Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade(s): the 1930s/1940s! Today’s page is from Jungle Comics #15 (a Fantomah story), which was published by Fiction House and is cover dated March 1941. This scan is from I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets!, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2007. Enjoy!
Fletcher Hanks shows up again in these posts, because he’s just such a wacky creator, and I don’t know if I’ll ever randomly select the books that feature him again, so I wanted to get Fantomah in here. Fantomah, “the most remarkable woman that ever lived” (as opposed to his other major creation, Stardust, who’s the most remarkable man that ever lived), is Hanks’ contribution to the short-lived “jungle comics” craze. She has “phenomenal powers,” making her the first super-heroine in comics history (she first appeared in Jungle Comics #2, cover dated February 1940). She protects the “jungle-born” from douchebags like Org, on whom her “vigilant eye” falls. Org can hypnotize people with his jungle drum, and he wants to rule “Jungleland” (Bruce Springsteen will be disappointed). Hanks lets us know that Org doesn’t have a plan yet, so he’s wandering around trying to figure it out, and he finds giant hunting spiders which can, apparently kill elephants. Man, that’s handy!
Hanks’ stories are insane, but let’s check out his art. In the first panel, we get a glimpse of Org checking out the giant spiders attacking the elephants. Org certainly doesn’t look like a native of a jungle, but as Hanks never actually tells us where this jungle is (Africa, we can assume, but we don’t know), maybe Org does look like a native! The spider is sufficiently horrifying, and Hanks does a nice job with Org’s stony look and the elephants’ terror. Fantomah, naturally, is a blonde white woman in full makeup, but that’s to be expected, I suppose – ladies in the 1940s always had to look fancy, even when they were fighting evil in the jungle! Hanks uses the lightning bolt of her “vigilant eye” to lead us to Panel 3, where Org looks back at her disdainfully while playing a big drum. It’s a weird, almost-romantic series of panels – Fantomah doesn’t look all that angry at Org, while Org has that hipper-than-thou look because he’s a tough dude, and tough dudes don’t show their feelings! Of course, Fantomah causes a giant spider to eat Org later in the story, so “romantic” might be too strong a word, but I like that Hanks doesn’t make them all ragey when they’re looking at each other. In Panel 4, we’re in Org’s place when he finds the “unexplored valley” and the giant spiders, which helps create this idea of wonder and sheer terror at the size of the creatures. In Panel 5, he gives them human-like hands, which is even freakier. You don’t want that sucker coming at you, do you?
As we’ve already seen this year, Hanks was one crazy comics creator, but that’s what made him awesome. This page is a bit better than the one we’ve already seen, even though they came out in the same month and year. Technically, it’s laid out better, and Hanks’ line work seems stronger. Either way, both Stardust and Fantomah are wild characters doing some crazy shit.
Next: I’m cheating a little bit with this entry, but it’s my column and I can cheat if I want to! There’s no cheating in the archives, however!
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