Tomorrow's the big 300th episode spectacular, but don't gloss over today's entry. Within, I discuss the best comic book creator you had never heard of before this year. Let's hope you never forget his work. (Archive.)
299. Fletcher Hanks
Fletcher Hanks, Sr. is truly obscure, but the comics internet has taken a shining to him recently, most notably because of the new collection of his work, I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets, put together by Paul Karasik. Here's how Mr. Karasik described the work of Mr. Hanks in this Newsarama interview:
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, a story that got you interested in comics in the first place, 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, believe me. And it was written and drawn by a guy you never heard of: Fletcher Hanks. Welcome home.
Dating back to the late 30s and early 40s, Hanks' work reads like a fever dream, some mad hallucination that nevertheless fills the reader with wonder. His prose and dialogue may seem strange and over-the-top, and his grasp of anatomy appears nonexistant, but his stories are filled with evidence of an unbridled imagination unlike anything else out there. The characters are beautifully ugly, and their world really comes alive. I know I use these turns of phrase all the time, but I mean them. Fletcher Hanks's work-- and he produced work under a variety of names, from Henry Fletcher to Barclay Flagg-- is like a portal to some surreal dream dimension. There's an amazing sensibility about it that may be hard for some to appreciate. He's been called the Ed Wood of comics. I don't know if I'd say that, but if you happen to think of Ed Wood as an obscure and unappreciated visionary, then go ahead and make that comparison.
Hanks created such characters as Space Smith; Fantomah, "Mystery Woman of the Jungle," who filled the niche of "Egyptian princess revived as jungle queen who can turn into a super-powered zombie goddess" and might just be the first female superherp; and, perhaps most notably, Stardust, the Super-Wizard from space, a strange, omnipotent crime-fighting giant from beyond the moon. All of their stories are amazing-- whether it's Fantomah versus crazed gorillas, Stardust turning some dude into a bizarre giant head and hurtling him into a space pocket, or Lord knows what else. Fletcher Hanks was truly a unique comics talent who produced some brilliantly bizarre work.
Hanks may have been a great comics creator, but he was not a great person. From all accounts, he was an abusive alcoholic who abandoned his family and died on a park bench. As author John Gardner once wrote, however, writers become better people when they're writing. Such is also true, I say, for comic book creators. Fletcher Hanks may not have been a good human, but his work was excellent, and it's his stories I choose to celebrate.
When Jules Feiffer, R. Crumb, and the late great mad genius himself, Kurt Vonnegut, tell you that Fletcher Hanks made comics worth reading, you listen. Really, don't listen to me, but keep their words and opinions in mind.
You can find many more Stardust stories to read at this site. The site for Karasik's book features a Fantomah story here, and you can also find stories featuring Space Smith and even Tabu, Wizard of the Jungle here. Many more links, some to further stories, can also be found on the unfortunately anemic Wiki.