Bill Blackbeard: He was 'ahead of his time' in recognizing comic strips as American art
When readers take the time to respond to an obituary, they often have a personal connection to the subject. Sometimes they end up writing an appreciation that is so heartfelt, I wish I could have read it before I wrote the story. So it is with the e-mail sent by Ray Polson of Los Olivos who reflected on the life of Bill Blackbeard, a newspaper scholar who died at 84:
I knew Bill Blackbeard well, as we were both in the newspaper comic field from the late '60s thru the '90s. At the time, I was the largest dealer in newspaper comics in the U.S, a rather large title for a field that nobody cared about. I met Bill at Bond St. Books in Hollywood through my then-partner, Steve Edrington. Bill had just established the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art on Ulloa St. in S.F. Bill had the MOST knowledge of comic strips ... and most forms of American period art on paper from the '20s thru the '60s of anyone that I had ever met.
Bill and I had many dealings, including my first large newspaper buy through my last, when he was preparing to move to Santa Cruz. He was way ahead of his time, recognizing comic strips as contemporary American art. People laughed at us at the time but in the end, Bill proved the critics wrong and paved the way for the field of newspaper art being collected and revered as what it really was and is -- fine artwork that was included in the price of a newspaper.
Not only did Bill love strips, he really loved his favorite strips: Popeye, Alley Oop, Polly and Her Pals, and the Yellow Kid, not to forget Krazy Kat. Nobody knew more about comics strips than he did. He was the "expert's expert" in the world of newspaper comics.
The world of comic collecting, which includes newspaper comic artwork, should take off its hat and say goodbye to the man who prided himself as being the guru of the newspaper strip and a true representative of his last last name. RIP Uncle Bill.
-- Valerie J. Nelson
Photo: Bill Blackbeard, who grew up in Newport Beach, is shown in 1970 in the archives of his San Francisco Academy of Comic Art. Credit: Associated Press