through Roy that Al Williamson was first exposed to the work of Fortunio Matania, Daniel Vierge and Joseph Clement Coll. Roy himself credits Franklin Booth, J. Allen St. John, William Walcot and Norman Lindsay as personal influences. Each new discovery or old favorite was shared with an ever-expanding circle of the cognoscenti. In Qua Brot #1 (1985), Roy is quoted by Stewart:
"I'd guess—discounting prints and clippings--I've got around 35 to 40 thousand magazines, paperbacks, books, folios, journals, fanzines, comics, etc., etc.—scattered through cabinets, shelves, wardrobes, boxes and floor—strewn in some 6 rooms--plus a cellar. At an given time I can, (usually), locate 97% of this muck—but 3% of 35/40 thou. leaves a lot of loose ends!"
That sounds a lot like my house. Much of what set me off on my life-long quest for knowledge in this arena was received second hand from Roy. His was the torch that led us all. The establishing of Bud Plant Illustrated Books and this website are the direct results of the knowledge he so freely and gleefully shared.
In 1962, about the same time that Ace was putting out the Burroughs paperbacks, Canaveral Press started an illustrated hardback series. Roy was chosen for four titles: The Cave Girl, Land of Terror, Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins, and Tales of Three Planets. One of the ten illustrations from this last title is at right. No doubt it was these and his Analog illustrations that won him the Hugo Award for best artist in 1963.
Also in those heady days of the mid-sixties, Krenkel was instrumental in the design of and was a contributor to the early issues of Jim Warren's Creepy and Eerie magazines (1964 and 1965). Some of those ground-breaking covers by Frazetta had their genesis in Krenkel sketches.
It was in the 70's that Roy's artistic star shone the brightest. First was Donald M. Grant's marvelous edition of The Sowers of the Thunder with a color dj (see left) and frontispiece and almost 100 b&w drawings in text. This was followed by Owlswick Press' Cities and Scenes from the Ancient World in 1974 (that's the cover image above). Then a stunning portfolio of paintings titled The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in 1975. In 1976, it was Richard Lupoff's Barsoom - Edgar Rice Burroughs and The Martian Vision. There was a wonderful section in Ophemera, Bhob Stewart's 1977 fanzine devoted to Roy, and the decade was neatly capped in 1979 by the companion volume to Sowers, The Road of Azrael, also by Robert E. Howard, from Donald M. Grant.
Krenkel died in 1983, and six years later Eclipse books released Swordsmen and Saurians, a wonderful coffee table book devoted to the two subjects Roy loved most to draw. There was even a limited edition which featured, in lieu of a signature, an original drawing in every copy. The photograph below is from that book and was courtesy of Frank Frazetta.To learn more about this artist, see:
|Al Williamson: His Work||Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., 1971 Promethean Enterprises|
|Cities & Scenes From the Ancient World||Roy Krenkel, 1974 Owlswick Press|
|Roy G. Krenkel Portfolio #1||Joe Manzella, 1983 Fantastic Visions|
|Qua Brot #1||Bhob Stewart, 1985 Kyle Hailey|
|Swordsmen and Saurians||Roy Krenkel, 1989 Eclipse|
|The Vadeboncoeur Collection of Knowledge||Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 2000|
or visit these fine tributes to Roy on the web:
Michael J. Ryan's Palaeoblog
Bill Hillman's ERBzine site
Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page written, designed & © 2000 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. Updated 2011.