Sunday, February 05, 2023

Today in Comics History, February 5: Happy birthday, Hank Aaron!

Happy birthday to Hank Aaron, one of the greatest players of Major League Baseball, born on this day in 1934. His sensational home run record of 755 beat out Babe Ruth's previous record and cemented his place in history. 25 times an All-Star player, World Series champ and National League MVP in 1957, and inspiration for MLB's Hank Aaron Award — Aaron is a legend of sports. Why, even the whitest of white teenagers had a poster of Hank Aaron on his wall!

cover of Pep #302 (Archie, June 1975), pencils by Dan DeCarlo, inks by Rudy Lapick, colors by Barry Grossman, letters by Bill Yoshida

Yep: women wanted him and Archie wanted to be him.

from "Gear Jeer" in Archie's Joke Book Magazine #198 (Archie, July 1974), creators uncredited and unknown

Hank Aaron may not have been playing during the Golden Age of baseball comics and gotten a "Baseball Heroes" comic all to himself published by Fawcett during the '40s (like Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzutto, or Roy Campanella), so I don't have too many appearances of him in comics, but here's an uncredited cameo in a Superman story...really, despite never being identified by name, who else could this be with Clarkie in the Green Room at The Midnight Show guest-hosted by professional windbag Steve Lombard?

from "The Midnight Murder Show!" in Action Comics #442 (DC, December 1974), script by Cary Bates, pencils by Curt Swan, inks by Kurt Schaffenberger

During the 1973 season, as Hank's home runs approached Babe Ruth's record, Charles Schulz spoofed this in a series of strips of Snoopy also approaching the home run record:

Peanuts (United Feature Syndicate, August 8, 10, and 11, 1973), by Charles Schulz

Aaron received many letters and phone calls from "fans" who objected to a Black man possibly breaking Ruth's record (including lots of racist hate mail with death threats).

Peanuts (United Feature Syndicate, August 14-15, 1973), by Charles Schulz

Of course, as we all know from our copies of Grays Sports Almanac 1950-2000, Snoopy did not break the record. Who's to blame for the beagle's defeat? Why, it was that round-headed kid, naturally:

Peanuts (United Feature Syndicate, August 20 and 22, 1973), by Charles Schulz

Despite urban legend, Hank Aaron was not the man the "Oh Henry" candy bar was named after, but he did apparently enjoy the delicious sweet and salty peanuts, popcorn and a prize in a box of Cracker Jack! Also, make sure you vote for him in the Cracker Jack Old-Timers' Baseball Classic! ("Old Timers?!?" At the time, Aaron had left baseball only six years previously!)

Cracker Jack advertisement from Marvel Comics cover-dated September 1982

A bit of background: Hank Aaron did get into the Old Timers Game. Want to learn more? Sure, we all do! Take a gander at this excellent history of the Cracker Jack-sponsored competition over at the blog of baseball historian Marty Appel!

Whatever else you can say about Hank Aaron, he met the Harvey Freaks of Nature (Richie Rich, Casper, and Wendy) when they magically summoned all the great National League players for a baseball game at which the existence of the Earth was at stake! Note: The existence of Earth was actually never at stake. I'm just guessing, but obviously Aaron is one (and Jackie Robinson is the other) of the two Black men in this infield of very generic portrayals of white men who play baseball. And unfortunately, their skin tone is greviously off-register. Thanks again, Harvey Comics!

from Richie Rich, Casper and Wendy: National League #1 one-shot (Harvey, June 1976); script, pencils, and inks by Warren Kremer

Happy birthday, Hammerin' Hank!

cover of Baseball Legends #13 (Revolutionary, March 1993), pencils and inks by Dell Barras

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