New exhibition celebrates decades of US comic strips, and Bill Blackbeard, the man who saved them from destruction

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in Columbus, Ohio will be celebrating the life and essential legacy of Bill Blackbeard in a new exhibition, Man Saves Comics! Bill Blackbeard’s Treasury of 20th Century Newspapers.

Bill Blackbeard. Photo via Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Twenty-five years ago, six semi-trucks arrived at The Ohio State University. They contained the world’s most comprehensive collection of newspaper comic strips and cartoons, totaling 75 tons of material. Bill Blackbeard, a comics historian and collector, had amassed this vast and unparalleled collection in his San Francisco home starting in 1967.

Discarded by libraries in favour of microfilm, these invaluable historical documents provide a unique view of popular culture at the start of the 20th century, when illustrated newspaper pages and comic strips were at the heart of visual culture and communication.

Blackbeard’s heroic efforts to rescue and preserve this material are celebrated in this exhibition, as well as an exploration of the process for printing turn-of-the-century newspapers. Alongside an immersive display of richly colourful Sunday pages are highlights from the sections of a newspaper itself, from Winsor McCay’s editorial cartoons to Nell Brinkley’s lush women’s pages, to Rube Goldberg’s cartoon coverage of sporting events.

Obscure and forgotten cartoonists are celebrated alongside the canon works of comic strip culture. The exhibit also features subsets of Blackbeard’s collecting vision, including penny dreadfuls, science fiction fanzines, pulp magazines such as Weird Tales, dime novels, illustrated story papers, and more.

Established in 1977, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum houses the world’s largest collection of materials related to cartoons and comics, including original art, books, magazines, journals, comic books, archival materials, and newspaper comic strip pages and clippings. Its primary mission is to develop a comprehensive research collection documenting American printed cartoon art, to organise the materials, and to provide access to these resources.

Man Saves Comics! Bill Blackbeard’s Treasury of 20th Century Newspapers runs 12th November 2022 – 7th May 2023 | Friends of the Libraries Gallery, Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
Sullivant Hall, 1813 N. High St. Columbus Ohio 43210 USA

Thanks to Paul Gravett, via Huib Van Opstal, for this news item

The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.

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