When Sports and Art Collide: Collecting Golden Age Sports-Themed Comic Books

Sports Comics, one of the early forays into sports comics, consisted of six stories over 68-pages and featured the New York Yankees’ Lou Gehrig on the cover of issue #1.

The real life drama that is sports often presents the perfect canvas for stories rich in triumph and tragedy. The glamour, fame and larger-than-life personalities of the athletes involved make them as equally compelling as any masked superhero. Therefore, it makes perfect since that as the popularity of organized sports has grown that there have been comic books to chronicle these amazing tales of athletic achievement and championship pursuits. Here is a look at just some of the material available to collectors.

In 1940, one of the early entries in the sports comic book market was Sports Comics, published by Street & Smith. Limited to just four issues, the title was rebranded as True Sports and ran for 46 issues between 1942 and 1949. Sports Comics #1 consisted of six stories over 68-pages and featured the New York Yankees’ Lou Gehrig on the cover. The successor title, True Sports debuted in February of 1942 and featured another iconic Yankee legend in Joe DiMaggio. During its print run the subject matter varied from individual star athletes of the time period to popular teams in general.

Also in the 1940s, the Hillman Periodicals company published a comic book called Real Sports, in November, 1948. The following issue, #2, was re-titled as All Sports. Never really finding their niche, Hillman, again retitled the comic book in April of 1949 as All-Time Sports Comics. The publication would be printed three more time with the last issue being released in October, 1949. Featuring short, illustrated stories, compiled in a single issue, the company was never able to generate the right type of content to sustain the title.

True Sports debuted in February of 1942 and featured iconic Yankee legend in Joe DiMaggio.

The Hillman Periodicals tried to join the rage with a comic book called Real Sports in November of 1948.

Real Sports was re-titled as All Sports with issue #2.

Again retitled, All Sports became All-Time Sports Comics in in April of 1949.

Unlike Hillman, Star Publications (1949-1954) was able to get licensing rights to top sports talent and published a title called Sports Thrills in the early 1950s. All the names of the day were represented, including DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese and even heroes like Walter Johnson and Ty Cobb from baseball’s earlier days. Other sports were well represented, including football with Red Grange, track with Bob Fitzsimmons, and swimming with Johnny Weissmuller.

Not wanting to be left out of the mix, Marvel released its own sports comic title in February of 1950 called Sports Action. The series ran until September of 1952 with a total of 13 issues. The first issue featured the real life story of George “Win One for The Gipper” Gipp. Other subjects included Hank Bauer, Bronko Nagurski, Ralph Kiner and Warren Spahn, to name a few.

The Golden Age of comics also gave rise to a popular series of loosely titled Baseball Heroes and featured the biographies of such notable players as Larry Doby, Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella. Published by Fawcett Publications in the early 1950s the books were immensely popular with young boys in the same way baseball cards were. Both mediums helped connect fans to players in an era long before on-demand sports content, the Internet and ESPN.

Star Publications secured the licensing rights to top sports talent and published a title called Sports Thrills in the early 1950s.

Marvel released its own sports comic title in February of 1950 called Sports Action.

Condition is always directly proportional to value. This is especially true when it comes to collecting vintage comic books. The basic grading scale, also known as letter grades, uses the notations NM, VF, FN, VG, GD, FR, and PR. These are abbreviations for Near Mint (highest), Very Fine, Fine, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor (lowest).

A more complex and meticulous grading system, the 10-point grading scale, assigns grades ranging from 10.0 (highest) down to 0.5 (lowest):

One popular series late in the Golden Age was titled Baseball Heroes and featured the biographies of such notable players as Ralph Kiner, Larry Doby, Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella

10.0 GM Gem Mint
9.9 M Mint
9.8 NM/M Near Mint/Mint
9.6 NM+ Near Mint+
9.4 NM Near Mint
9.2 NM- Near Mint-
9.0 VF/NM Very Fine/Near Mint
8.5 VF+ Very Fine+
8.0 VF Very Fine
7.5 VF- Very Fine-
7.0 FN/VF Fine/Very Fine
6.5 FN+ Fine+
6.0 FN Fine
5.5 FN- Fine-
5.0 VG/FN Very Good/Fine
4.5 VG+ Very Good+
4.0 VG Very Good
3.5 VG- Very Good-
3.0 GD/VG Good/Very Good
2.5 GD+ Good+
2.0 GD Good
1.8 GD- Good-
1.5 FR/GD Fair/Good
1.0 FR Fair
0.5 PR Poor

A good rule of thumb to follow when it comes to purchasing is to always buy in the highest grade you can afford, or set a minimum grade that you are willing to collect and stick to it. Having a collection of Golden Age sports-themed comic books of similar condition will ultimately lead to greater satisfaction than having some that are Near Mint and some that are just Fair.

Sources for comic books range far and above the traditional comic book shop or eBay. Antique stores, used book shops, flea markets and garage sales can all be good places to search for those colorful tales of athletic heroes.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

WorthPoint—Discover Your Hidden Wealth