The Comic Art of Fletcher Hanks
Edited and with an afterword by Paul Karasik
Fantagraphics Books, 2007, 122 pages
“The recovery from oblivion of these treasures is in itself a work of art.”-Kurt Vonnegut
Just discovered this at work today. Fantagraphics describes it as "the work of a comics genius so obscure that many serious collectors were unaware of Fletcher Hanks...until now."
His work is everything that you want a comic book to be but so rarely is: weird, violent, stupid, fun and breathtakingly beautiful all at once. It's like a memory of a comic book story you read as a kid but are now not certain whether it really existed or not because nothing else has ever lived up to that particular type of thrill. It really existed, alright. And it was written and drawn by a guy you never heard of: Fletcher Hanks. Welcome home. - Fantagraphics Books
"No one knows a thing about Fletcher Hanks," writes editor Paul Krasalik. "This stuff is impossible to find. Nobody saved them 'cause Hanks worked on second-rate characters for third-rate publishers." But he represents an interesting time in a budding industry. "He was there at the ground floor of the comic books industry. Hanks was a true original"
But a few things are known, thanks to this collection. Hanks wrote a number of strips under a number of different names. He wrote "The Super Wizard Stardust" ("The most remarkable man who ever lived and master of interplanetary science") as Fletcher Hanks, "Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle" ("The most remarkable woman that ever lived," who "devotes her phenomenal powers to protecting the jungle born") as Barclay Flagg and the Flash Gordon-inspired "Buzz Crandall of the Space Patrol" (the "top crime buster of the universe" who lives on the "highly civilized planet of Venus and is in charge of the interplanetary secret service for both Venus and Earth") as Bob Jordan.
A brief Hanks bio and one Stardust strip are included in author Dan Nagel's book Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969. Nagel writes that "Hanks drew some of the strangest tales in comic books from the late 1930s to the early 1940s" and observes that his strips "work better as pop art brut than narrative, but are utterly immersive." The dominant theme is always cosmic disaster, with "the apocalypse just a minute away, only to be prevented by Stardust's brutal justice." In an interview with The Comics Reporter, Nagel added, "Some people might call him a primitive, but what's so great about [Hanks] is that he took this idea of superheroes as gods literally, even before anyone articulated the idea."
Included in the 128 page, full-color book are 15 of Fletcher Hanks’ finest stories as well as a comics afterword by editor Paul Karasik called “Whatever Happened To Fletcher Hanks?” This "afterword" is really interesting because Karasik tracks down his son, Fletcher Hanks, Jr. (nicknamed, like his dad, "Christy" - for baseball hurler Christy Matthews), who tells him that his father was, in real life, an alcoholic deadbeat dad who abused his family and abandoned them when Junior was 10. Though a number of artists have championed his work (among them R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Kurt Vonnegut and Gary Panter), Christy Jr. recounts how his father stole his son's allowance and broke his mother face and swears he would have killed him if given half a chance.
Merciless justice, Stardust-style
I guess we can see Fletcher Hanks' real-life violent nature reflected in his art. That's what's so bizarre about these pre-Comics Code strips. Villains (with names like De Structo, The Fifth Columnists, Slant-Eye - who is Asian, natch - Gyp Clip, Skullface, Wolf Eye, The Demon, and Org) are not just killed, they're tortured, frozen alive, even turned into rats!
One of the ironies of Hanks' mysterious life is that when died (sometime around 1970), his frozen body was found by police on a park bench in New York City. In one of his comics, Stardust imprisons villain "Gyp" Clipp in a ice chamber with the words, "In your frozen condition, you'll live forever - to think about your crimes."
More on Fletcher Hanks:
I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! (Amazon)