Somehow—uh, must have been something to do with the low-budget promo department at Fantagraphics, “where the underrated are underpromotedTM”*—I missed the news that there was a Fletcher Hanks collection printed last November. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets, edited by Paul Karasik, brings forth the work of a genuine and strange folk artist.
I’ll never forget seeing an excerpt of Hanks’ “Stardust” in an issue of Raw some 25 years ago. Running into this book today at Comic Relief (and RIP, Rory Root, the Berkeley shop’s fondly remembered owner), I was shocked to find out there was enough of Hanks’ work to collect and reprint. I’m planning to write more about this book. Briefly, Hanks’ career seems a little like that story Tom Wolfe was telling in The Painted Word. Wolfe hypothesizing a great artist whose masterwork consisted of a daub of water on a napkin, executed by the finger of an artist, who immediately drops dead of a heart attack.
And Hanks’ work was just as written-on-the-wind. Before vanishing utterly during World War II, he did sporadic work for Z-grade comic books. There, the peculiar oddness of story line didn’t get noticed. He worked on surreal adventure stories with the looseness of a George Herriman and the fury of a Jack Kirby; only most rabid comic collectors knew of his existence. Can’t wait to get a copy of this so I can report more. And I’m glad to see Kurt Vonnegut got a chance to see this work. And I’m utterly moved by Karasik’s story of having to borrow his mom’s car to track down the history of this brilliant eccentric … and to discover in a first-person account, the cruelty Hanks visited on the people around him, and the price he paid for it.
*Yes, I really want someone to blame this on. I’m glued to this dang computer 10 hours a day, and I still missed this news!