Coming out of the Great Depression, both sports and comic books prospered with the reviving economy. Attendance soared at the ballparks and millions of readers turned to inexpensive comic book entertainment.
Publishers were quick to note the overlap in these two large audiences. The first of these pre-war sports publishers to turn to the comic book medium was Street & Smith. Known by sports fans for its venerable pulp and sports previews, S&S pioneered sports biography anthologies.
S&S focused on the games' stars when it launched its appropriately titled Sports Comics in late 1940. Its first four issues offered readers illustrated looks at the likes of star sports figures such as Lou Gehrig, Gene Tunney, Phil Rizzuto and Frank Leahy.
Restyled True Sport Picture Stories in early 1942, the formula achieved lasting success and longevity through 50 issues before succumbing near decade's end.
TSPS succeeded despite pedestrian art, apparently by virtue of its story selection, tight writing, variety and bulk. Street and Smith knew its sports audience better than most of its competitors. Each issue was jam-packed and a good read. Millions felt, it was a dime well spent.
The comic book informed as well as entertained during the war years. True Sport Picture Stories was clearly a journalistic endeavor and old issues provide an interesting look at the era. It followed the players off to war, pioneered looks at Black and Latin baseball before the color line was breached, recorded the pioneering women's baseball league, welcomed the victorious GI-jocks back to civilian pastimes and covered the major events of its day.
In its heyday, True Sport Picture Stories claimed a million readers. This undoubtedly translates to several hundred thousand copies purchased bimonthly and created a generous cash flow for its publisher.
Even with all those copies originally sold, collector values for the S&S books are strong. This is especially true for issues with desirable cover subjects, such as Joe DiMaggio (February 1942 and May 1946), Negro baseball (October 1944) and the Conn-Louis prize fight (July 1946). Prices for the first DiMaggio title, issued after his MVP season and phenomenal 56-game hitting streak, top the $100 figure. Other issues run from about $30 to $50 for the more popular numbers in Fine or better condition.
Assembling an entire run of this and its predecessor series, Sports Comics, is an awesome challenge and worthy goal. It also makes great reading for the fortunate collector interested in the sports news of its day..
Although Street & Smith's publication was dominant in its field, it was not unchallenged nor alone. Both success and dispute can breed competition. It was purportedly the latter motive which caused Parent's Magazine Press in early 1941 to launch an illustrated comics magazine of its own.
Parents' True Comics was conceived as a wholesome and informative alternative to the racy comics which were then proliferating. True Comics was not solely a sports vehicle. Historical and current events strips were its forte. In many issues, true stories from FBI files vie with the sports celebrities and sports lore.
Because of this mixed formula, collector prices are more modest than the S&S titles. Cross-over collector interest is the key to this series' values. Sports enthusiasts push comic fans for some issues. The big distinctive is cover vs. contents. Best bets are issue number 3 with its Hall of Fame story and number 6 with its World Series feature. Both are worth $50 or so in Fine condition. Other popular albeit cheaper issues are devoted to Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial and the Brooklyn Dodgers. These are available in the $10-$20 range.
Great sports covers sell better to sports fans than issues with only inside sports stories This is especially true for issues 71 (Joe DiMaggio, my personal favorite), and 78 (Stan Musial). Choice examples of these issues have been sold by sports memorabilia dealers for $50 or more.
The true-to-life titles wilted from the strong competition of the fictional sports titles with their super-hyped action and elevated story lines. Chief purveyor of this fare was Marvel.
Marvel launched its Sports' Stars series in late 1949. The publication was retitled Sports Action after the first issue due to a name conflict with the earlier Parents' Magazine Institute series of the same name
Sports Action featured sensational thrillers with "rugged tales of danger and red hot action." Baseball and boxing tales were the preferred fare. Dramatic football, auto racing and wrestling stories also appeared. The combined run was 14 numbers. The most valuable issue is number one, featuring Knute Rockne. It is a ready seller at $50-$75.
Fred Reed is former News Editor of Coin World and Vice-President of Beckett Publications. A collector for over 40 years, Reed is a member of most national coin and stamp organizations. He is also Secretary of Society of Paper Money Collectors. SPMC awarded Reed its lifetime achievement award for his groundbreaking Civil War Encased Stamps: The Issuers and Their Times, one of his five books. Reed has also written on coins and currency, tokens and medals, stamps, comic books, post cards, Beanie Babies, sports cards and collectibles, engravings and lithographs, movie memorabilia, autographs, antique photography, and Civil War artifacts, all of which he avidly collects. Reed is a long-time member of the American Society of Magazine Editors, the Dallas Press Club and the Society for American Baseball Research.