I wanted to do a post on similarities and differences between comic book and sports card collecting but then did an about face when I thought about the rich history of sports in comic books. Sports in comic books has always been a thing, 85 plus years now and I get the sense that it never really worked. What sports comic are you currently on the hunt for?
The closest thing that could count as an in-demand sports comic is the Muhammad Ali Versus Superman Treasury from 1978, and it isn’t technically a comic. OK, the Jackie Robinson seems to be on some want lists as well but I don’t see any life in those old Baseball themed comics even if L.B Cole did the covers. Wait, I take that back, I could use a Babe Ruth Sports Comics #7 from 1950 with the cover with the great Turk Broda on it, Go Leafs!
Remember Marvel’s NFL Superpro #1-12 series from 1991? Try selling those! Though I must admit I can sell a Dark Horse’s Godzilla Vs. Charles Barkley from 1993, but not for much.
At first glance, you’d think our sports heroes and our superheroes could have found some synergies but the two genres never successfully mixed for any sustained period. When I was younger I always thought it was because jocks couldn’t read and as a comic guy I much preferred my immortals and mutants to someone that might tear an ACL chasing after a bad guy. I think one of the best examples of comics and sports mixing was the Gold Key Harlem Globetrotters comics from 1972 to 1975. And that worked to a degree because of the humour. Taking that a bit farther I think the humility of superheroes is hard to find in sports stars with big egos, there should have been a Bobby Orr comic!
Even when the sport is just over-sized theatre-like Pro Wrestling they still can’t mix the two together, The Undertaker comic anyone? As I’m writing this I’m thinking of more to add to my virtual collection of Turk Broda, Harlem Globetrotters, Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson, lets add the Spire Christian Tom Landry issue from 1973.
Is there a sports comic Grail? Will comics ever successfully adapt sports? I think it’s a tough sell, its been 80 years and we’ve got very little to show for it.
Hey Walt. The great Turk Broda served in WW2. My Dad was given leave to England , and he backed up Turk in goal in a series of Hockey games. Turk was just one of the guys.
I think you pretty well summed up the fact there is no real crossover. If Ali had been in a book by himself would it compete with the one with Superman… pretty doubtful. I mean… if even the LB Coles don’t sell for that much… and I know because I have looked at them… then its a pretty dead issue. On the note of sports and LB Cole…I did pick up a baseball themed Frisky Animals awhile back… love that cover!
I think its great that your dad got a chance to lace them up with Turk, your dad see any minutes?
Gerald you bring up a good point about cross overs and that there are so few of them.
HEY Walt…Dad got no minutes .
Some favorite sports covers…
Jackie Robinson comics # 1 to 6, May 1950 to 1952 are beautiful and desired..I love the photo covers and issue two specifically.
Great Jackie Robinson books!!!! I’ll throw my hat in the ring and say I loved DC’s Strange Sport Stories. There were Infantino issues in Brave and the Bold and then DC did 6 issues in the 70’s with Swan and Anderson. They are not worth much according to Overstreet (but who pays attention to them any how!!!!!) but I did love the strange stories they would come up with.
Since you prominently show the covers, how about the “BACK COVER”!!!!! I worked for Comics and Comics back in the 70’s and 80’s. We had one customer who would ask for the Dell Comics box and turn it around so he could see the back covers. There was some great ads featuring sports stars of the day, like Stan Musial, etc.
Hey maybe we can expand this whole cover thing to include the back cover showing great ad pieces. I believe Lev Gleason would have agreed since he was always promoting something to sell. And since the investors in the market today don’t seem to care about the story and interior art, we can push back covers since you can see them when the book is slabbed.
You know, just a crazy thought.
Dave, that World’ Finest #29 is so great. Those early WF covers are so wonderful, in bumper cars, on skies, just great positive themes.
I have never seen all those Jackie Ribonsons. They must have done well, that’s so great. Ahead of their time.
Bob Powell did some very fine work for the Street and Smith titles…I collect most of those. And Eisner did a superb cover for a Baltimore Colts giveaway around 1948, that I only found a few years ago. Eisner’s Baseball Comics was a great effort, again in the late 1940s, and nicely reprinted by Kitchen Sink.
I had forgotten about Strange Sports Stories, thanks Jeff. I wonder if those tales hold up?
But in general, I agree, sports just don’t translate to comics very well. I have no interest unless a good artist drew the story, and even then, not anlot. True Comics featured a lot of sports stories over their 80-odd issues, but there’s almost no interest in these now. I suppose Real Fact from Standard did the same thing…
Now, we need Michelle Nolan to chime in. She literally wrote the book on sports in the media…comics, pulps in particular… come on, Michelle…
Both sports comics and sports pulps faded out in large part because TV in the 1950s began to broadcast live sports along with radio, which began sports broadcasts in the 1920s, and because of the growth of newspapers and magazines, which greatly increased sports coverage in the post-war 1940s and 1950s. The number of broadcasts has increased with every decade since. The sports genre was the only fictional genre where comic book readers through high school not only could watch live broadcasts, but also participate themselves if they had enough talent.
Most of the sports comics were non-fiction but the same principles obtain. They were almost entirely published in the 1940s and early 1950s. I wrote the first full article on sports comics (to the best of my knowledge) in Comic Book Marketplace #19 in 1992. I also wrote what I believe was the most comprehensive article (about 10,000 words) about sports comics in my book “Ball Tales” (2010, McFarland. I believe this still the only book to cover sports fiction in every form of media, both print and film. Recently McFarland released “Baseball and Football Pulp Fiction,” which is the first book to focus on those sports in the pulps. There is also a complete catalog of the stories from six primary publishers.
Street & Smith not only published the most successful sports fiction of all time in the weekly adventures of Frank Merriwell and his family in nickel novels (1896-1916) but also by far the most successful sports pulp, Sport Story Magazine, with 429 issues from 1923-1943 and the only commercially successful sports comic book, True Sport Picture Stories, which ran 50 issues from 1940-1949, when Street & Smith gave up all its comic books.
Can you imagine sports fiction publications running 20 years with the same title today? It would never happen.
Some of the best of the nonfiction sports comics were the 18 issues from Fawcett in 1949-1952, including the six issues of Jackie Robinson and two of Joe Louis, plus 10 one-shots. These were among the very few comics of their era to deal with Black people while going beyond stereotypes and racist illustrations.
Sports comics may not be widely collected and are not a great investment, but they are wonderful Americana.
There’s a lot there to take in and plenty of places to go if someone wanted more immersion, thanks Michelle. Sports seemed to be a successful genre in the 1st half of the last century but as you point out Michelle other media like TV came in and changed things. I love the baseball stuff, very Americana.
Yes, sports were big in the pulps! Robert E Howard wrote some exciting boxing stories during his short life and there is a collection of theM titled ‘Boxing Stories’ published by Bison Press which I believe is still available!
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