Howard Frank

The Frank Collection, Jane and Howard Frank

Paper Tiger, 1999, 112 pages, C$36.95 tpb, ISBN 1-85585-732-4

I firmly believe that everyone should allow themselves one good expensive obsession. While you’re welcome to pick up heroin addiction if that strikes your fancy, my own Expensive Obsession is SF/Fantasy art books. At my own modest level of income, the decision to drop $35 or (much) more on art books is not inconsequent, hence my own measure of “Expensive”. The important part, though, is that these books please me. They’re gorgeous to look at, they make interesting conversation pieces, they don’t devalue much… in short they’re close to the ideal art investment for someone in my income bracket. In the past ten years, I’ve acquired nearly twenty-five of these books (Whelan, Burns, Eggleton, etc…), and I’m not planning on stopping any time soon.

My own efforts are very modest, though, compared to Jane and Howard Frank. They collect the artwork itself! As explained in the introduction to The Frank Collection art-book, this husband-and-wife team was able to transform a common fascination for SF&F artwork in an impressive collection, currently exhibited in their gigantic multi-level house. This art-book is a sampler of the wonders of SF&F art, a personal testimony on the joys of art collecting and a tour through one house whose decor belongs in glossy magazines.

It’s obvious, page after page, how much the Howards love SF&F art. They speak with reverence about famous genre artists and how lucky they were to be able to buy one of their pieces for their collection. They offer anecdotes on how they acquired some paintings, and some all-too-rare commentary on specific artworks. The after-word even discusses their conception of “stewardship” for artwork, in that they don’t own a painting as much as they have custody of it for a while. You can easily see the Franks as modern art patrons, an impression confirmed by learning in the second half of the book that they are now privately commissioning artwork! It’s a fascinating progression, from simple fans to active contributor to the state of the art.

An average chump like me can only gawk at some of the incredible art that the Franks have assembled together. Covers of books that I own, covers I have seen re-printed in other art-books, classic covers from Golden-Era magazines… the Franks have it all. The only proper response is to be amazed. (You might ask where the money comes from, but there are a few mentions of Frank being an electronics business owner.)

With this richness of content, it’s only normal to complain that the book is a bit on the thin side. A more serious complaint, however, is that we get only six pictures of the inside of their house. I suppose that security concerns might have deterred them from including more, but really, given that they spend a suitable fraction of their narrative speaking about how good this or that picture looks when place a certain way, well, it would be decent for them to give us a glimpse of the arrangement. After all, we can see more of their artwork reprinted elsewhere… but this is the book about their house and their collection.

Still, I’m most grateful for The Frank Collection. Not only at the chance for a glimpse at this “showcase of the world’s finest fantastic art”, but also at the mind of two people who are undoubtedly the world’s best collectors of SF&F art. Their enthusiasm is palpable. On some level, they sort of validate by own fixation for the field, even in a diluted form.

And that’s not even considering the perverse value of being able to point to other people with a far more expensive Expensive Obsession.