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Boxing announcer revives ‘Joe Palooka’ comic strip

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) – Joe Palooka has come out of retirement for one more fight _ or several.

The beloved comic strip featuring a big-hearted boxing champion ended in 1984 after a run of more than 50 years. Now boxing announcer Joe Antonacci has acquired the trademark rights to “Joe Palooka” and is resurrecting the character as a mixed martial arts fighter.

With help from a comics writer and artist, Antonacci, a Ridgewood, N.J., native, is pushing a new Palooka series, with two fresh strips already published online and a hard-copy version expected to be available within months.

Created by Wilkes-Barre, Pa., native Ham Fisher, the daily strip once appeared in more than 900 newspapers and was among the most popular comics of the 1940s and the most successful sports-based strip ever.

Antonacci’s version has been updated to reflect the growing popularity of mixed martial arts, with planned cameos by real-life Ultimate Fighting Championship stars.

But Antonacci, who read “Joe Palooka” as a boy, said the message remains the same.

“In a way, it’s similar to what Ham Fisher tried to do,” he told The Citizens’ Voice of Wilkes-Barre. “My Joe Palooka character is a guy with a heart of gold, who gets into trouble and gets out. It’s family-friendly _ the character is not full of gratuitous violence or sex or cussing.”

Fans already appreciate Palooka’s ring reemergence, overwhelming Antonacci’s stand at a recent convention.

“If it’s popular and God blesses us with a good reception, we’re going to keep doing this,” said Antonacci, who also does some of the writing for Joe Palooka.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)