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1938-02 Super Comics
1945-02 Mammoth Detective
1940-07 War Comics #3
1946-04-28 Surgeon Stone
1941-04 Super Comics
1947-08 Mammoth Mystery
1941-10 Super Comics
1947-08 Mammoth Mystery
1945-02 Mammoth Detective
1951-02 Wild Boy Comic
1945-02 Mammoth Detective
1958-05-14 Jed Cooper









Richard Martin Fletcher was born Richard Martin Steenburgh on March 8, 1916, in Moline, Illinois. His father, John P. Steenburgh, was born in 1884 in Illinois. His mother, Bertha Elizabeth Pletscher, was born in 1889 in Illinois. His parents married on March 14, 1913 and had two children, John P. Steenburgh, Jr. (b.1914) and Richard Martin Steenburgh (b.1916). The family lived at 2425 8th Avenue in Rock Island, IL, where the father was a manager of a local department store. The sons both attended local public schools.

In 1930 the father became a manager of an advertising agency in Rock Island, IL.

Richard graduated from Rock Island High School in June of 1934. His love of art and the bulk of his training came from his mother who was a professional artist. She had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Mizen Academy. Although her maiden name was Pletscher, she signed her work as "Betty Fletcher."

In 1935 Richard began to attend an an unknown art school in Chicago.

In 1937 his parents' marriage ended in divorce, after which his mother struggled to make ends meet. By that time Richard had completed his sophomore year at art school, but he had to quit and enter the work force in order to financially support his mother. After the divorce Richard preferred to be known by his mother's professional name, Fletcher.

Some original risqué art of panel cartoons are signed, "Richard Steenburgh." These date from the late 1930’s when he began his career in comics but it is yet to be determined if they were ever published. Using his father’s last name on sexier work may have been a way to hide his identity. It was common practice for artists doing racy material to use pen names or not sign their art at all.

Fletcher's earliest published work is from 1937 when he was the inker on Norman Marsh’s "Dan Dunn Secret Operative 48." Based on originals in Fletcher’s estate, he continued in that capacity until at least 1938. Marsh ran a mail order cartooning course, through which Fletcher may have received some extra comic artist training, and the opportunity to become Marsh's assistant. Fletcher’s inks greatly improved the look of the strip. While "Dan Dunn" was a popular strip riding the coat-tails of Chester Gould’s "Dick Tracy," Marsh was not the best artist.

Marsh's studio was a few blocks away from the Chicago Tribune where Chester Gould produced "Dick Tracy." Marsh is an interesting artist. "Dan Dunn" originally titled "Detective Dan" appeared as one of the first features created specifically for comic books in 1933. The company, Humor Incorporated, quickly folded and Marsh used the comic to gain syndication, which began in September 1933.

In 1939 when Fletcher was working on "Dan Dunn" he heard that Western Publishing's anthology comics were using more new material and less reprinted comic strips. Western was reprinting "Dan Dunn." Marsh had first licensed the strip to Famous Funnies at Eastern Color, but he shifted it to Western’s Funnies Comic, and later to Crackajack Funnies at Western. Western was also producing Dan Dunn Big Little Books and in other book formats as well. Some of the new non-strip reprint series were like "Gangbusters" licensed from the Philip Lord radio program, but were created and drawn in house at Western. "Gangbusters" was often drawn by Fletcher. Others were totally new series like "Jim Ellis" created by Fletcher for Super Comics in 1940.

His last new series for Western was "Greg Gilday" a science fiction superhero series that appeared in War Comics, which lasted only 4 issues in 1940 and 1941, but memorably introduced an early super-heroine named "Joan" as Greg Gilday’s sidekick.

The 1940 U.S. Census lists the artist's mother and her two sons at 1414 North Clark Street in Chicago, IL. Both of her sons were employed as "artists."

Once WW2 began, Western dropped most of their original series and returned to strip reprints. This was partially due to the downsizing of the comic industry during the wartime paper shortage. Fletcher moved back into comic strips – doing various jobs for the Chicago Tribune including war related public service strips like "Jack & Jean" that encouraged children to collect waste paper. In 1944 he ghosted "Harold Teen" for Carl Ed, while preparing samples for comic strips based on "Jack Armstrong" and "The Green Hornet" neither of which were produced.

When the artist reported for draft registration during WW2 he was recorded to "wear glasses" and to have a "bad right eye." He was not selected for military service.

During the mid 1940’s, when Fletcher was not under any syndication contract, his work appeared in several Ziff-Davis pulps, but not the science fiction ones. At that time Ziff-Davis was based in Chicago and the company tended to use local artists. While best known for their science fiction pulps, Ziff-Davis also had a "Mammoth" line of extra thick pulps in the Detective, Mystery, Western, and Adventure genres. During the war years they only produced Mammoth Detective. Once the paper shortage ended, they added three more titles and that increased their need for more art. Fletcher’s work appeared in Mammoth Detective, Mammoth Mystery, Mammoth Western, and Mammoth Adventure.

In 1946 Fletcher created the comic strip "Surgeon Stone" for the Sunday Chicago Tribune Syndicate. "Surgeon Stone" ran for five years, though it often appeared in black and white on Saturdays in The Chicago Tribune.

His pulp work ended in 1947 when Ziff-Davis canceled Mammoth Mystery, Mammoth Adventure and Mammoth Detective.

In 1949 Fletcher did the Sunday pages of "Jed Cooper" for newspaper syndication. This was an historical strip set during the American Revolution. Cooper was a frontiersman. The strip had the benefit of being written by a major Tribune editor Lloyd Wendt, which protected it from cancellation, so it ran until 1961 in spite of a low popularity. The stability of that job meant Fletcher was able to move back to Burlington Iowa and buy a house near his family.

Correspondence exists in which Fletcher asks publishers for additional money to hire an assistant for the strip. It is unknown if the needed funds were granted, but most likely the assistant was only needed to help Fletcher create one of the first graphic novels, “Four Frightened Women,” which was adapted from George Harmon Coxe’s murder mystery featuring "Kent Murdock." At 188 pages it was a major undertaking. Unfortunately the Dell paperback-sized graphic novels did not sell well, and the series was canceled.

By 1950 Richard Martin Steenburgh had legally changed his name to "Richard Martin Fletcher." He had married and left Chicago for Burlington Iowa. When he and his wife began to raise their children. His mother left Rock Island, where she had been working as a dental assistant, and joined her son to be near her grandchildren.

The 1951 Burlington (Iowa) City directory listed "cartoonist" Richard M. Fletcher and his wife Madeleine E. Fletcher as residents of 2901 Division Street.

From 1951-1953 he also did unsigned work for Ziff-Davis and other companies. In his estate was found photostats from the Ziff-Davis comic "Wild Boy." While credited in some cases to Paul Hodge, who was Fletcher’s assistant, the art looks like it is by Fletcher. It is possible that other art for other companies signed by Hodge or credited to him may also be a collaboration with Richard Fletcher.

In 1961, when the "Jed Cooper" strip ended, Fletcher retired from newspapers, comics and commercial illustration.

On June 1, 1973 his mother died at the age of eighty-nine in Iowa.

He continued living in Burlington Iowa until his death on May 21, 1992.

                              © George Hagenauer 2024

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