Sunday, April 3, 2011

Crossing the Divide: Joe Louis (1)

One of the stages in racial integration and desegregation in the United States was the period in which famous African American sports personalities became widely accepted for their achievements thus 'proving' racial equality. Although in one sense it is deplorable that such 'proof' should be required, it is nevertheless undeniable that this phenomenon occurred, and it is reflected in comic books of the period. In boxing this goes back to the early 20th Century heavyweight champion Jack Johnson (champ from 1908-1915). Society was so racially charged at that time that the famous author Jack London called for a 'great white hope' to come forth and defeat Johnson. It wasn't until Joe Louis became champ from 1937-1949 that an African American boxer was admired by all regardless of race. Louis's undermining of Hitler's 'Master Race' theory by defeating Max Schmeling was certainly influential in this regard.

Sports comics as a genre tend to simply report the achievements of great sports stars, and the comic book series featuring them inevitably run out of material, the one example I can think of that doesn't follow this format being the Harlem Globetrotters Gold Key series of the early 1970s based on the Hanna Barbera TV cartoon. Because they are seen as sports memorabilia, sports comics are collected by sports fans, irritatingly driving the price up for comic book collectors. Here's one that I managed to get for a 'reasonable' price, Fawcett's Joe Louis Champion of Champions 2. In the early 1950s Fawcett seemed very serious about breaking into the African American comics market. They published Negro Romances (3 issues) and a variety of sports comics featuring African American sports personalities (e.g. Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson). Unfortunately none lasted long, and it must mean that poor sales caused them to cancel publication. Whether racist distributors were the reason for the poor sales (as happened with Dell's Lobo in the 1960s) I don't know, but at least Fawcett made a significant effort to change the comic book landscape and introduce diversity in a bigger way at the time than any other comic book company. So here's the Joe Louis story from Joe Louis 2. I've uploaded the entire comic to the Digital Comic Museum and you can download it from

Out Of This World will be featuring some more examples of African Americans in sports comics in the future, so watch this space!

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