Sports Heroes Get the Comic Book Treatment - Part 2

Fawcett was not the only publisher who sought to tap into the biographical sports comic field. Other companies set their sights on tapping into the fan bases of the popular athletes of the day.

One of the first to seize on this format was Magazine Enterprise Inc. That company produced the popularly styled Pride of the Yankees title in 1949 in honor of the late New York Yankee first baseman, Lou Gehrig.

Pride of the Yankees, of course, was also the title of the 1942 RKO movie biopic of the great Yankee Slugger starring Gary Cooper. The Gehrig title is one of the best of the biographical sports genre. It catalogs for more than $500 in near mint condition. Even well-circulated copies bring $80-$100 or more, showing the reverence sports fans still have for Iron Man Gehrig, who died of ALS (now commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease).

Another expensive and popular title is the 1954 Famous Funnies release styled the Amazing Willie Mays. Although just a one-shot title, this comic is highly prized by the many fans of the great New York and San Francisco Giant center fielder. Excellent condition copies have traded hands for $400 or more in sports memorabilia circles.

Virtually shut out of the comic book trade was New York Yankee slugger, Mickey Mantle. The Mick arrived too late on the scene for the heyday of these publications. He made comparatively few comic appearances and his sole personality title, My Greatest Thrills in Baseball, was a freebie, a giveaway. Distribution as freebies is the proverbial kiss of death in the collectible comics arena, but the Mantle title is the exception. Because of the Mick's later dominant position in the celestial baseball orbs, this coveted title is highly prized and valued by collectors today. It regularly brings $100 or more.

Other biographical comics proved sporadic. The 299 Lafayette Street Corporation published its Picture News magazine comic from January 1946 to January 1947. In June it featured Joe Louis, then the reigning heavyweight boxing king. That comic is valued at about $50.

Dark Horse circulated one as a Baseball Great illustrating the life story of Jimmy Piersall, the Boston and Cleveland outfielder. The comic covered the same territory as the Paramount movie, Fear Strikes Out starring Anthony Perkins, showing the mental breakdown and comeback of the highly-strung ball player. The Piersall comic is inexpensive, a couple of dollars at most.

Team comics have generally not been very popular. Although Fawcett had produced comics on pennant winning clubs like the Giants and the Yankees, that company did not produce others.

Exceptions prove the general rule. Standout team issues include two 1973 comics on Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys by Fleming H. Revell Co. That religious publisher stressed the spiritual aspects of the Landry regime. Because of the team's popularity, either issue goes for about $35.

The best of the team genre, however, is the 1950 comic entitled Baltimore Colts, published by American Visuals Corp. Players are detailed individually and the comic is highly valued. Pro football fanatics have coughed up $100 for this issue.

Notable, too, is the similarly-titled 1962 comic produced by a Baltimore PR Firm, George Wright Hawkins Assoc. Inc. This issue is notable because it is an authorized NFL publication. At the time, GWH was the sole NFL Enterprises licensee for comic books. As an authorized comic, this distinctive title goes for about $30.

Although attempted revivals of sports comics appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s, none succeeded for long. All the popular athletes were covered, including Bo Jackson, Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, and Nolan Ryan.

Most recent biographical sports comics have been decidedly alternative to main stream sports publications. All Pro Sports gleefully labeled their biographical titles "Unauthorized." Revolutionary Comics took a similar tack with its Baseball Superstars series, appealing to the renegade spirit of youth.

Interests do change over time, and bridging the interests between comics fans and sports enthusiasts has proven elusive, especially for the MTV generation. After several issues both series lapsed, and these comics can be found in bargain bins today.

Fred Reed is former News Editor of Coin World and Vice President of Beckett Publications. A collector for 40 years, Reed is a member of most national coin and stamp organizations. He is also Secretary of Society of Paper Money Collectors. 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. He is currently penning six books on the various subjects. Reed is a long time member of the American Society of Magazine Editors, the Dallas Press Club and the Society for American Baseball Research.