John Jensen goes jellybeans over Stardust

There are cartoon fossickers who dig and delve among old comics – I’m talking American comics, circa late 1930s and early 1940s, looking for, and still finding, strange treasures and curios. Like, for example, Stardust, Fantomah, Buzz Crandall of the Space Patrol and, finally, Big Red McLane of the Northwoods. The link between them is the late Fletcher Hanks, cartoonist, strip artist and, according to R. Crumb, “a twisted dude”. He should know.
The comic Stardust features in the Collected works of Fletcher Hanks reviewed here by PCOer John Jensen.

Gary Panter, an American illustrator and a former denizen of the psychedelic era but now a hugely successful graphics person wrote the following for the jacket blurb of the collection I am about to review for you.

“Fletcher Hanks was this old guy back in the old days who made magic jellybeans. The magic jellybeans looked like comics, but they were magic jellybeans.”

If you ever see the strips you’ll know that a hammer has smacked a nail firmly on its head. Stardust is the biggest jellybean of them all. One more quotation, this from one of the strips, written just prior to Germany starting off on World War Two:

“Stardust [he lives on his own asteroid] whose vast knowledge of interplanetary science has made him the most remarkable man that ever lived, devotes his abilities to crime-busting …”

In one story, our super-sized, booming voiced hero uses a boomerang ray; a fusing ray, his reducing ray and, finally, his transporting ray. In other strips he makes himself invisible, travels faster than the speed of light and has an active anti-gravity ray, a magnetic ray, a suspending ray and a disintegrating ray – the ray doesn’t disintegrate but other things do!

His mental power stops thugs from shooting at him while, also under his belt – you should see his belt! – there is an attractor beam and an agitator ray. The villains, always grotesque and quite mad, are invariably captured after which they meet their hideous eternal variegated dooms. No doubt Stardust celebrates victory with his very own Hip Hip Hoo Ray.

Fantomah, the Mystery Woman of the Jungle, had many edgy, disconcerting powers of her own, including the ability when cross, of turning her face into a skull. Very useful in a supermarket queue I would guess.

Another curious point about the anthology is that the Afterword is a strip written and drawn by Paul Karasik, who met and was slightly shocked by the artist’s son who apparently hated his Dad. Hanks was allegedly a drunkard, a liar and, to cap it all a deadbeat who froze to death on a park bench. He also painted ducks in a pond.

The Comics of Fletcher Hanks “I SHALL DESTROY ALL CIVILIZED PLANETS!” was recently published by Fantagraphic Books. If you’re a Knockout or Beano fan you might not care for, or about, this extraordinary gathering of super surreals but if, like me, you grew up with American comics you’ll be full of beans. Jellybeans.

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