That Queen and science fiction are like two peas in a pod was never distinctly expressed, but absolutely irrefutable. During their career they often used themes and images that prove their undying love for the genre. Initially I was going to write an article about Queen’s appreciation for science fiction in general. That proved to be a hopeless endeavour. Queen’s love for the genre is much bigger and more interesting than I orginially thought. I wanted to write about the time-traveling volunteers of ’39 and Queen’s tribute to George Lucas, the relationship between Freddie and princess Leia, the lawsuit with George Lucas, Starfleets, cyborgs, Darth Vaders and much more! But that would become a small book. So I’m going to chop it up in different chapters and start off with the story of ‘Frank, the robot’.
Who is Frank the robot?
On 28 October 1977 Queen fans got to see a peculiar album sleeve for the sixth album ‘News of the world’. A giant robot on a green background holds the lifeless and bloody bodies of Brian May and Freddie Mercury in his hand, while John Deacon and Roger Taylor fall out of its grip. The image exudes a very strange feeling for a few reasons. First of all, the facial expression of the robot, later called Frank, raises many questions. What exactly happened here? Did he kill the members of Queen? Why did he do this? He doesn’t look bloodthirsty at all, but rather sad and repentant. In addition, the fans were not used to this from Queen. On the first couple of albums we saw a photo of Freddie during a performance, the band’s iconic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ portrait and some designs with their coat of arms. (Want to know more about said coat of arms? You can find it in the blog post: Freddie Mercury – The Graphic Designer). So this choice of style was not expected at all. That is exactly what the band wanted to achieve with the cover and especially with the music of this record.
If you open the sleeve completely you will see Frank with the Queen members on the front. On the back you see the robot grabbing at a crowd of people who had gathered in the arena for a Queen concert.
Roger Taylor is a huge science fiction fan. The cover of an old sci-fi magazine had always stuck with him. In 1954, the October issue of the magazine ‘Astounding Science Fiction’ featured the same sad robot that would later appear on the cover of ‘News of the world’. This image was created for the short story ‘The Gulf Between’ by Tom Godwin. The story tells of a society in which robots can be pilot doctors, but always obey the rules! It finds its apotheosis with a man trapped in a spaceship that won’t stop accelerating. The pilot is unable to notify the robot, which is keeping him under sedation, that the ship must stop. What’s the moral of the story? “Machines are the servants of humans, not their equals. There will always be a gulf between Flesh and Steel. Read those five words on the panel before you and you will understand”. Those five words were: “A MACHINE DOES NOT CARE”.
The artist who created the image was called Frank Kelly Freas. He shared this about the now iconic robot: “The mechanical nature of the robot is reduced to the absolute visual minimum; his human, or his emotional, nature is emphasised to the limit. You KNOW this is no threatening automaton: this is a sentient, empathetic entity, his whole being concentrated into the one plea – ‘Fix it, Daddy…’ “
Frank meets Queen
Queen approached Freas about 24 years after the original publication to adjust his creation and switch the pilot for the four members of Queen. Frank – the artist, not the robot – was a fan of classical music and had never heard of Queen, but he was happy to re-create his iron giant. In addition, he also worked his namesake in another drawing that we can see on the inside of the album’s sleeve.
Frank lives on
Today ‘Frank, the robot’ has become an iconic image. In 2017, the record celebrated its 40 years since it first came out and the sad robot was called to action once more. This time as a pawn in the Queen edition of Monopoly, in a video for ‘All dead, all dead’ and he even opened the shows for ‘Queen + Adam Lambert’ as a moving image. In that same year, a limited edition of the record was released with a major thanks to MARVEL. Frank had to make way for a Sentinel who had the bodies of Old Man Logan, Kitty Pryde and Colossus in its grip. ‘News of the world’ was replaced by ‘Is this their world’. This image was originally created as an alternative cover for ‘X-Men: Gold #11’ by Mike del Mundo.
But for me, the most memorable of all is Frank’s cameo in Family Guy. You haven’t seen it yet? You’re in for a treat! Enjoy the video below.