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Thursday, September 17, 2009

You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation. Fletcher Hanks. Fantagraphics (2009)

This is a second collection of fascinating and very distinctive comics from Fletcher Hanks. Fletcher Hanks is one of the very few people who have written, pencilled, inked and lettered all his own work and his style is very distinctive regardless of the genre he was working in. For the most part he wrote science fiction, jungle adventure, lumberjack adventure and superhero stories. The lumberjack stories, featuring the adventures of "Big Red McLane, King of the Northwoods" are the most straightforward of the stories in the collection. Big Red fights a variety of gangsters who are trying to take over his business, he deals with them directly and wins by being better with his fists than any of his opponents. They are simple slices of pulp adventure.
When Fletcher Hanks wrote science fiction or jungle adventures he was considerably less constrained and the stories are extraordinary. The formal aspect to the stories is simple and repetitive, danger threatens the explorer "Space Smith", or the inhabitants of the jungle protected by "Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle", Space Smith escapes or Fantomah extracts some terrible vengeance of the trespassers in the jungle. Within this format Fletcher Hanks manages to create truly staggering villains and extraordinary ideas. The art for the villains is always much more expressive and forceful than it is for the somewhat bland heroes, the villains smoulder with rage, resentment and desire. They also meet the most gruesome and inventive ends.
These stories show the signs of the commercial pressures that were created under, they were intended to be disposable fodder with no intent beyond being a quick and exciting read, forgotten as soon as it was put down. This pressure and lack of real scrutiny meant that Fletcher Hanks could create savage, imaginative stories that are really unlike any others without being caught and stopped. These are wild explosions of imagination, fuelled by powerful passions in Fletcher Hanks and we are very lucky to have them. Editor Paul Karasik has done a superb job with this collection and its companion, I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! Comics archeology at its best.

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