October 12, 2007

The Strange, Horrible World of Fletcher Hanks

I first saw Fletcher Hanks' work in the essential collection "Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969" and was so haunted by it, I picked up the compilation of most of his known comics, "I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets". All the scans to your left are from this book, in no rational order. His drawings have the naive look of Henry Darger, crossed with the nightmarish symbolism of Rory Hayes (minus the drug references). I expect it may look like shit at first glance, but there's something communicated which is so immediate and vital, it's difficult to articulate. I'm not one of those to argue what qualifies as art and what doesn't, but there's some sort of genius to this crude, twisted stuff. Then there's his writing style. Every story is the same: the first couple pages set up the villain carrying out a disaster of global proportions. After thousands are already killed, he's captured by our hero and subjected to a fate worse than death. Hanks relishes these moments, often devoting the entire second half (sometimes more) of the story to it. For example, Stardust The Super Wizard transforms a gang of terrorists into rats. Then he manifests a panther to chase them to the ocean. As they try to swim to safety, he creates an undercurrent to drown all of them except their leader, who still has his human head on a rat body, and then he's turned in to the F.B.I. for interrogation. Another example: Fantomah, mystery woman of the jungle, morphs into a floating skull with blond hair, transforms the villain into a neanderthal, and drops him into a valley of man-eating animals. No mercy is spared, no lessons are learned. It all makes sense when you learn what sort of man Fletcher Hanks really was. He worked in the 1930's for a bottom-of-the-barrel publisher which turned out such crap that no one would want to collect it, so his books are beyond rare. Even among hardcore comics nerds, virtually nothing was known about him until very recently, when the editor of this collection tracked down his son. I'll quote him here at length: "My father was a drunk, plain and simple. Life around our house was hell. He kicked me so hard once at the top of the stairs that I landed halfway down. I couldn't speak properly as a kid in school, because I was a nervous wreck. My sister and I talked about killing him. If there was a gun in the house, I would've killed him dead for abusing my mother. We'd sit on each side of her when he'd get home rip roarin' drunk, to protect her. He crushed my mother's face with his fist... didn't call the doctor, just let the bones knit themselves. He left when I was ten. Died sometime in the 1970's, must've been 90 years old. The cops found him frozen to death on a park bench in new york city. He may not be the man you admire.... there may have been two Fletcher Hanks who were cartoonists, but there was only one son-of-a-bitch like my old man." Click Here for an incredible sequence of events, too big to reproduce on this page.

1 comment:

SpaceMan5000 said...

I pre-ordered "I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets" when it was first solicited, the order got canceled and I kind of forgot about it. Thanks for reminding me.

This guy's work is sick and it sounds like he was a fucking prick so it all adds up...!