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SE N’È ANDATO BILL BLACKBEARD, L’UOMO CHE HA SALVATO LE STRISCE

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Tutti abbiamo avuto a che fare con lui, negli ultimi decenni, se ci siamo occupati di fumetti americani nati per essere pubblicati sui quotidiani o nei supplementi domenicali degli stessi.
Il suo leggendario archivio, le sue instancabili ricerche (anche indirizzate verso serie delle quali, noi poveri italiani, continuiamo a ignorare l’esistenza).

Insieme a Francesco Spreafico il contatto più recente che abbiamo avuto con lui riguarda la versione italiana della cronologica di Krazy Kat pubblicata dalla Free Books di Adriano Cerboni.

A Bill Blackbeard, scherzosamente chiamato nel giro ristretto degli appassionati italici “Guglielmo Barbanera”, quasi fosse una sorta di glorioso pirata degli archivi polverosi, va tutta la nostra gratitudine per un’eredità immortale che ha tramandato ai più volenterosi di noi.
Tonnellate di arte in vignette ancora tutte da spulciare.

Era nato il 28 aprile 1926. Scomparso il 10 marzo scorso, la notizia della sua dipartita si è diffusa solo in questi ultimi giorni. Dei suoi 84 anni, almeno cinquanta li ha dedicati a questa sua attività. Onore e gloria a lui.

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In Comics Chronicles scrive di lui oggi Jeet Heer:

Blackbeard The outlines of Blackbeard career have been told several times, with the best account found in Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Papers. In the early 1960s Blackbeard, then a middle-aged World War II vet and pulp fiction enthusiast, noted that local libraries were microfilming their newspaper collections and throwing away the paper versions, on the grounds that the paper copies took up too much space and were going to crumble quickly. Blackbeard immediately understood the dangers this presented to anyone interested in using newspapers as a source and in particular how this would make it impossible to preserve the history of comic strips. A newspaper tearsheet for a comic strip could be reprinted and give readers a good idea of what the strip looked like, something that was impossible from microfilm.

Blackbeard asked his local library if he could have the newspapers they were throwing away. He was told that as a private citizen he wouldn’t be allowed to but they could be donated to an institution. Blackbeard’s solution was to make himself into an institution becoming the Founder-Director of the San Francisco Academy of Comics Art in 1968.

Newly incorporated, Blackbeard was in a position to save and salvage as many newspapers as he could get his hands on before they were sent to the rubbish pile.
Working with a strong network of comics fans, he got the word out to libraries all across North America that the San Francisco Academy of Comics Art was where they should send those large bound volumes of newspapers. Blackbeard’s network included two retired bus drivers (Gale Paulson and George Cushing) who criss-crossed the continent on Ryder Trucks (loaned from another friend) packed to the gills with yellowing newsprint. At the time, Blackbeard was also an active part of San Francisco’s bohemian subculture that included the Beats and the underground cartooning scene.

The San Francisco Academy eventually accumulated 75 tons of material. This collection is now safely housed in the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in Ohio State University. It took six semi-trailer trucks to move Blackbeard’s hoard from San Francisco to Columbus, Ohio.

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Collectors come in two basic types: hoarders and sharers. Hoarders collect as much to deny other people their treasures as to enjoy it themselves. Blackbeard was a sharer. He loved those old strips and wanted as many people as possible to look at them. I have no way of tabulating how many books he edited. According to one source there were more than 200 volumes but I think that’s a bit on the low side, especially if we consider all the volumes that didn’t have his byline but wouldn’t have been possible without the archive he set up. Blackbeard would make a fine pirate’s name and Bill did have a swashbuckling entrepreneurial streak worth of Captain Kidd or other famous buccaneers. But in his generosity in sharing his wealth, he was no pirate. Quite the reverse, he was a Johnny Appleseed whose planting will benefit many future generations.

As an editor, Blackbeard’s greatest achievement was The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics which he assembled with Martin Williams in 1977. Enough good can’t be said about this book. Impeccably selected and designed, it remains the best one-volume survey of American newspaper comics, giving all the highlights of the form. The book is a wonderful appetizer because Blackbeard and Williams highlighted the best work of each cartoonist selected: reading The Smithsonian Collection often leads to a more intensive study of Little Nemo, Krazy Kat and other early 20th century wonders.

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In questa pagina un ricordo di Chris Ware.

Q u i il contributo del critico e ricercatore R. C. Harvey, al quale si devono anche le foto di questo post.

Grazie a tutti.

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In una memoria spedita alla lista Platinum (gli studiosi dei primissimi fumetti, precedentio alla cosiddetta Golden Age), lo storico Leonardo De Sá scrive (spero che non si dispiaccia se ripotrto questo aneddoto pubblicamente):

A few years ago, Bob Beerbohm, Art Spiegelman and I found ourselves at the Chat Noir café in Angoulême plotting for a couple hours to have Bill Blackbeard somehow come to the French comic-con to be homaged there. The thing fell through because Bill rejected most any tributes and plainly refused to fly the distance… That’s the kind of guy he was, a real gentleman.