I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! by Fletcher Hanks

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I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!
By Fletcher Hanks (Ed. And Afterwod by Paul Karasik)
Fantagraphics

Paul KarasikIt should naturally be taken as something of a sign of good faith when a the back of book contains recommendations from a creative power trio like Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Crumb, and Gary Panter. One ought also to assume that the work contained therein will likely deviate significantly from the norm. Crumb and Panter’s quotes, while unquestionably strong arguments for picking up the book, speak to little beyond the strangeness of the material (a subject on which academics could undoubtedly release volume after volume).

Vonnegut, on the other hand, who writes, “[t]he recovery from oblivion of these treasures is in itself a major work of art,” speaks more immediately to what makes I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets! such a worthy volume. It’s not simply a showcase of some ‘twisted dude’s’ (Crumb’s words) work, it’s an exercise in the acknowledgment of what separates the great outsider art from the downright forgettable.

Paul Karasik’s sequential afterword speaks beautifully to this phenomenon. The author illustrates his attempt to track down more information on legendary cult cartoonist, Fletcher Hanks, beginning with a Web search, and ultimately culminating at the home of Hanks’s son, an air force vet who proceeds to immediately tear into his father, a belligerent alcoholic, who abandoned his children and eventually froze to death, sleeping on a park bench.

During the course of the piece, the two people to whom Karasik shows Hanks’, the author’s mother and Hanks Jr. (the latter of whom, incidentally, knew very little of his father’s artistic ambitions), display no regard for Hanks’s peculiar charm. And why should they? The artist showcased plot lines that were outlandish, even by superhero standards, and a flair for crafting physique on-par with the work of an elementary school student.

These, however, are precisely the reason why his work is celebrated in certain circles today. What Hanks shares with fellow outsiders, such as The Shaggs or Henry Darger, is an element of childlike wonder for his own subject matter. However large of an asshole Hanks might have been (and from his son’s description, and the abundant—if more socially acceptable—racism throughout the book, there seems little room for doubt), his work displays a certain sense of naiveté that makes it perfectly acceptable for his heroine, Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle (a surprisingly Aryan jungle guardian) to manifest herself as a giant disembodied skull (blond hair intact, naturally), or for his hero, Stardust, the Super Wizard, to drop a villain into the clutches of a “shining octopus of gold.”

It’s an innocence that works exceedingly well within the confines of the medium. For an art form so devoted to exploring the boundaries of the fantastic, superhero books are too often beholden to strictly self-imposed guidelines. In order to reach their potential, they must transcend the style, as Hanks does, in his own peculiar way.

While I would naturally hesitate to suggest, as Karasik does in his afterword, that Hanks was, “one of the greatest cartoonists of the 20th century,” I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! offers strong examples of how the language is sometimes furthest advanced by those who aren’t necessarily fluent in it.

–Brian Heater

No Comments to “I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! by Fletcher Hanks”

  1. Paul Karasik | August 22nd, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Thanks, Brian, for the intelligent and kind words about my book, “I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets: The Comics of Fletcher Hanks”. I have been astonished by the reception it has received. The first edition completely sold out within three weeks! We are now awaiting the arrival of the second edition.

    If others are unfamiliar with Hanks’ work, I urge you to wander over to my website, go to the BONUS page and see the slideshow of a Fantomah story that does NOT appear in the book:

    http://www.fletcherhanks.com

    Thanks,
    -Paul Karasik

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