Bill Blackbeard: Tributes

Gary Groth:

We have all been touched by Bill Blackbeard’s contribution to comics. Who, in the event, do I mean by “we”? Good question. I mean those of us who value the history, preservation, and appreciation of comic strips. Bill was instrumental in cultivating a widespread awareness of the newspaper strip as more than a quaint relic of early 20th century pop culture, but rather as an example of the vitality of early American mass art and of the unique virtues of the comics form.

I grew up reading comic books; my exposure to newspaper strips was peripheral, and by the time I read them casually in the newspaper —the 1960s— the glory days of strips were long gone, and none of them could compete with the pleasures I found in Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, or the Fantastic Four. Adventure strips were on the wane, and even those strips that defined the genre –Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Steve Canyon— had all seen better days. The variety of genres had declined, the demographics had withered, the art shrunk, the visual innovations mostly gone. Those sublime full-page, full-color Sunday pages were a thing of the past and kids my age never even knew they existed. There were few newspaper strip reprints available at the time that reflected the range and beauty of those old strips.

But there were a few. The earliest such collections that piqued my interest were Woody Gelman’s books, issued under his Nostalgia Press imprint, in the ’60s and ’70s (with contributions by Bill): black and white collections of Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Sickles’ Scorchy Smith, Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, and Segar’s Thimble Theatre —all welcome, intriguing, but slightly exotic to my narrowly focused eyes— they were like neither contemporary comic books nor newspaper strips, so what were they?— but even taken together, they weren’t enough to demonstrate the breadth of the early newspaper strip art. I was obsessed enough to track down several comics histories that were available at the time, all of which reprinted a tantalizingly meager sampling of strips — all in black and white: The Penguin Book of Comics (edited by George Perry and Alan Aldridge, 1971), Comics: Anatomy of a Mass Medium (by Reinhold Reitberger and Wolfgang Fuchs, 1971), Comics and Their Creators (by Martin Sheridan, 1944), and The Comics (by Colton Waugh, 1947). They reprinted just enough comic strips to whet one’s appetite, but where you could one find more? Nowhere.

Until The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics came out in 1977. I don’t know a single member of my generation who was not influenced or affected by this landmark publishing event. We’d heard of many of these strips, read about them in fanzines, seen panels and pages here and there, but finally, an entire book achieved critical mass! It was like being hit in the head with a ball bat. It opened our eyes to the rich history of newspaper strips by presenting sizable samplings of the most spectacular and idiosyncratic cartooning — everything from Little Nemo to Barney Google to Gasoline Alley to The Bungle Family, to Skippy to Alley Oop to The Gumps! My God, The Gumps! It even included a few strips I recognized — Peanuts, Doonesbury, The Wizard of Id. It was a panoramic view of history — not a sea of text with a sprinkling of tiny images. Newspaper strips from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s were, to me, like a foreign country; in fact, they were to the comic books I’d grown up reading what foreign film were to the American movies I’d grown up watching. I still remember having the same feeling of discovery and revelation and excitement after reading through the Smithsonian Collection that I had leaving the first Bergman film I’d seen, thinking, “So that’s what a foreign film is like,” and knowing that I’d just been exposed to something significant that would affect me for the rest of my life. The book was, of course, co-edited by Bill and Martin Williams. (Williams, who worked for the Smithsonian and helped bring the idea of a book about comics to fruition, was himself a superb critic of pop culture, primarily of jazz and film; his book on D. W. Griffith is essential reading to everyone interested in film.)

Bill followed the Smithsonian Collection up by editing a series of black-and-white strip collections from Hyperion Press, the first time a (more or less) systematic reprinting project had been undertaken. Once again, Bill’s selections were astute, eclectic, and idiosyncratic — A. Mutt, Baron Bean, Abbie the Agent, Connie, The Bungle Family, and others. Apparently, there was no market for such books at the time, and the line expired. Another valiant effort by Bill.

It was my great fortune to begin working with Bill a few years later. In 1981, Fantagraphics began publishing NEMO The Classic Comics Library, a quarterly magazine devoted to comic strip reprints, scholarly essays, and interviews with cartoonists under the brilliant editorship of Rick Marschall. Bill was a frequent contributor. We also began publishing our own newspaper strip reprints —Popeye, Prince Valiant, and others (for which there was, incidentally, still no market)— for which we tapped Bill for introductions and historical essays. Bill was always incredibly generous with his expertise and his time, always happy to provide us with missing strips or better versions of what we had — acting promptly and professionally and with little remuneration. Bill continued to help us over the next 30 years on a variety of projects —including at least one that won’t be published for another two or three years!

I didn’t talk to Bill as much as I would’ve liked. We spoke mostly when I wanted to involve him in a project or needed to tap his vast knowledge about comics, about which he was never proprietary and always giving. Oddly, although we’d spoken many times on the phone over that time, Bill and I had never met. I decided to rectify this in 2009. By then, I had missed my chance to visit the Academy of Comic Art in San Francisco, his legendary home/repository so ably described by R.C. Harvey, but I could still meet Bill. My plan was to drive up the coast with my son after the 2009 San Diego Comicon International, making pit stops along the way, and flying out of San Francisco. One of those stops, of course, was to visit Bill, which I did on the 29th of July.

Bill was, by then, living in a nursing home in Watsonville, California — always an unfortunate portent. But, the facility appeared to be efficiently run, and Bill’s room was airy and light, opening out on to a tastefully landscaped court. Bill was in good spirits, and mentally alert, if somewhat physically frail. Here I was, meeting someone for the first time who I’d read for years, talked to, worked with, published, who contributed to my own education and understanding — and I was thrilled. We got along instantly, and spent two hours chatting — about comics, of course, but also about his life, about his clipping newspaper strips when he was young, his stint in the Army (if I remember correctly, he told me he drove an ambulance during WWII), his next deadline for us.

One of my most vivid memories, perhaps because so unexpected, is of Bill talking excitedly and effusively about — John Grisham. He practically jumped out of his chair, walked across his crowded room and opened a dresser drawer full of Grisham novels. He pulled one out, The Last Juror, and insisted I take it. Which I did, cheerfully, even though I didn’t think I’d ever read it, and which I’ve kept as a memento of my afternoon with Bill. At first, Bill’s enthusiasm for Grisham, not exactly known for his prose style, was incongruous with his more refined taste in comic strips, or so I thought. How to reconcile this.

Bill wrote criticism as well as history, but I always considered him an historian first and foremost. A critic has to know something of history and an historian must be critically alive, but usually one skill serves the purposes and priorities of the other and rarely do you find someone who can practice both equally well (after all, who is the most recent critic-historian equally gifted in both disciplines, George Saintsbury?). Bill’s vocation, I think, was cultural history — I say this despite the fact that he had the elitist temperament of a born critic. (He was hilarious on Golden Age superhero comics; referring to why he didn’t want to edit the Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics, he told Dylan Williams, “I just couldn’t see giving another boost to those meretricious superheroes, which I think are sub-moronic. …The six or seven year olds that jumped around on their beds reading Superman, in the early years, that was exactly the mental level that the thing was created for, that was its audience. It had no substantial worth except in the incidental touch of Shuster art… The content, the storylines, were imbecilic.” And who could disagree?)

Yet, fortunately, he wasn’t highbrow enough to be put off by the vulgarity and —let’s admit it— the imbecility of many newspaper strips that had compensating aesthetic virtues. His artistic preferences ran toward strips with strong, popularly conceived narratives, vivid characters, and original visual styles  — Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Roy Crane, Floyd Gottfredson. In a sense, he was working from an 19th century aesthetic (he was more likely to reference Dickens than Broch), which served him well in his exploration and appreciation of the American comic strip. It was this combination of critical acumen and catholicity of taste, his contempt for ignorance and his cantankerous refusal to accept the comic strip’s lowly place in the cultural hierarchy that made Bill Blackbeard the art form’s first true historian.


Lucy Shelton Caswell, Professor Emerita, Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

It isn’t an overstatement to say that Bill Blackbeard saved the history of American comics.  Without his commitment, much of the heritage of newspaper comics would have been lost. Everyone who cares about comics is in his debt—and we here at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University are especially grateful that he entrusted his treasures to us. His legacy is great.


Chris Ware:

As an undergraduate student and aspiring cartoonist, the book laid open most often on my drawing table was Blackbeard and Williams' weighty Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics. For years I'd been led to believe by various comic book aficionados that the zenith of achievement for the medium were the EC comic books of the 1950s, but after discovering the Smithsonian book, it became all too clear to me that the real original geniuses of the medium were the pre-cinema cartoonists of the throwaway Sunday supplements of a half century prior. As a general history, the book evenly balanced a necessary all-inclusivity with an otherwise gently insistent esthetic sophistication, which was something of a virtuosic tightrope act of curation: covering everything while still allowing the greats to shine. Choosing a few representative examples of Krazy Kat and Little Nemo is hard enough, but what about introducing Gasoline Alley and Polly and Her Pals to a brand-new readership, to say nothing of uncovering the obscure efforts of George Luks and Lyonel Feininger? Even better, the strips were presented in a warm, large, full-color format which at the time must have been extraordinarily expensive, but allowed their complicated and intricate compositions to be truly re-appreciated; earlier histories of comics had tended towards text-clotted black-and-white tour schedules, amputating single panels and freeze-drying them in black and white as little more than passing souvenirs of an outmoded 19th and early 20th century naïveté. (As an aside, one of the deciding reasons I agreed to design the "Krazy and Ignatz" series was that Mr. Blackbeard was its acting editor, and I considered it a personal honor to be asked to contribute.) By devoting his life to the preservation and location of these near-extinct supplements and sections, Bill Blackbeard saved an American art from the certain peril of trash men, librarians and ultraviolet light so that we, the generations to come, could appreciate their unprepossessing, unpretentious and uproarious beauty. The comic strip may have been disposable, but Bill Blackbeard's founding contribution to the understanding of it as an art was, and always will be, timeless.


Robert Beerbohm:

Last Thursday I called to OSU seeking contact information for Bill. The long-time numbers I had for him were disconnected, but I finally had time to come pay him a visit again. I got Gary Groth on the horn; he let me know where Bill was housed. The lady who answered said a Bill Blackbeard was not on their roll list, so she clicked me over to their medical records department. That person informed me Bill had passed away some time ago.

It hit me like a ton of bricks had fallen on my head.

"What?" is all I managed to get out at first.

After going round and round with her for some minutes I realized they were not going to divulge any information, as I was not on a "next of kin" info list. A bit of anger overtook me when it sunk in that Bill had passed away over a month ago and no one knew. "Why is that?" is the question still on my mind. Tears came to my eyes as I realized I was too late to ever say goodbye to my friend of almost 40 years.

So I thank Gary for allowing me a bit of space here to do so now.

I first met Bill Blackbeard in late 1972. I had recently moved to the Bay Area and partnered with Bud Plant and the late John Barrett to open The Berkeley Comic Art Shoppe at 2512 Telegraph Ave. This older gent (we were all of 20 at the time) came into the store and engaged me in a discussion in early comic strips, which I found fascinating. Somewhere into the conversation he informed me who he was, that he had founded something called The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, which I had dimly heard of.

I proudly informed him that the year before I had been to the house of the earliest known comics collector, one Ernie McGee, who had begun seriously collecting in 1914 when he was 20, and asked Bill how his holdings compared. Ernie had been so impressed that a (then) 19-year-old was into the earliest newspaper comic strips that he gave me his triplicate copies of the first, second, and fourth Yellow Kid tear sheets from 1895 New York World Sundays. Bill was impressed -- he didn't (yet) have those earliest Outcault creations.

Some weeks later I paid a visit to the "Academy" on Ulloha Street in San Francisco's Sunset District. My mind was blown: There were mountains of comic strips and bound volumes all carefully indexed and sorted. Ernie's three story house was full of comics material, but he had trouble finding anything. Bill knew exactly where everything was.

After a few hours of absorbing what his mission on this planet was, I became an ardent fan of his work, supporting him every way I could, which led to a lifelong friendship. After Ernie passed away in the mid 1970s, Jack Herbert, a noted New York City collector, obtained Ernie's Yellow Kid run. When Jack passed away sometime later, he, in turn, willed the precious treasure to Bill, who turned it into the 1995 book R.F. Outcalt's Yellow Kid. Most every newspaper comic strip reprint project published over the past 40 years was possible at least in part due to Bill Blackbeard spending countless thousands of hours clipping and sorting, assembling duplicates of the best printed examples of nearly every comic strip ever published.

In 1996, when I was asked to create the Platinum Era section of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, Bill was one of my first sources. We spent several days going through drawer after drawer, with Bill talking to the effect about "what took you guys so long?" to recognize the comic books published before Famous Funnies in 1934. Most recently, Bill and I worked together via Chris Ware on the current Fantagraphics editions of Krazy Kat, as I was able to supply some crucial ephemera.

When it came time for Bill to think about his future, and as the deal to sell the archive to OSU was being made, I asked Bill "why?" and his reply was, "Bob, at some point one thinks more about Metamucil than anything else. Besides, I am keeping the 'good stuff' for another decade, which is everything earlier than 1920." We laughed about that, and about time marching on.

In retirement Bill and Barbara moved down to Santa Cruz near the ocean. Until recent years, I visited Bill there every year. I'm still coming out of the shock that I can never talk to my friend again. Then again, all we can do is pass our lore and knowledge onto future generations like Bill tirelessly did in his lifetime.


Mark Newgarden:

I never met Bill Blackbeard but I always felt like he was one of the family. I’ve lived with that name staring back at me from my bookshelves since I was old enough to have my own bookshelf. During my childhood, every new book on old comics seemed to find its way under the tree for me at Christmas time, and every book, invariably, seemed to have some something to do with Bill Blackbeard. Starting with All in Color for A Dime, the Nostalgia Press Popeye volume, the entire Hyperion Library of Classic American Comic Strips series, and of course The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. I devoured each and every one, usually by New Year's Day, and then over and over again. These books, ultimately, made me a cartoonist and made me a collector. Thank you, Bill Blackbeard.


Michael Tisserand:

A few years ago, the first stop in my research for an upcoming biography of George Herriman was Bill Blackbeard's mightily cluttered home, which sat just a brick's throw from the ocean. As we talked I couldn't help but scan the science fiction posters and pictures on the walls, the Isaac Asimov books on the shelves, and the Laurel & Hardy films scattered on the floor. It was like a cave filled with treasure, fitting for someone with a great pirate name.

Blackbeard was generous, insightful, and funny. I knew that he had been involved in some debates in the past about Herriman's ethnicity, so I approached that tricky topic gingerly. I needn't have worried. He was eager to learn what I had uncovered and ready to discuss in detail the nuances of the issue. I was well aware that I was in the presence of a crackling intellect, a gifted writer, and a collector who, as Jeet Heer wrote in his tribute, collected not to hoard, but to share. I also knew that Blackbeard's work made mine possible.

At the end of the morning he graciously gave me a couple of his SPEC publications of The Family Upstairs. I asked if he would sign one and he declined, saying that he would never sign something that was really the cartoonist's work.

In May 2008, for Fantagraphics' collection of Herriman's 1943-1944 Krazy Kat comics, Blackbeard penned an introduction that Heer later pointed out to me seemed to be both an elegant appreciation of Herriman's final work as well as an acknowledgment of Blackbeard's own failing health.

Blackbeard wrote:

"When the ravages of a disease like George Herriman's deadly cirrhosis of 1944 have taken their toll on a once active intellect, what remains may be the mere breathing hull of a departed persona where a mentality has simply shut down for good. Poe put it well: 'Broken is the golden bowl, the spirit flown forever.' It is a kind of death in seeming life, the saddest exit a human being can take from creative self-awareness in art and life."

He then finished the essay with an illuminating study of the final Krazy Kat strips and their images of "interment and submersion ... unmoored from any apparent point or premise within the strips' storylines."

As Asimov said, "Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome."

R.I.P. and thank you, Bill Blackbeard.


Trina Robbins:

I was so sorry and sad to read this news. Of course I knew Bill was not well, and that he was getting on, but it still comes as a shock. I owe so much to Bill! It was in 1970 that he gave me my first Nell Brinkley newspaper page, thus setting me on the road that eventually became two books on Nell. I could not have done any of my histories of women cartoonists and superheroines without Bill, who gladly went above and beyond what I asked of him, finding women cartoonists for me that I hadn't even known about. If Bill liked you, he could be worth his weight in gold, but if he DIDN'T like you -- and here's a story: Alex Toth visited Bill's house once. If you'd ever been there, you'd know it was floor to ceiling paper products, many ancient and flaking, so of course he had a no smoking rule. Alex, whom many of us remember was not a particularly pleasant person, smoked and refused to put out his cigarette to enter Bill's house, so Bill wouldn't let him in. That was Alex's loss.

He also never answered his phone. When you phoned, you'd get a message that you'd reached the Academy of Cartoon Art, and to leave a message. If he liked you, he'd return the call. I'm very grateful that Bill liked me.

I remember when some folks I knew were visiting San Fran and wanted to visit the Cartoon Art Museum, but they kept phoning Bill's Academy of Cartoon Art by mistake, and they complained bitterly to me that they wanted to visit the museum, but their phone calls were never returned! I was able to figure out their mistake, and they got their visit to the museum.

Bill was also a fount of information about the early days of fandom and a pleasure to listen to.


Peter Maresca:

Bill was a friend and a mentor. I first met him in 1980, but only got to know him well in the last decade. I visited with him a few times a year since he moved from San Francisco down to Santa Cruz. The last visit was just before Christmas; his mind and movement were considerably slower than just a few months earlier, but he still talked about projects present and future. Somehow I thought he’d keep going forever.

I watched his health deteriorate steadily over the last eight years, but his spirit—his love for and devotion to his calling—remained strong to the end. Art Spiegelman and I took him out to lunch one day shortly before he was forced to move from his trailer to the nursing home in Watsonville, a few miles to the south. Unfortunately, there was no one around to give him the home care he needed. He could barely walk, occasionally needed oxygen, but during our visit he made only slight reference to his ailments, as if they were a minor nuisance, and much preferred to hear more about what we were doing. Art was in Santa Cruz that day to speak on his No Towers book and how he channeled the early comics artists to help himself through frightening times. I had just released my first Little Nemo collection, conceived with great encouragement from Bill. I listened as he told stories and shared his knowledge of comics history, expanding an appreciation of both the medium and the work he had done to bring it to a modern audience.

I don’t think there would be a Sunday Press Books without Bill Blackbeard. And if he had not spent those many years mining the trash of our short-sighted libraries, sorting, clipping, cataloging, Xeroxing, and of course, writing and editing, I’m pretty sure that the wealth of comics reprints we enjoy today would be greatly diminished, as would the broad appreciation and acceptance of the true American art form known as the comic strip. Bill was certainly aware of his accomplishments, but of greater importance to him was that he was having such fun doing it all.

Bill is gone, but I can state with more meaning than is usually found in this old saying: we’ll see him in the funny papers.


Jeet Heer:

I’ve already paid my respects to Bill Blackbeard but as the tributes and eulogies continue to pile up, I feel that there are still important parts of his legacy that need to be showcased. Like most other obituarists, I tipped my hat to Blackbeard’s monumental achievements as an archivist and also his work co-editing (with Martin Williams) the landmark Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. These were, I still believe, Blackbeard’s most important contributions, but in celebrating them there is the danger that short shrift will be given to Blackbeard’s writing.

The eagle-eyed Tom Spurgeon has already noted that little attention is being given to Blackbeard’s writing and to make amends I want to make a few notes. Blackbeard’s two best essays were “The First (arf, arf) Superhero of Them All (Popeye)” (which can be found in the anthology All In Color For a Dime edited by Don Thompson and Dick Lupoff) and "Mickey Mouse and the Phantom Artist" (which deals with Floyd Gottfredson and appeared in the anthology The Comic-Book Book, another Thompson/Lupoff production). These essays were exemplary acts of evocative appreciative criticism: written at a time when the comics of Segar and Gottfredson were nearly wholly inaccessible, they vividly described the vitality and narrative inventiveness of these artists.

Descriptive accuracy is an underrated skill in criticism. High-spirited and peppered with peppy prose, these essays captured the experience of following day by day or week by week a long story featuring Poyeye and Mickey Mouse. I actually read these essays before I encountered either Segar’s or Gottfredson’s work, so when I actually read the strips I had a sense of déjà vu since Blackbeard’s evocation were so faithful and observant.

In a slightly different key, Blackbeard’s wrote a strong historical essay on The Yellow Kid for the 1995 Kitchen Sink volume reprinting Outcault’s influential strip. This long introduction – really a short book – was Blackbeard’s most sustained effort as a historian and was notable for overturning many oft-repeated bits of newspaper folklore. Blackbeard brought a level of factual care to comics history that remains rare. If we had deeply researched essays for all the other major cartoonists of the early 20th century comparable to Blackbeard’s best writing, our entire sense of the form’s history would be different.

As R.C. Harvey has suggested, Blackbeard was an idiosyncratic writer, given to digressions, at time garrulous and in love with arcane slang. You could never be quite sure what tack he would take: I recall one introduction to a Roy Crane reprint that dealt largely with Victorian illustrators. A reader looking for information on Crane would be puzzled by this approach, although as it happens Blackbeard was exactly right in locating comic strips in the larger tradition of writing with pictures that includes the Victorian illustrated novel. Blackbeard occasionally indulged a penchant for useless argumentation, as when he argued that Prince Valiant wasn’t really comics because it had no word balloons (an argument that actually conflicted with his otherwise admirable catholic sense of the heterogeneity of the comics form).

But however maddening he could occasionally be, Blackbeard’s writing always had personality and verve. You could never mistake his voice for the humdrum journalistic or academic language that dominates most critical writing.

Gary Groth is right to say that Blackbeard was more of a historian than a critic but I’d add a few provisos. Firstly, Blackbeard focused more on history than criticism in part out of sheer necessity: the history of comics was so thinly written, so filled with inaccuracies, that he had little choice but to try to create an infrastructure so that genuine knowledge could exist. Hence his work as an archivist and editor. Secondly, editing at its best can be a critical act: in selecting so carefully the best of the comics past and presenting the material in a way that made its merits impossible to ignore, Blackbeard and Williams were committing a critical act (comparable, I’ve argued elsewhere to the various editorial interventions of Spiegelman and Mouly, Dwight Macdonald’s Parodies, Hugh Kenner’s volume of Seventeenth Century Poetry or the Subtreasury of American Humor edited by E.B. and Katharine White). Editing at its best has a creative side and also is a salutary critical act; certainly Blackbeard’s exemplary editing didn’t just preserve the past, it also altered how we looked at the past.


9 Responses to Bill Blackbeard: Tributes

  1. Pingback: Carnival of souls: Beto, Blackbeard, Groth vs. Shooter, Williams vs. comic cons, more « Attentiondeficitdisorderly by Sean T. Collins

  2. BLBcomics says:

    I wrote this last night:
    it is every one's loss to co-share. Bill was friends with many of us either thru meeting him, having a chance to go thru his awesome archives, or thru the hundreds of comics books he supplied sorely needed visual aid for over some four decades. I feel blessed and lucky I spent 22 years in the Bay Area being able to drop thru his comics academy, even having one of my stores located about a mile away back in the day.

    It is one thing to see and read the reprint books, quite another to be blessed with handling the original artifacts as much more perspective accompanies same. Bill is one of many "old timers" I inter-acted with serious comics research who are no longer with us. Another such was Gabriel Laderman who by happenstance died on the same day, March 10, and was a couple years younger than Bill being 82 IIRC.

    When I was able to handle the comicon circuit I was going into New York City half a dozen times a year. Gabe become a semi-regular pit stop along with NY Public Library where Alice Dowd was a huge help, NY Historical Society where I found lots of 1800s sequential comic strips, long time friend Art Spiegelman who has a passion for knowledge of the early stuff which knows no bounds, and others but no one matched the 19th century holdings of Gabriel Laderman who over time as he dug them out for the many visits I made supplied many many dozens of index listings for the "Victorian" era section of Overstreet co-created with Richard Olsen PhD and Doug Wheeler oh about a decade ago now.

    It was at Gabe's where he showed me, and we sat there counting pages, taking measurements, recording publisher and creator data, making quite a few copies of this B&W stuff at the local copy shop. Where the earliest known comic book sequential story by a woman titled The Adventures of A Woman In Search of Her Rights by Florence Claxton (early 1870s) was resurrected for public knowledge.

    Gabe's passing I found out about within a day or so.

    Bill's is different. Until I called OSU last Thursday inquiring if they had contact info on Bill, was referred to Gary Groth, who also had not been in contact for some six months. He supplied me with the name and number of the rest home in Watsonville, Calif which i tried about an hour later after concluding some comics biz, the line was busy. In another hour I called again, got thru right away, was informed Bill was not on the listing roster, was referred to "medical records" wherein was informed that Bill had passed away some time ago.

    That was a shocker to me, as I had been feeling for some time now a strong feeling for the last 6-8 months an intense need to see Bill, but circumstances & life's challenges precluded me from being able to.

    Post-Wondercon earlier in the month found me scoring a few new collections to mercantile for their owners which found my van & trailer overloaded and pressing need to secure a quarter million dollars worth of vintage comics stuff back in my warehouse.

    With other pressing business in the Bay Area I needed to come back for in a dozen different scenarios, I figured I would fly back in a couple weeks and since I will be in Santa Cruz Watsonville area anyway, this was perfect opportunity time.

    As much as Bill taught me, I taught him as well quite a bit as previously unknown comic strips surfaced from arcane regional newspapers. We traded back and forth a lot of comics stuff. The truly rare stuff I made sure Bill got as he was an official non profit center of learning. I took in trade from him the excess runs of the more commercial strips such as Segar Popeye, Foster Tarzan and PV, Raymond FG fulls, Buck Rogers, etc with which to cover rent, employees, overheard of all sorts.

  3. BLBcomics says:

    Bill was part of a regular route I made thru my stores, distributors, and other people's holdings of comics material, comicons up and down the coast, always vacuum-cleaning any and all "good" stuff and then finding homes for my excess. Bill did a lot of trading with a lot of people. Many of us did back then. I found quite a few rare pulps for him as he augmented the Academy holdings with ancillary collections to aid the over-all inter-connected research

    Bill also moved material thru one Ray Polson (LA) advertising full page ads in RBCC, later TBG. What Bill was doing was accumulating two of each for his ark. he did not need the restm indeed, simply did not have the room. The vast numbers of comic strip runs he went thru would have had him needing geometric progression more warehouse space.

    Before my warehouse flooded out back in 1986, I was splitting newspaper bound volume runs with a journalism Prof at Merritt College in the Bay Area. As one needed to be a non-profit 501(c)3 org, he would order the bound runs libraries were throwing away in the 70s,. I would pay the incoming freight, he got all the paper archives, I got the comic pages, both daily and Sunday, his students got invaluable exposure to learn, and my collector friends who also functioned as regular customers won also

    As much as Bill accumulated, they (evil short-sighted libraries) were throwing away the accumulated knowledge of the world in paper format faster than incoming freight money could be raised. Bill had no problem with what i was doing as he had more than his hands full handling what he ended up with. In fact, he would let me know about some such runs here and there in some part of the country he could not get to, as some of us strove to save em from land fills.

  4. BLBcomics says:

    The Feb 1986 Best of Two Worlds warehouse flood, same week end Eclipse Comics was washed down Russian River 43 miles away, saw most of the holdings accumulated turned into paper mache bricks. It was a lot of stuff. Damn near died that year, for a few weeks just laid down to die

    After learning to let go, it became easier to sift thru Bill's archive as the research never stopped. In the 25 years since, I have been blessed with being able to re-accumulate some 12 feet of Sunday pages. In the early 90s I recovered my complete Foster Tarzan full page run which had been stolen by an employee soon after the flooded warehouse. Seems he had died of AIDS and left unclaimed storage in Oakland which I bought 95% of around 1993. There was a U-haul truck full of comics stuff. Many books did this asshole steal. I also got back my King copy of Flash Gordon #1 with its Buster Crabbe (Multicon 1970 Ok City) and Al WIlliamson (Seulingcon 1971 NYC) front cover autographs which had disappeared.

    And in the mid 00s Lucy from OSU called me saying Bill Blackbeard had suggested I be the recipient of a huge load of the duplicates culled from inter-meshing what OSU already had and the huge augment influx from Bill's holdings. Bless the hearts of Bill and Lucy. Am still going thru the boxes – now that I have a 4000 sq ft warehouse space to work in, mostly all healed up, am sorting thru and re-organizing many 100s of boxes which had essentially been in storage in that little house which functioned as a warehouse i was forced into back in Dec 2006 a few months after the hip joints went bone on bone. Stuff was stacked floor to ceiling in a couple rooms for what ended up almost four years.

    Anyway, this is some of what is swirling around in my mind ruminating about Bill and the memories of his Academy out in the Sunset District of San Francisco. We had many a fond philosophical argument over what constituted a "comic strip" as he was of the "old"school who in the 60s had some sort of conclave defining a comic strip had to have among other things word balloons, something I have never agreed to. Especially so when Bill would state my beloved Foster Prince Valiant Sunday pages were, in (his) fact, not comic strips, but narrative story illustrations.

    I remember when I first breezed thru his Santa Cruz digs on Sea Cliff Drive with my newly acquired Obadiah Oldbuck by Topffer 1842 Wilson & Co NYC first edition. This is America's first comic strip and also comic book I placed in front of him. He just could not quite make the leap past Yellow Kid – though the stuff I was showing him form my travels he wavered at the end of my sojourns to his throne -:)

    Now he is gone, Gabriel Laderman is also gone,

    and I find myself thinking about the earliest accumulator of comics in America I ever met. Ernie McGee who began collecting in 1914. I was being taught by him beginning in 1971 when he was in his mid 80s and I was 19.

    His world's only known Yellow Kid near complete run passed from him to Jack Herbert, then Bill Blackbeard, now forever at OSU. When Ernie died circa 1976, Richard Marshall and Peter Maresca split the three story house up buying out Ernie's two daughters. But long time collector Jack Herbert had gotten there first, Ernie always said if something happened to him, Jack would get YK.

    Accumulated collective knowledge needs to be passed forward. I sure have absorbed a lot of this lore as have so many others of us because we come together in common ground with a fascination for all things sequential art.

    if all goes well, Bay Area is home once again some where. Looking forward again in life

    Robert Beerbohm http://stores.shop.ebay.com/BLB-COMICS http://www.facebook.com/robert.beerbohm http://www.facebook.com/BLBcomicscom#!/pages/BLBc

  5. patford says:

    It might not have been mentioned yet so I thought I'd bring up Bill Blackbeard's hefty contribution to the Maurice Horn book The World Encyclopedia of Comics.
    The book contains many essays by Blackbeard. On Opper alone Blackbeard contributed not only the essay on Opper, but entries on Opper's strips: And Her Name was Maud, Alphonse and Gaston, and Happy Hooligan.

  6. ChanceFiveash says:

    I discovered Bill Blackbeard's HUGE Smithsonian book when I was in my early 20's. By the time I'd discovered it I was immeresed in early 90's alt comics as well as pretty knee deep in late 60's and 70's undergrounds (thanks to Don Donahue's mail order catalog (this was the early 90's). My interest in old comic strips was a natural progression…and the Smithsonian book blew my mind. I remember showing it to people who had no intereest in such things and I was so enthused about this discovery that I just COULDN'T believe that were not impressed. That book was a gateway into collecting all of those glorious reprints from the 80's…my wallet bled…the 90's were the worst time to get into classic comic strips…luckily those days are over. We were lucky to have a man like Bill Blackbeard to preserve an important part of the 20th century.

  7. Pingback: Bill Blackbeard, Comics Historian: 1926-2011 « Graphically Inclined

  8. Pingback: Trina Robbins on Comics Heroines, Feminism, and Lacy Underthings — Imprint-The Online Community for Graphic Designers

  9. Sick Dr Joe says:

    I don’t keep up with comics-related news these days so much as play catch-up with it; thus this is the first I’m hearing of Bill Blackbeard’s passing. I knew he was in his 80s, and that time waits for no man, but this is still a shock to me.

    Like everybody else here, the day I bought my shrinkwrapped copy of the Smithsonian book (and can it really be 30 years ago?), a door to a separate reality opened wide before me, and thank God it did. In the intervening years, the appearance of his name on a book’s spine became a gentle reminder that I should probably buy that book.

    It isn’t hype to note that we are all in his debt, and that includes a number of us who otherwise have no idea who the man was. No field of endeavor could hope for a more loving and dedicated scholar and historian. RIP, Bill: you mattered, and still do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *