Michael H. Price’s Forgotten Horrors
No. 6: The Bizarre Comic-Book Yarns of Fletcher Hanks


I’m drawn all over again to a new book called You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation! Once through is enough for most books on short acquaintance, but there is a strange magnetism about these Depression-into-Wartime comic-book stories of a long-gone oddball artist named Fletcher Hanks. Editor Paul Karasik dispenses enough interpretive biography to lend dimension to Hanks’ severe work. The publisher is Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books, and the tariff is $24.99.

The fashionable concept of “outsider” art — concerning itself primarily with amateurish pretensions to artistry, and often confused with primitivism or an instinctive avoidance of academic values — has been rather cavalierly applied to cartoonist Fletcher Hanks (1887-1976) since his rediscovery via Art Spiegelman’s art-in-review magazine, Raw, half a generation ago.

Hanks proves, however, to have been very much an insider, however briefly, in the mainstream, mass-market publishing sector of comic books. The present volume, You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation!, completes the survey that Karasik had begun with 2006’s I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!

Hanks also proves to have been a social maverick — from rascal, to rogue, to out-and-out rotter — whose body of published work (1939-1941) reflects vividly the torments that drove him to abandon a family and at length to die alone and un-mourned. He had ditched his wife-and-kids responsibilities by 1930 — well before the fleeting stretch as a comics storyteller in a new and experimental industry — and a surviving son has learned only in very recent years of his father’s comic-book career.

And some career it was, too. Under his own name and a variety of aliases, Hanks wrote and drew 51 short stories for such cheaply produced magazines as Fantastic, Jungle, Fight and Daring Mystery. He excelled at anatomical exaggerations, and his cruel and self-serious stories convey a rage that can only have been fueled more by alcoholism than by intellect — even if he did deliver turn-key work under pressure of deadline. Editor and biographer Paul Karasik finds the art inseparable from the life in his survey of Hanks’ troubled progress. Karasik enhances the book with earlier sketchbook and school-assignment drawings that express both talent and promise along with the ingrained anger.

p>As a consequence of such determined research, Fletcher Hanks comes across as a villainous sort in his own bylined book — a vessel of combined artistry and wrath, whose published legacy is as nightmarish as it is brilliant. The art reproductions capture vividly both Hanks’ aggressive drawing style and the garish colors of the original Depression-into-wartime publications.


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