It’s been almost two months since Bill Blackbeard died, but most people–including me–only found out the other day. Honestly, I didn’t even know he was still alive, but when I read of his death, my eyes filled with tears. Bill Blackbeard had a huge impact on my life, almost incalculable. That impact was caused mostly by his asteroid-sized book, The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics.
I was 7 years old when the collection came out, and I must have first discovered it soon after its release. It was very much one of the defining moments of my life. I was already fairly obsessed with comics and was becoming interested in both the history of comics and in the pop culture of the 1920s-40s. But Blackbeard’s massive collection cranked my love of comics and the Golden Age up to 11. Thanks to Blackbeard’s archiving of old comics, I learned to love Thimble Theatre, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Alley Oop, Gasoline Alley, Mutt & Jeff, Moon Mullins, Barney Google, Wash Tubbs, Little Nemo in Slumberland and especially Krazy Kat. So many of my dreams, so many of the stories in my head, so many of the words I put down on paper are directly and indirectly influenced by the strips I first discovered because of Bill Blackbeard. My love of old movies and animated cartoons, my love of old radio shows, my love of Art Deco design are in large part due to Bill Blackbeard. If I’d never read The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, my knowledge of the history of comics and my appreciation of the art form would be much poorer.
Rest in peace, Bill Blackbeard. Thank you for making my life and my dreams so much richer, so much more colorful.