Being A Sport, by Mike Gold
You might not have realized it, but this is the time of year when more Americans engage in more illegal activity than just about any other. Nope; it’s not drunk driving or tax cheating, it’s March Madness… and the crime is called gambling.
Studies suggest March Madness is the high school student’s portal to gambling. On-the-job productivity plummets. An estimated $2.4 billion dollars will be put on the line against the law, some of it with organized crime – which wouldn’t be the case if it were legal, unless you are like me and you consider bankers to be their own strain of organized crime.
I’ll admit, I don’t get it. I don’t have the gambling gene (or maybe I’m just too cheap), and I’m at best a second-tier sports fan. I follow hockey and I follow the Iditarod because being a hockey fan isn’t as weird as it used to be. I follow the Chicago Cubs because as a native northside Chicagoan I am compelled to do so. Much like Yankee fans, we believe that there’s some issue of “sports” involved with the team. And that’s pretty much it. My lifetime contribution to sports-related at-risk financial endeavors is zilch.
But I am a comics fan and a student of our culture. So I wonder, with all this interest in sports and all this money changing hands, why hasn’t there been a successful sports-themed comic book series?
They have ‘em in other countries. Soccer (okay, “football”) had been a staple of international comics since the invention of the staple; England’s Roy Of The Rovers was big for almost twenty years. Japanese comics routinely engage in sports themes. There’s more baseball in manga a month than in American comics in a decade. So it’s not that you can’t tell a compelling story in this genre; comics, after all, are about the human drama.
Not that some very talented people haven’t tried. Will Eisner tried a baseball comic. Marvel tried football themes. Charlton published generic sports comics by the pound. Drag Cartoons featured work by masters such as Russ Manning, Alex Toth and Gilbert Shelton. It lasted a lot longer than the others, but Drag Cartoons is just about the only exception.
People rarely discuss the Neal Adams / Denny O’Neil Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali, even though it was an exciting graphic novel and it contained some of Neal’s very best artwork. Of course, three weeks after the book shipped Ali lost the title and the book’s second printing was pulped.
Newspaper comics had a better track record – most notably Joe Palooka and Ozark Ike. In fact, the daily newspaper continuity strip form was created by Bud Fisher as a racing tip vehicle calledA. Mutt –renamed Mutt & Jeff when a second lead was added. He was named after heavyweight boxer Jeff Jeffries. More recently, there have been a few sports endeavors among the webcomics, including the NASCAR-themed Mighty Motor Sapians, by EZ Street’s Mark Wheatley and friends.
But true success as eluded the American comics world, at least during the past half-century. In the interests of full disclosure and self-promotion, I should point out that ComicMix and Trevor Von Eeden are about to change all that; Trevor’s already penciled and written his 240 page graphic novel and is about 1/8th through inking it – George Freeman has some early pages to color. That will happen… soon.
Meanwhile, if you’re going to bet on college basketball this month, watch your ass. For some, sports betting is a game. For a few, it’s an addiction that can cause great damage.
Former sports writer for the Skokie (IL) News, Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.