Almost two years ago, a friend alerted me that Pool & Billiards Magazine had done a cover story on billiards comic book covers. Entitled “Comic Collection: Comics Featuring Our Favorite Sport!,” the November 2015 article focused on the 52 book collection of billiards enthusiast Gary Nelson. Mr. Nelson’s covers ranged from Popular Comics #124 (June 6, 1946) to Grimm Fairy Tales #82D (February, 2013).
As a long-time comic book collector, whose passion for comics pre-dates his passion for billiards by almost a decade, I was instantly hooked. In fact, I was a bit downtrodden, if not even slightly jealous, that the idea of munging comic books and billiards had not occurred to me. Ironically, I had even written a blog post in June 2014 – Top 10 Cartoon Cue Stick Carriers – that referenced a few such covers.
No matter. I jumped into the research with the energy of Firestorm and the determination of the Punisher, ultimately discovering a total of 61 comic book covers featuring billiards. But, to paraphrase the famous wall-crawler, with great research comes great responsibility, and simply sharing the covers is not a sufficient feat of billiards heroism. To take it farther, we must select the top quintile of those covers! My choices of the Top 12 Billiards Comic Book Covers follow, though I’ve also included a gallery of all the covers at the end so you can choose for yourself. Now, read on, enjoy and critique. Excelsior!
- Archie’s Mad House #21 (September, 1962). First published in 1959, Archie’s Mad House was designed to make no sense; by issue #19, it didn’t even feature Archie. Instead, the title focused on monsters, space, and wacky stories, often parodying some aspect of popular culture. This particular issue came out one year after The Hustler, which may have been part of the cultural gag. Regardless, the cover illustration shows two space men heading toward a planet shaped like an 8-ball. That’s my kind of interstellar travel destination.
- Feature Comics #132 (March, 1949). Published by Quality Comics, Feature Comics ran during the Golden Age of Comics, from the late 1930s to circa 1950. While many characters were introduced, the most noteworthy was Doll Man, created by Will Eisner, who also created The Spirit. Unfortunately named, Doll Man had the power to shrink his physical size, long before there was an Atom or Ant Man. Doll Man outlived his publisher, as the character was eventually acquired by DC Comics, and Doll Man became a member of the Freedom Fighters, as well as the All-Star Squadron. Though this particular cover is uninspiring (and specious, given the hat-wearing felon is shooting the 8-ball rather than the cue ball) I nonetheless appreciate the nostalgic value, as these super groups were part of my youth.
- Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #13 (June, 2002). I’ll admit it. The appeal of this cover has less to do with the billiards and more to do with my childhood obsession both with Spider-Man and the Marvel Universe of b-rated comic book villains. The setting for this cover is the Bar With No Name, a safe haven for Marvel villains. Presumably, Spider-Man intruded on a friendly game of pool between the two gents with cue sticks, Mr. Hyde and Whirlwind. And, now the interruption has drawn the ire of a gaggle of other costumed nemeses, including Vulture, Boomerang, Matador, Stilt Man, Rocket Racer, and a couple of other gnarly fellas.
- Casper the Friendly Ghost #142 (June, 1970). This amiable phantasm has been around since the 1930s, though he didn’t get his own comic until 1949 when Harvey Comics purchased the character outright. This particular cover is a delight because it not only shows Casper’s trick shot showmanship, pocketing at least three balls, with two more freakishly destined for corner pockets, but also revels in his innocence, as he floats into the table (which I’m thinking is not allowed by the BCA) and – oops – also sinks the cue in the side.
- Angel & Faith #11 (February, 2015). Joss Whedon struck gold with his series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel & Faith is a Dark Horse title that continues the Buffy story by focusing on the stories of Angel and Faith Lehane. Well, I never watched Buffy, so it’s all gibberish to me, but Scott Fischer’s cover is top-notch. (No surprise from the man who lent his skills and imagination to the Dungeon & Dragons: Monster Manual.) The cover features a menacing individual, gripping an 8-ball and impaled cleanly by a cue stick. A rack of skeletal billiards balls in the background. The scene looks like something out of my Top 10 Billiards Brawls.
- Foreskin Man #2 (2011). Circumcision has found a new enemy in Foreskin Man, aka Miles Hastwick, curator of the Museum of Genital Integrity. Created by Matthew Hess and published by Male Genital Mutilation Bill Comics, Foreskin Man, with his Herculean physique, seems to have the upper hand on the grimacing mohel, so I’m not sure why the hero feels compelled to wield an 8-ball. And, then there’s the bigger question which makes the whole comic’s mission a bit suspect: why is the brit malah happening on a pool table???
- The Flintstones and Pebbles #55 (December, 1969). I already knew from the 1960 Flintstones episode “At the Races” that the man from Bedrock could shoot pool. But, this cover does a great job of injecting the prehistoric scenery – in this case, a long-necked, fanged, reptilian creature – into the pool game. It is also repurposing the idea of using animals for tools and appliances, a popular Flintstones mechanism. Besides, Amazon sells more than 100 bridges of all shapes and sizes, including moose heads, bats, and spiders. Is it really so implausible that a snagglesaurus could be used for a similar purpose?
- Silent Hill: Dead/Alive #3 (February, 2006). Pretty much anything in the Silent Hill franchise is disturbing, and this comic book cover by Ted McKeever and Chris Bolton is no exception. The art shows a quartet of hideous monsters gathered around a pool table, where one of them is shooting the cue ball at an ocular billiard ball drawn disproportionately large. This is certainly far more gruesome than anything from the pseudo-horror billiards shows I’ve reviewed, such as the “Pool Sharks” episode of Monsters or The Understudy: Graveyard Shift II.
- New Funnies: Woody Woodpecker #187 (September, 1952). In 1999, the “Cue the Pool Shark” episode of The New Woody Woodpecker established that this red-white-and-blue avian can shoot some stick. But, this cover takes us back 47 years. Even then, Woody could rock the baize, showing off some mean masse skills to his feathered brethren. Granted, the kiddies have no respect for the game, morphing it into something like pool roller hockey. But, that’s cool – there are a lot of hybrid billiards sports out there (e.g., Pool Bowling with Jimmy Kimmel; Poolball – aka pool + soccer; etc.).
- Richie Rich Digest Winners #11 (November, 1981). Winning the prize for most billiards comic book covers is Richie Rich, the little boy zillionaire, with six different covers from 1973 (Richie Rich Fortunes #11) to this 1981 cover. Though other covers had better puns (“This table must have cost pool-enty!”), I selected this one for its uniquely designed pool table in the shape of a dollar sign. Too far-fetched? I think not…just take a look at these real unusually shaped tables (a coffin? a banana?). I think Richie might have been ahead of his time.
- Sleepwalker #2 (July, 1991). Do you ever play pool to relieve some stress? Jeff Hagees did. But, when his stress turned into gambling debt, and he was circumstantially fired by his employer, this engineer sought revenge by becoming the criminal 8-Ball, with a pool-rack shaped hovercraft, a killer cue stick (literally), and a team of goons, including 6-Ball, 9-Ball, and 11-Ball, who wielded exploding billiards balls. The best part: the 8-ball for a dome!
- House of Secrets #127 (January, 1975). Most known for introducing the character The Swamp Thing, House of Secrets from DC Comics focused on mystery, fantasy, and horror stories, often with several anthologized in one comic. This issue includes the 36-page story “Death on Cue!,” in which a pool hall bum steals a magic cue from an old man and beats him to death with it. But, the dead man’s ghost returns and enacts revenge, first beating him, and then shrinking him, as evidenced on the cover. It’s then unlucky 13 for the killer who is ultimately crushed between two deadly rolling balls.
Did I omit one of your favorite covers? Take a look at the complete collection of 61 covers and let me know which would have made your Top 12 list. And if you come across any covers that I’ve overlooked, send me an email or leave me a comment.