Finding Fletcher Hanks
Or; How a Mad Magazine Job Interview Opened My Eyes to the Hanks Universe
The very February of 1976 that I was laboring away on my first-ever published comix work while in my second year at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont, Fletcher Hanks (December 1, 1887-February, 1976) was found dead, outdoors, on a New York City park bench, in freezing winter temperatures.
That not my egocentric bid for connection with a Golden Age comicbook eccentric whose work is now revered by many, including some of my own Center for Cartoon Studies students and alumni—it’s just a statement of fact. It’s also not something I gave a nanosecond of thought to until this morning as I prepared to post this material.
Most folks “discovered” (i.e., had Fletcher Hanks work placed before their eyes) Fletcher Hanks in the pages of Raw—specifically, Raw #5′s January, 1983 Stardust reprint story, which blew many a mind—while my students can plunge into two essentially complete reprint collections from Fantagraphics Books edited by Raw vet (and, for a few years now, a fellow CCS colleague, who I have in fact worked with and, this summer, studied under at CCS) Paul Karasik.
I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! (2007) and You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation! (2009) put between, uh, four covers what Paul has attempted to ensure is the complete (or damn-near-complete) Fletcher Hanks body of comics work.
Prior to the start of the Hanks resurrection post-Raw archival rescue, precious few folks in or out of comics talked about this most unusual of Golden Age creators.
My first exposure (to the point of this post) was via Jerry DeFuccio, who was essentially cheering me up in the Mad offices during my one and only stab at finding work at Mad. This was in the spring of 1978, and I had just come from an insulting, disastrous interview with editor Joe Orlando at DC Comics in the belly of the Beast. However discumbobulated and disheveled I must have been after that crushing experience, I still had one more scheduled interview to go—at Mad—and lucky me, Jerry De Fuccio was the man who met me there.
Jerry was everything and everyone I needed at that moment: professional, courteous, attentive, funny, and above all, kind. He also personally knew a thing or two about Joe Orlando, which was something likely no other editor in Manhattan at that point in time could have offered me insight on.
After reviewing my portfolio and ascertaining quickly I wasn’t Mad material, Jerry asked where I’d just come from. When I told him, and he asked how that went, and my face betrayed what my voice wouldn’t, Jerry said, “Let me tell you about Joe Orlando…”
Having set me straight and cooled me out (“look, don’t worry, I can see from your work here you’ve a bright future ahead of you, if you stick to it”), Jerry proceeded to give me a tour of the Mad offices, introduce me to a number of good folks, and then asked who my favorite Mad artists were. My reply—”Basil Wolverton, first and foremost, though I love his old science-fiction and horror comics work, too”—prompted the question, “Have you ever heard of Fletcher Hanks?”
Why, no. I hadn’t.
I hadn’t—who had?—and Jerry had nothing to show me, of course, but he rhapsodized a bit about how if I loved Wolverton, I had to see some of Fletcher Hanks‘ work. The name stuck, as the name of one of the characters—Fantomah—and I began a futile search for any scrap of Fletcher Hanks to be found. Nobody had heard of him, it seemed, and a subsequent exchange with a die-hard comics dealer who specialized in Golden Age (introduced to me at a Creation Con by Adam Malin, if memory serves) gave me my first-ever look at a Hanks comicbook story. It was a Fantomah story. But it was signed “Barclay Flagg” I was confused. I couldn’t afford the comicbook, anyway; it was extraordinary at a New York comics con to even be allowed to leave eye-tracks on such precious four-color cargo. When I asked, timidly, about the name on the story not being “Fletcher Hanks,” the dealer replied, “He worked under all kinds of fake names,” the dealer told me, which both intrigued me further even as it confused and complicated things. “What names?” “You know, this one: Barclay Flagg. It’s right there in front of you.” He couldn’t recall the others, and besides, there was a spending customer who wasn’t a dead-broke cartoonist to attend to.
Now we all know the names—”Henry Fletcher“, “Barclay Flagg“, “Bob Jordan“, and “Hank Christy.” Got it.
The second Fletcher Hanks I would ever lay eyes on—and the first I was free to own, read, reread, and share with others—was this Fantomah story, courtesy of none other than Jerry De Fuccio!
And it appeared in this magazine…
I’ve kept this issue of Cartoonist PROFiles since Joe Kubert gifted it to me (he had a small stack of them, since he and his and the Kubert School‘s ‘run’ on Winnie Winkle was the subject of one article inside) the very month it was published. I picked up an extra copy later that year, and gave it to a friend, saying, “you’ve got to read this Fantomah story!” Alas, he was more interested in the Russ Heath interview and Heath/Cary Bates Lone Ranger strip samples. Pressing the point, the reply was something along the lines of, “Why do you like this crazy shit, Bissette?”
I’m currently bagging and boxing up parts of my zine collection for donation to a library collection, and when this turned up, I had to share it with you.
Was this the beginning of the Fletcher Hanks ‘cult’? Well, no, but I’m willing to bet that I wasn’t the first person who counted this as the first Fletcher Hanks reprint they’d savored. If I’d found and posted this material back in 2005, it would have meant something beyond an idle anecdote, perhaps. Perhaps not.
In any case, for the record, here it is…