Being a sucker for the different I was much taken when I first came across Fletcher Hanks. The first comic book artist to write, pencil, ink and letter all of his own stories Hanks worked in comics from 1939 to 1941. Published by Fantastic Comics among characters he created  STARDUST THE SUPER WIZARD, FANTOMAH THE MYSTERY WOMAN OF THE JUNGLE, SPACE SMITH,  and BIG RED McLANE, KING OF THE NORTH WOODS.

Seems I have come late to the party as Google throws up many comic strip artists and writers on comics already discussing Hanks work. There are collected editions. Despite acknowledging all his limitations in drawing, plotting, pacing and layout there seems to be a wish among many to give him some significance as a creator. Beautiful, influential and Wow inducing have all been used about the work. Hanks imagery is certainly striking. In part that is due to the unvaried line and the ben day colouring that gives all early comics some appeal.

There was however presumably a reason why none of Hanks created characters outlived him.

The artwork has been referred to as childlike and that taken to be part of their appeal. Many of individual images do have a peculiar impact. Some are evocative but many more are simply grotesque. The stories however are outrageous in their disregard for reason. Anything is possible in the way of magic, mental, physical, or ‘scientific’ powers. This is less childlike than plain silly.

Having looked at a good deal of Hanks’ output the feeling I was left with was one of unease. It felt a little like looking into a creepier corner of a troubled mind. Perhaps seeing them in weekly doses would have lessened that effect. The cruel and unusual punishments that are devised and depicted befalling malefactors is unsettling when they become such a repeated theme for Hanks. The criminals in the most part being not so much law-breakers but beings set on mindless destruction, the story is not ‘fighting crime’ but ‘flaying criminals’.  A psychiatrist’s view could be helpful.

Even given that Hanks was there at the beginning of superhero comics and part of its early growth, that he gave the art of pictorial narrative anything useful, apart from license to do as you like, I think not.

Lots on the Internet.

Found my first at https://www.printmag.com/post/fletcher-hanks

A site which also has other interesting things about design, comics and illustration. They do interrupt a lot, quite keen that you should enter their design award competition.


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