An Interview With Frank Thorne - Red Sonja Artist & Wizard at Large

Written by Bryan Stroud

Frank Thorne posing with a Red Sonja statue.

Frank Thorne poses with a Red Sonja cosplayer, 1976.

Frank Thorne (born June 16, 1930) is an American comic book artist-writer, best known for the Marvel Comics character Red Sonja. Beginning his career as an artist in the 1940's, Frank turned out a multitude of stories for Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, The Green Hornet, Tom Corbett Space Cadet, Tomahawk, Mighty Samson, Enemy Ace and numerous others.

Red Sonja was originally a minor Robert E. Howard 16th-century gunslinger character ("Red Sonya") who was made a mainstay of the sword and sorcery Conan canon by Roy Thomas. After the character was spun off into a solo feature, Thorne succeeded penciler Dick Giordano in drawing her for Marvel Feature (1975) #2, continuing through most of her 1977-79 solo series, Red Sonja.

Thorne went on to create a number of erotic fantasy comics and characters, alongside his other works. These include creating, writing and drawing the features "Moonshine McJugs" for Playboy; "Lann" in Heavy Metal; and "Danger Rangerette" in National Lampoon, as well as several others.

It was a short, right-to-the-point sort of interview with Frank Thorne, but even at that, his rich sense of humor shows through.

This interview originally took place via email on June 21, 2011.

Marvel Feature (1975) #2, cover by Frank Thorne.

Bryan Stroud:  According to my research you started in 1948 at Standard Comics doing romance work.  True?  

Frank Thorne: My ignoble career started in the pulps, before Standard.

Stroud:  Comics wasn't the most respectable profession back in the day.  What led you there.

Thorne:  All I ever wanted to be was a cartoonist

Stroud:  Did you attend an art school?  If so, which one?

Thorne: The Art Career School, atop the Flatiron Building at 23rd and 5th in Manhattan.

Stroud: You've been a penciler, inker and writer.  Is any of those roles a favorite?

Thorne:  I prefer to do it all

Stroud:  What other artists have influenced you?

Thorne: Alex RaymondHal Foster, and Neil O'Keefe.

Stroud:  You've worked for virtually everyone in the business, from DC and Marvel to Dell, Warren, Gold Key, Seaboard, Archie and Dynamite.  Where did you feel most comfortable? How did the companies contrast?

Thorne: I NEVER worked for Dynamite, they just reprinted all my Sonja stories, without permission or recompense. I did but one series for Marvel--Red Sonja.

Adventure Comics (1938) #434 pg.1, art penciled by Frank Thorne and inked by Jim Aparo.

Stroud: When you worked at Marvel, were they giving you Marvel style scripts?  If so, how did you like those as compared to a full script?

Thorne: Never worked in the "Marvel Style"; always a written script.

Stroud: Did you have any favorite collaborators as far as writers?

Thorne: Roy Thomas was the best.

Stroud: How about editors?

Thorne: Roy Thomas and Joe Kubert.

Stroud: Are the legends about Robert Kanigher true?

Thorne: Don’t know any, but he was a damn good writer

Stroud: You've worked in many different genres, to include adventure, war, mystery, horror, sword and sorcery, jungle and western.  Do you have a favorite?

Thorne: I LOVE drawing women.

Stroud: Much like Russ Heath, you've not done any superhero work.  Is that a conscious decision?

Thorne: I don't like superheroes.

Stroud: The list of characters you've worked on is pretty impressive.  Flash Gordon, Green Hornet, Conan, Red Sonja, Dracula, Moby Dick, Tarzan, The Phantom and Enemy Ace to name just a few.  Were there any restrictions with how you could portray them or did you feel pretty free to do what you wanted?

Thorne: They always gave me leeway.

Dr. Guy Bennett daily strip from 4-8-60, art by Frank Thorne.

Stroud: You've done syndicated strip work on Perry Mason.  How did that come about?

Red Sonja (1977) #10, cover by Frank Thorne.

Thorne: I was 20 years old and walked in to King Features with my samples, they gave me the Perry Mason Daily and Sunday.

Stroud: Was it a good gig?  A strip seemed to be the holy grail back in the day.

Thorne: The pay was huge! We bought a house and a yellow convertible.

Stroud: What was your typical production rate?

Thorne: I knocked the daily and Sunday (which I hand colored) each week for near two years.

Stroud: Who were your friends in the business?

Thorne: Hy Eisman who writes and draws Popeye and the Katzenjammer Kids these days, and Fred Fredericks who writes and draws Mandrake.

Stroud: The life of a freelancer can be tough, but you've hung in there for decades.  Any regrets?

Thorne: Better hand-to-mouth than 9-to-5

Stroud: Are there any characters you'd have liked to work on, but didn't get the opportunity?

Thorne: "Buffy" by "Dementia"!

Stroud:  Do you think the industry will survive?  Sales seem to be slumping.

Thorne: Comics will always be around, in some form or other.

Stroud: What do you think of the television and movie adaptations of comic book characters? Have you seen good or poor examples, in your opinion?

Moonshine McJugs, drawn by Frank Thorne.

Thorne: Superman 2 was good, Hellboy great, Spider-Man so-so. I don't watch many comic book movies. I love "The Whole Wide World"; a semi fact tale of REH. (Robert E. Howard.)

Stroud: Do you still attend conventions and are you still The Wizard?

Thorne: Haven't attended a con in decades. Nobody but Bryan Stroud would remember me. I've hung up my wizard's hat

Stroud: Are you doing commission work?

Thorne: Yes, Mighty Nib is my agent.

Stroud: Any plans to retire?

Thorne: Never hadda job, so how can I retire?

Stroud: What job has given you the most satisfaction?

Thorne: "Moonshine McJugs" (Playboy) is my favorite. I've been contributing to Playboy since 1980.

Stroud: Did you expect this to be your career, meaning as an illustrator?

Thorne: I hoped it would be, but even if illustrative I'm ever a cartoonist.

Stroud: Any advice for those who want to break in today?

Thorne: Keepa drawin' realistically, and THEN head for Henti, or whatever, preferably your own style. 

Stroud: Do you use the computer at all or still working by hand?

Thorne: I work by hand, but the computer is the greatest research tool in the Universe!

Stroud: What are your preferred tools of the trade?

Thorne: Strathmore 2 ply 500 series vellum, Hunt’s 102 crow quill pen points, and Dr. Martin's TECH dyes

Stroud: What's your process when composing a page?

Thorne:  A CLOSE-UP on every page makes them work.

Although he is best known for his talents in drawing women, Mr. Thorne’s horror art is also to be held very highly. Reproduced here in it’s entirety is the story “Pingo!” from House of Mystery (1951) #221. Written by Michael Fleisher with art by Frank Thorne.

House of Mystery (1951) #221 pg.01.

House of Mystery (1951) #221 pg.02.

House of Mystery (1951) #221 pg.03.

House of Mystery (1951) #221 pg.04.

House of Mystery (1951) #221 pg.05.

House of Mystery (1951) #221 pg.06.

House of Mystery (1951) #221 pg.07.

House of Mystery (1951) #221 pg.08.

House of Mystery (1951) #221 pg.09.

House of Mystery (1951) #221 pg.10.

House of Mystery (1951) #221 pg.11.

Frank Thorne (as the Wizard) poses with a Ghita cosplayer.


Bryan Stroud

Bryan Stroud is a longtime fan of DC Comics, particularly the Silver and Bronze Ages, and has been published in a number of places over the last decade plus, to include the magazines Comic Book Creator andLurid Little Nightmare Makers and websites like The Silver Lantern and Comics Bulletin.  Bryan wrote the afterword to “Think Pink,” is a frequent contributor to BACK ISSUE magazine, Ditkomania and co-authored Nick Cardy:  Wit-LashHe and his indulgent wife have dined with Joe and Hilarie Staton and Jim Shooter.  He owns a comic book spinner rack that reminds him of his boyhood.