Who the heck was Fletcher Hanks?
Fletcher Hanks worked for the first three years of the comic book industry [late 1930s]. This was the birth of the medium (as described accurately by Michael Chabon in The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) when the cheapest publishers and pornographers discovered overnight that there was money to be made in something called the comic book. It is easy to imagine a publisher thrilled to find someone like Hanks. A one-man juggernaut: writer, penciler, inker and letterer who actually got his work in on time, Fletcher Hanks is a rarity among comic book artists of any era. Even hardcore fans and collectors are unfamiliar with his work because he worked on second-rate characters for third-rate publishers and then disappeared.
What happened to him?
As I said, he worked for three years and then disappeared. I did some detective work and uncovered the sordid details that I reveal in the 16-page afterword to my book, a comics story titled, "Whatever Happened to Fletcher Hanks?" Let's just say that the man who delivered his villains to be frozen forever to contemplate their crimes was served up an epic ode of poetic justice.
What are the hallmarks of a Hanks comic?
As there was no one there to tell him what to do or what not to do, Fletcher Hanks's work is propelled by a singular vision and style. No marketing survey guidelines to follow. Hence his various stories tend to follow similar story arcs: crime committed followed by several pages of often savage retribution as the hero sets the world right. His work is at once crude, brutal and breathtakingly beautiful.
How did his drawing style compare to that of other early comics artists?
What sets Hanks apart is the blunt vigor of his iconography. A Hanks villain has a single evil visage, often Cro-Magnon in nature, which barely varies in expression through the adventure. To this end he is the natural heir to the grim world of [Dick Tracy creator] Chester Gould, whose characters are cursed with a particular physiognomy that determines their nature. Stardust, a major Hanks's protagonist, has exactly 1.5 facial expressions: Severe and More Severe.
Where would you place Hanks's work in the pantheon of American comics? In other words, just how good was he?
Cartoonists whose work I generally most admire are multitalented one-man bands playing a syncopated symphony with pen and ink—"syncopated" because comics are a kind of jazz, an essentially American idiom of ragtime improvisation; "symphony" because the best of them create worlds that are rich, multilayered and rewarded by revisiting. This includes such classic masters as George Herriman and Elsie Segar, as well as contemporary artists who are sometimes overlooked such as Ben Katchor and Kim Deitch. Fletcher Hanks certainly belongs in this pantheon.
~ Publisher's Weekly interview with Paul Karasik on Fletcher Hanks