The world of comics suffered a great loss with the death of Bill Blackbeard on March 10, 2011, in Watsonville, California. He was only a few weeks short of his eighty-fifth birthday. Born on April 28, 1926, in Lawrence, Indiana, William Elsworth Blackbeard began collecting newspaper comics at the age of twelve. That collection eventually became a mountain of comics: by his own estimate (in the early 1990s), Blackbeard clipped 350,000 Sunday comic strips and 2.5 million dailies from newspapers that would otherwise have gone in the trash. If it were not for him, America would have lost an invaluable piece of its cultural and social history. Instead, Blackbeard's collection--eventually seventy-five tons in all--was housed at the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, from its founding in the late 1960s until six tractor trailers hauled it to what is now the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University. The collection also became the source for Blackbeard's 200 or more books, reprints of well known and obscure comic strips going all the way back to the nineteenth century. On a personal note, Blackbeard was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II and attended Fullerton College on the G.I. Bill. He was married at one time but apparently left no direct heirs. Indirectly, we as a nation are his heirs, and his bequest to us is of incalculable value.
There are several articles available on the Internet regarding Blackbeard's life and death. If you want to read more, The Comics Journal, the New York Times, and even Wikipedia would be good places to start.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley