Sunday, September 02, 2012
Number 1220: Not your average palooka
My American Heritage Dictionary defines “palooka” as an “incompetent or easily defeated person, esp. a prize fighter,” but they can't be describing Joe Palooka, who was heavyweight champ. In the funny papers, anyway. Joe Palooka was one of the most widely read and widely recognized comic strips in the world. By 1948, when the issue of Joe Palooka Comics I'm showing today was published, it was among the top five comic strips. The strip was created by Ham Fisher in 1921. Fisher was assisted by Al Capp for a time in the 1930s, which led to a feud when Capp left and created the successful comic strip, Li'l Abner, the idea for which Fisher claimed was stolen from his strip.
Joe Palooka's peregrinations were of public interest; his time in the French Foreign Legion was a pre-war continuity, followed in over 900 newspapers. Joe was finally free from his five-year enlistment with the help of FDR. Yep, President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself showed up in a couple of panels asking for Joe to be released from his commitment. That presidential sequence is missing from this reprint, which is the tail end of the Foreign Legion story. It's alluded to, but not shown, and probably because by 1948 FDR had been dead for three years.
Regrettably, some of the thoughtless racism of the era is right up front. Joe's pal, Smokey, while treated as an equal by Joe, is an ugly caricature. My apologies to all who may be offended.
I believe the art is by longtime Fisher assistant, Mo Leff, who ghosted for Fisher, and did not sign the strip until 1955, after Fisher's suicide.
From Harvey Comics’ Joe Palooka #22, 1948: