Thursday, September 1, 2016


From his inception in 1921, Ham Fisher's comic book hero Joe Palooka spread quickly to radio, film, television, wristwatches. and lunchboxes. If the message was jingoistic, sexist, and racist, so were the times (not an excuse, just context). (The name Palooka supposedly derived from the racist slur "Polack.") According to Wikipedia, Fisher changed the hero's appearance to match whoever the current U.S. boxing champ was ... that is, until (ahem) 1937 and Joe Louis. Thereafter, the figure was dependably blond, cowlicky, and big-eyed.

By the time I discovered the comic, it was already a cliché. The word "palooka" (which either derived from the comic or didn't--opinions vary) had long been used to mean the opposite of what Joe Palooka stood for. Joe was grace in strength, simple honesty, and hard work. "Palooka" meant an unremarkable fighter, or more generally a slob. The character had also been overshadowed by rival he-man comic heroes Superman, Li'l Abner, and (soon to come) G.I. Joe. The old ideas of sportsmanship (modest and free of tricks) and patriotism he represented were evaporating in the light of televised pro wrestling, Muhammad Ali, and Vietnam.

I wasn't a huge fan because as a kid I wasn't a fan of comic books. I read them but not devotedly, with the exception of Mad magazine and Classics Illustrated (if they can be counted as comic books). But I looked at the covers and now and then glanced between the covers, the images of stripped-to-the-waist fights seeping into my dreams.


  1. Joe Palooka was a bit before my time, but newspapers that I'd see very occasionally did include strips on the funny pages.

    In short, I was unimpressed by his physique and never considered boxing as entertaining as pro wrestling.

  2. Joe Palooka was revamped in 2013 by comics publisher, IDW, as a guy in the world of mixed martial arts ... It lasted six issues so not really well received... Some of the covers had nice art though



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