I think it's fair to say that the biggest thing to happen in Britain this year is the Olympic Games. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee was fun (thanks for the extra day off work, your Majesty) but it was essentially over in a weekend. Even worse, the event that had been intended as the centre piece of the celebrations, the "spectacular river pageant" on the River Thames was blighted by the terrible, terrible* weather that has been such a feature of our summer in 2012.
The Olympics however, have been spectacular from start to finish. From my point of view it helps, of course, that the British Team has done so well. Third*** on the medal table, behind only the US and China, both of which countries have significantly larger populations, with more medals than we've won since 1908. It's also nice that the games have gone so well. For the last two weeks I haven't watched anything on TV that wasn't Olympic coverage of some sort or other. I can't remember a time when sport has been closer to the centre of British life. As nation we're loving it.
Now, I know that having the games in our own capital city heightens the interest for Brits like me, but I'd watch the Olympic Games wherever they were held, since the Montreal Olympics in 1976 (I was four and a half) I've been glued to every second of coverage I could get of every games – Moscow, LA, Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing. I've eagerly devoured every moment of them all – and I know I'm not alone. Half the world or more gets gripped by this extraordinary event every four years.
So. Can comics capitalise on this newly rediscovered love of sport? Where are the great sporting heroes in our comics?
In the past there were many.
I've written before about Alf Tupper, the Tough of the Track, a working class hero who sprinted his way through the pages of the Rover and Victor comics, valiantly battling snobbery and prejudice before sitting down to a plate of fish and chips. Given the current level of Olympic fever in the UK I'm frankly astonished that Tupper hasn't reppeared somewhere. I would have rather liked to have seen him lining up against Usain Bolt or Mo Farrah in London***.
Mention should also be made here of Roy of the Rovers. Football**** is also an Olympic sport, and Roy Race played the game for Melchester Rovers in the pages of various comics for nearly forty years. But I'm struggling to think of any other British comics with a sporting theme. I seem to recall in my youth that there were stories in some of the comics aimed at girls featuring ice skaters and horse riders (also both Olympic sports, of course) but they were in girls comics, which as a child I would rather have eaten than read***** so I know very little about them.
But what about elsewhere in the world?
A trawl of the internet shows that there aren't many. Indeed, the ones that seem to make it onto the net are the ones that are either hilariously bad, or just downright wierd. Why isn't there a comic from Marvel or DC that is dedicated to the exploits of an NFL Quarterback, or a Major League Pitcher? The long running success of Roy of the Rovers shows that sports based storylines can provide endless material as teams battle financial difficulties, the attentions of gangsters who want games thrown, saboteurs who try to stop them winning that vital game, and so on and so on. Team sports also allow for a large and ever changing cast of characters, which presents writers with the opportunity to address topical issues and keep things fresh.
Such comics would also surely have the advantage of appealing to a wide audience. Every nation in the world has at least one sport that everybody gets behind – if you could sell a comic to one percent of the people who watch Sunday Night Football in the USA, or whatever the big Premiership match is in the UK, how many copies would you sell? Whilst I'm not a thorough enough journalist****** to have checked the average ratings, I'm going to guess that the figure is somewhere between "a lot" and "a shitload".
Sporting comics would sell. As evidence I would give you every sporting movie ever made, and the runaway success of Scot Sigler's Galactic Football League series of books******* which take the sport of American Football and catapult it several hundred years into the future. This adds a bit of science fiction spice to the proceedings and, given the fact that many of the stories revolve around criminal activity probably help to avoid legal complications.
Now I come to think about it, although I can't think of any from across the pond, futuristic sports seem to have been a bit of a staple in that stalwart of the UK comics industry 2000AD. The strip Harlem Heroes featured the sport of "Aeroball", a sort of hybrid of American Football and Basket Ball with added jetpacks. Judge Dredd's most popular (with me at least) adversary, the free spirited Marlon Shakespeare, aka "Chopper" introduced readers to the sport of Skysurfing, and I vaguely remember something called "Mean Team", which featured a close knit team fighting in a "violent future sport". Memory fails me utterly as to the details, but what shreds of knowledge there are clinging to my synapses suggest that anyone who has seen The Hunger Games would get the basic concept.
I must confess I haven't read 2000AD lately, in fact I have about a year's worth sitting in my "to read" pile, so it might now be full of sports themed stories, but I'd have to say that such things have been thin on the ground . I think it's time for a return – we're geeks, certainly, but that doesn't mean that we also have to be couch potatoes. After all, anyone who watchers the Big Bang Theory knows that even Will Wheaton goes bowling…
*even by British standards, which in this regard are rather low…
**Or forth if you're American because the US calculates the medal table differently to everybody else.
***The character was, in fact, last seen in the pages of the Scottish Newspaper The Sunday Post as he prepared to compete in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. It's a shame that he doesn't seem to have qualified for his home games.
****No. Not Soccer. Football. I don't care how many other ballgames choose to call themselves football, the game that involves two teams of eleven players, and a spherical ball which (rather crucially) may not be touched by hands is the only real "Football". I don't really like the game, but that's not the point.
*****This turns out to have been my loss. In later life I've had cause to read stories from "girls'"publications such as Bunty and Misty. They were brilliant, and have cemented my belief that there are no stories for boys, or girls, or adults, or children, there are merely good stories and bad stories.
******In fact, I'm not a journalist at all really, however often I've been accused of it in the past.
*******If you're unfamiliar with Sigler's excellent series of free podcast novels you really should have a look at his site. You can buy "eBook and Tree Book" versions of his work, but he also gives most of it away in a free weekly podcast. They've been getting me through my training runs and long car journeys for years now.