Frank Thorne, ‘Red Sonja’ Artist: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

frank thorne

Facebook Frank Thorne was a comic book artist best known for his work on "Red Sonja."

Frank Thorne was a comic book artist best known for Marvel’s Red Sonja and other illustrations of “beautiful warrior women.” He died Sunday, March 7, 2021 at age 90, just a few hours before his wife, Marilyn.

The cause of death for the couple was not immediately released. Fans and fellow comic book artists and illustrators mourned Thorne’s passing in touching tributes, describing him as a legend and a legacy builder.

“A man of talent, charm and great wit. Good journey onward, Frank, you will be long remembered,” wrote comic book writer Paul Levitz.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Thorne & His Wife, Marilyn, Died Only 6 Hours Apart, But Information on How They Died Has Not Been Released

Thorne and his wife died only six hours apart from each other, according to fellow comic book artist Walter Simonson. He wrote a tribute to the couple on Facebook. Simonson was friends with both of them, but growing up, he knew Thorne only from his comics.

Simonson wrote about his fandom for Thorne’s work as a child. As he grew up, his mom unintentionally tossed out some of his comics as he aged, not realizing their importance to him. Those included illustrations by Thorne in adaptations of John Houston’s Moby Dick and Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Simonson was eventually able to replace the comics.

He shared a panel from one of Thorne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea comic adaptation, writing that it seemed to “sum up the romance, the mystery, and the danger of the story in a single drawing.”

“That’s a gift,” he added.

His post said:

Frank Thorne and his wife Marilyn departed the harbor for the last time today, about six hours apart. It seems remarkably fitting that they should do so together. They were a lovely couple. We had the great privilege of getting to know them over the past decade or so thanks to the kind auspices of John and Cathy Workman. Frank was a wizard of comics in any number of ways and one of the first artists whose work I loved long before I knew who he was or could attach a name to his comics.
That is the reason I use the nautical allusion above, rather than something related to wizards or barbarian women. At some point in my early adult life, I discovered that my Mom had thrown out a bunch of the old comics from my childhood. As the years went by and my profession manifested itself, she apologized more than once to me, but I wasn’t concerned and told her please not to fret. She was just doing a Mom’s job. There were, however, two comics that had disappeared that I made a successful effort to replace. One was an adaptation of John Houston’s Moby Dick; the other was an adaptation of Disney’s 20,000 Under the Sea. I didn’t see either movie until I was a grown up, but I loved both comics. I learned at some point that they were each drawn by Frank. For that alone, I would have loved him. Of course, he went on to create so much more wonderful work. I’ve reproduced one of my favorite panels in all the world below, from the 20,000 Leagues comic. I couldn’t tell you why. Perhaps, it is because it seemed to me to sum up the romance, the mystery, and the danger of the story in a single drawing. That’s a gift. He was terribly modest about his work, but I was a big fan, following it throughout the years, and it was a delight to me and Weezie to get to know both him and his wife. Godspeed, Frank and Marilyn. Thank you for both work and friendship. I’m glad you could go together.

2. Marvel’s Red Sonja Ran for 15 Issues & Thorne Was the Second Illustrator for the Comic Books

Thorne began drawing Red Sonja with its 1976 Marvel Feature #2, according to CBR. The character was created by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith for Marvel Comics’ Conan the Barbarian series.

Those characters were based partially on Robert E. Howard’s characters Red Sonya and Dark Agnes. Thorne became the illustrator for Red Sonja following Dick Giordano, who drew the character in Marvel Feature #1.

Thorne drew Red Sonja for most of the solo series at Marvel. It ran for a total of 15 issues from January 1977 to May 1979.

3. Thorne Found His Niche in Drawing ‘Beautiful Warrior Women,’ Which He Discussed on a 2019 Podcast

Thorne found his niche in comic book art shortly after drawing Red Sonja for the first time. Comic Book Historians spoke to him for a one-hour podcast interview in 2019. On the podcast, he discussed his lengthy career, how he found success and his early work.

He often received compliments on the women he drew and how attractive they were, he said. With Red Sonja, he found his niche. He recalled discussions with publishers after the second issue of Red Sonja was released, and described a conversation in the interview.

“Shoot, you’ve got a talent for drawing women. You should keep drawing women,” he said he was told, “which I have been doing since then.”

4. Thorne Was Considered a Frontrunner of Cosplay & Was Memorialized By Artists & Fans for His Lasting Legacy

Comic book writer Paul Levitz wrote about Thorne’s early years in comics, and described him as a person who spearheaded cosplay. He said Thorne dressed up as a wizard to act alongside a Red Sonja character following a show with Wendy Pini.

He wrote:

Bidding farewell to Frank Thorne, an artist who progressively developed his style into a more and more personal expression. I had the pleasure of working with Frank in his later DC days, when he did some magnificent work for the mystery titles, and stepped in to pencil for Jim Aparo on The Spectre, matching his storytelling approach carefully to Jim’s.
But Frank had the best time of his career on Marvel’s RED SONJA, who he made both powerful and sexy. He was probably the first working mainstream [artist] to revel in [cosplay,] becoming the Wizard who acted with Wendy Pini’s Sonja at show after show.
A man of talent, charm and great wit. Good journey onward, Frank, you will be long remembered.

5. Thorne Was Also Known for Erotic Fantasy Comics, Newspaper Strips & Graphic Novels

Thorne began his career drawing for Standard Comics in 1948, according to CBR. His work also included newspaper strips and comic books, including Perry Mason, Flash Gordon and The Green Hornet. The Red Sonja solo series ran for 15 issues from January 1977 to May 1979.

Following Red Sonja, he went on to create several erotic fantasy comics, writing and illustrating Moonshine McJugs for Playboy, Lann for Heavy Metal and Danger Rangerette for National Lampoon. He created the miniseries Ribit for Comico, and completed several graphic novels for Fantagraphics Books, including Ghita of Alizarr, The Iron Devil and The Devil’s Angel.

He won multiple awards throughout his career, including a National Cartoonists Society award in 1963, a San Diego Inkpot Award in 1978 and a Playboy editorial award. His work in Red Sonja was compiled into its own book, Frank Thorne’s Red Sonja: Art Edition.

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