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Full disclosure: I’m not a big sports fan.
While I understand why professional sportsmen and women choose to kick a ball around a field or run in circles or swim at full pelt from one end of the pool to the other, or whatever else they need to do to win fame, glory and the big cheque that goes with it, it has always been quite beyond me why anyone would want to watch them do it, let alone pay for the privilege.
I feel the same way about sports in books and comics.
I’m John Grisham’s biggest fan. I’ve read all his books several times over – except Bleachers, which is apparently about football or baseball or something similar involving grown men playing kids’ games.
My aversion to sports dates back to a sadistic PE teacher at secondary school. Sorry, no dark deeds in the shower room to reveal, just a blockheaded, muscle-bound idiot incapable of understanding that some kids would prefer to huddle by the radiator with a book on a cold January morning rather than do a five mile cross-country run in a blizzard while dressed for the beach.
In fact it’s fair to say all my knowledge of sports comes from reading comics, which back in my quaint English childhood were staple entertainment in a world where having the latest electronic device meant owning a pocket calculator.
Comics like Tiger, Valiant, Hotspur, Hurricane and far too many more to mention, were my required reading when playing truant from school to skip PE (and French, and maths and…).
These were “boys’ comics, (as opposed to “girls’ comics” like Bunty, Twinkle, Mandy and June, which I also devoured thanks to having a nearly-same-age sister, or the androgynous comic titles like Beano, Dandy, Topper and Beezer, etc). And boys’ comics back then had two core themes – war and sports.
No wonder then I welcomed the occasional American superhero comic that came my way
But being “a reader” meant if it had words and pictures I would read it, and I soon knew far more about the fictional football (soccer for you guys across the pond) star Roy of the Rovers than I ever did about real-life footballers. I also knew an unhealthy number of mildly abusive terms for “the Germans”, as back then “war comics” meant World War Two.
So it was with mixed feelings that I heard the news in September that the British publisher Rebellion was reviving Roy of the Rovers, asserting,
There is a dearth of football-related fiction on the shelves, and we’re looking forward to correcting that, whilst giving a classic British comic character a new lease of life in the process.
Well, if it helps keep comics and reading vibrant in the UK I guess I’ll have to force a smile.
But it’s not just in Britain where sports comics are in fashion.
In Brazil two-time FIFA Player of the Year, striker Ronaldinho, and football legend Pele, are both comic book heroes, joining the likes of Muhammed Ali, who appeared in a DC Superman comic many years ago, and American basketball legend, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr, who enjoyed many a comic-strip outing.
In India cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar is soon to appear in a comic book and DNA India opines,
The growing popularity of comic books and graphic novels, especially in India, will work wonders to promote India’s nascent sporting culture, where cricket enjoys a disproportionate share of money and attention. By showcasing the exploits of icons like Dhyan Chand, they can raise awareness about other forms of sports like hockey to attract funds and talent.
Well, while football can send me to sleep in minutes, cricket deals a knock-out punch just thinking about it, so I won’t be heading off to India any time soon to check out the latest sports comics titles.
The exciting point behind all this is that the blossoming global comics industry is clearly not just going to model itself on American superheroes, but will be much more diverse, adding to the wealth of comic book literature around the world, and that’s great news whether we like sports or not.