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22/7/2018 Civilized Destruction: Paul Karasik on Fletcher Hanks - The Washington Post

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Civilized Destruction: Paul


Karasik on Fletcher Hanks
By Express July 31, 2007

GOLDEN ERA COMIC BOOK stories (1930-1955) tend to be pretty cut and dried. A villain
commits a crime and then Superman or some other avatar of justice gently doles out the
comeuppance by swooping in and carrying them off to prison. The end.

But the stories of Fletcher Hanks were a little more vindictive. His heroes might turn that villain
into a rat with a human face, or feed him to a golden octopus, or force him to hang suspended in
the air forever next to the skeletons of his victims.

Hanks wrote and drew these bizarre stories for the first three years that comic books were in
existence and then virtually vanished. But cartoonist, former Raw editor and Fletcher Hanks
super-fan Paul Karasik used the Web not only to track down the artist’s work but also to locate
his son, Fletcher Hanks Jr., who was able to shed a little bit of light on the mystery of his
father’s fate.

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Karasik has compiled the best of Hanks’ stories into the collection “I Shall Destroy All Civilized
Planets” (Fantagraphics), and he will appear Wednesday at Politics & Prose to discuss the
book.
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22/7/2018 Civilized Destruction: Paul Karasik on Fletcher Hanks - The Washington Post
» EXPRESS: When did you first encounter the work of Fletcher Hanks?
» KARASIK: I was the associate editor of Raw magazine. In 1986 or something we reprinted a
Fetcher Hanks story. Its bold, graphic and edgy sensibility fit right in with the cutting-edge
aesthetic of Raw. After that, I didn’t think about his work for another 20 years or so. Then
somebody sent me a link to these stories online and I started sniffing around on the Internet. In
doing so I uncovered the truth behind the mystery of what happened to Fletcher Hanks.

» EXPRESS: Can you talk a little bit about the significance of Fletcher Hanks as an artist?
» KARASIK: Fletcher Hanks worked for the first three years that comic books were being
published —1939 to 1941 — then disappeared. The first issue of Action Comics came out in 1938.
Then, overnight, dozens of publishers popped up and they had to fill all of these 52 page comic
books with fresh stories. This is why so much of the early comic book art is so terrible — because
anyone could do it. It’s hard sometimes to see how great he is when he’s engulfed by talentless
packing-pellets; his work is generally smothered in the middle of third-rate comic book art. Hence
he was never really discovered until recently.

The early stage of comic books was a free for all. There was no censorship, no creative guidelines,
no house style and certainly there were no marketing studies. Fletcher Hanks was completely left
up to his own devices. He wrote, penciled, inked and lettered his own work — so his work is far
more personal than the rest of the talentless hacks who were producing work at this time. Very few
of the comic book artists were auteurs; Hanks is one of the very few artists in the history of the
comic book who was a one-man band.

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Given the fact that there was no censorship, no rules to be broken, and the fact that Hanks was a
one-man band, his dynamic storytelling sensibility is undiluted and it’s triple strength in both
vision and execution. His stories are filled with a righteous sense of retribution, and simmer with
anger. They also have their moments of surrealism and a very sophisticated sense of composition
and design. Often people will look at Hanks’ work and dismiss it as being naïve and will like it for
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22/7/2018 Civilized Destruction: Paul Karasik on Fletcher Hanks - The Washington Post
its supposed campiness, but this is a very narrow-minded appreciation of the man’s work. His
storytelling is on par with any of the great cartoonists and his sense of design and color are
peerless. So my book collects 15 of the best Fletcher Hanks stories and ends with a 16-page
afterword by myself that explains the mystery of whatever happened to Fletcher Hanks.

It’s a mistake to think this book as just another Golden Age comics compilation. The first part of
the book resonates with the afterword and becomes some kind of literary gestalt. Ultimately, it’s a
haunting father-son story — if you like Raymond Carver.

» EXPRESS: What was it like to get to know Fletcher Hanks Jr.?


» KARASIK: I went in to this project, into this interview, meeting Fletcher Hanks Jr. thinking
that this cartoonist was some kind of hero to me and the son was just somebody in between me
and a stack of original art that I was dying to get my greedy claws into. During the course of my
contact with Fletcher Hanks Jr., the tables were turned and the son became a sort of hero of mine
for having survived villainous abuse by his father.

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Now we’ve become quite friendly. I saw him about a month ago and I went to visit him and I
presented him with a copy. He didn’t know I had dedicated the book to him, so it was quite a thrill
for me to see him look at the dedication page. But on another real level he’s still mystified that
somebody would be interested in his father’s work. He doesn’t understand why anyone would buy
a book of comics, period — let alone comics by his father.

» EXPRESS: What do you think was going through Fletcher Hanks’ head while he was drawing
this stuff?
» KARASIK: I think they were fueled by egomaniacal anger and the whiskey bottle. He was older
than everybody else doing comics at this time. He was in his 30s — Jack Kirby was 17 or 18.

» EXPRESS: Where does Fletcher Hanks Sr.’s work stand among other artists who were working
at the time and are now well renowned?
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22/7/2018 Civilized Destruction: Paul Karasik on Fletcher Hanks - The Washington Post
» KARASIK: Most of the guys who were in this comic book game at that stage were very young
and unpolished. Even from that first batch of cartoonists, none of them — including Jack Kirby —
are as dynamic and, for my money, as important.

» Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Wed., 7 p.m., free; 202-364-1919. (Van Ness-UDC)

Written by Express contributor Aaron Leitko

Images courtesy Fantagraphics

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