Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Complete Stardust Collection

Fletcher Hanks - The Complete Stardust Collection (1939-41)

Comic Book Plus link

Now for something different - outsider comics!

About 12-13 years ago I was reading one of the AC reprints of Golden Age comics and if you're familiar with the material you know how monotonous it is.  Then there appeared a story about a character I'd never encountered before - Stardust.  He was drawn with as little anatomical probability as anything by Liefeld and the overall style wasn't any more polished.  The story was utterly simplistic, featuring grotesque villains doing something villainous then Stardust, a "super wizard" from outer space, showing up to right their wrongs.  The story was quite strange even for a field that traffics in strangeness and impossible for me not to think of outsider art.  It was baffling how something like that even made it into print in a mainstream publication.  The whole story seemed like the work of a careless fourteen-year-old (not completely impossible in a period when so many major creators started in the business during their late teens).  Needless to say I loved it.

Back then the Internet didn't provide much information on the creator, though a few other stories were available.  There was debate even about his real name - Fletcher Hanks, Hank Fletcher, Hank Christy or one of the other names that appeared with his distinctive stories.  Apparently some underground comics people were Hanks fans but which ones and how they expressed that interest weren't specified.  (It turned out to be Spiegelman who reprinted a Stardust story in RAW in 1980.)

Then in 2007 Fantagraphics released a Hanks collection "I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets!", edited by Paul Karasik.  The good news was that this brought Hanks to larger attention and included some stories I hadn't seen.  The bad, majorly bad, was that almost no biographical info was included, instead treating us to a short comic by Karasik about how he researched Hanks.  This lack of info was a huge error, seriously damaging the utility of the collection - imagine if the first book about, say, Henry Darger said little more than "he lived in Chicago".  In 2009 a second collection appeared, "You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation!", that collected the remainder of Hanks' comics and added a substantial introduction to his life and work.  Some of the gaps were filled but much about Hanks still remains unknown.

The Complete Stardust Collection has all the Stardust stories though in varying qualities of reproduction.  Other Hanks' stories are available on the site but not as conveniently collected (though the Fantagraphics books are well worth it if you're hooked).  A cbz file is a zip file that you could unzip but is best read with a dedicated reader such as CDisplay Ex (and similarly cbr indicates a rar file).  Comic Book Plus is an enormous archive of public domain comics, fanzines and pulps that I have yet to fully investigate.  Unlike some other sites that use the public domain claim as mainly a fig leaf, Comic Book Plus appears serious about it.