DIVINE JUSTICE OF THE WEIRDO GODS
FLETCHER HANKS’S WEIRDLY PROPORTIONED FIGURES ARE PERFECT FOR A COMIC THAT RECALLS NOTHING SO MUCH AS THE SCRAWLINGS OF A RAGE-FILLED SCHOOLBOY.
Fletcher Hanks, nicknamed “Christy” after Baseball Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson, was, by all accounts, a louse. An alcoholic and a wife-beater, Hanks once kicked his four-year-old son, Fletcher Jr., down a flight of stairs. The punt and subsequent tumble left the boy unable to speak intelligibly for five years. “My old man didn’t like runts,” explained the younger Fletcher. The boy was runty, to be sure, and suffered from rickets, but his dad’s rage was something beyond reckoning. “My father,” he said, “was the most no-good drunken bum you can find.”
When Hanks wasn’t pummeling his wife or abusing his young son, he wrote and drew superhero comic-book stories. Hanks completed a few dozen of them between 1939 and 1941, the dawn of what is now considered the genre’s golden age. There are few remaining copies because the characters didn’t catch on with readers, and Hanks, as an artist, didn’t catch on with collectors. Among his creations were Stardust, an interplanetary crime fighter, and Fantomah, a white jungle-protectress.
This month, Fantagraphics publishes I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! The Comics of Fletcher Hanks. Edited by cartoonist Paul Karasik, who discovered the artist in the early ’80s while he was an associate editor at Art Spiegelman’s comics review Raw, the fifteen-story collection boasts visual wonders freakish and rare. There are a rabid mandrill and a furry Venusian, asphyxiated magazine editors and giant bipedal rats. Bombings, gassings, and islands turned waterside down are all part of the Hanks landscape. Most peculiar of all, however, is that, contrary to every rule of the genre, the stories are almost completely devoid of fights.
Most traditional superhero comics follow a predictable format: The villain does something villainous. Hero and villain fight. The villain is captured, or beaten into submission, or is accidentally killed. Within this tripartite structure, the pre-conflict setup and post-conflict comeuppance serve largely as bookends to the fight scenes, which make up the narrative meat. In the tales of Fletcher Hanks, however, there are hardly any fights at all—few, certainly, of any consequence or duration. Instead, there are extended setups during which the villain commits a variety of horrific acts. After a speedy capture (often without a blow thrown) the reader is treated to panel after panel of the villain being tortured, humiliated, and tossed about.
We hope you enjoy this excerpt.
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