Fletcher Hanks is a cult cartoonist whose carer spanned only a few years – 1939 to 1941 – but in that time he produced a body of work as startling as it was shortlived. His superhero tales depicted a gonzo world of fantasy and violence with a primitive yet mesmerizing art style and a personal mythology of characters such as superhero Stardust and evil queen Fantomah. Long before comics went “underground” Hanks was proof that even a pulp medium could be the vehicle for deeply personal and weird work.
His stories were previously collected in two volumes from Fantagraphics, but they’ve been omnibused into one majestic book, Turn Loose Our Death Rays and Kill Them All: The Complete Works of Fletcher Hanks, edited by Paul Karasik, who worked with Hanks’s family to reconstruct a portrait of the mysterious figure.
And now Karasik has written with exciting news: the only known painting by Hanks has been recovered from collecting dust in the dilapidated barn of his late son.
The large painting on board depicts a grim, long-haired man, perhaps a Native American, clutching a blanket around his shoulders under a star dappled sky. We may never know the circumstances of the work’s creation or whom the figure represents but, as it is signed in the lower corner, there is no doubt that it was painted by the man whom R. Crumb called, “A twisted genius”.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.