The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics edited by Bill Blackbeard

The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics

“As an undergraduate student and aspiring cartoonist, the book laid open most often on my drawing table was Blackbeard and Williams’ weighty Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics. For years I’d been led to believe by various comic book aficionados that the zenith of achievement for the medium were the EC comic books of the 1950s, but after discovering the Smithsonian book, it became all too clear to me that the real original geniuses of the medium were the pre-cinema cartoonists of the throwaway Sunday supplements of a half century prior. As a general history, the book evenly balanced a necessary all-inclusivity with an otherwise gently insistent esthetic sophistication, which was something of a virtuosic tightrope act of curation: covering everything while still allowing the greats to shine. Choosing a few representative examples of Krazy Kat and Little Nemo is hard enough, but what about introducing Gasoline Alley and Polly and Her Pals to a brand-new readership, to say nothing of uncovering the obscure efforts of George Luks and Lyonel Feininger? Even better, the strips were presented in a warm, large, full-color format which at the time must have been extraordinarily expensive, but allowed their complicated and intricate compositions to be truly re-appreciated; earlier histories of comics had tended towards text-clotted black-and-white tour schedules, amputating single panels and freeze-drying them in black and white as little more than passing souvenirs of an outmoded 19th and early 20th century naïveté. (As an aside, one of the deciding reasons I agreed to design the “Krazy and Ignatz” series was that Mr. Blackbeard was its acting editor, and I considered it a personal honor to be asked to contribute.) By devoting his life to the preservation and location of these near-extinct supplements and sections, Bill Blackbeard saved an American art from the certain peril of trash men, librarians and ultraviolet light so that we, the generations to come, could appreciate their unprepossessing, unpretentious and uproarious beauty. The comic strip may have been disposable, but Bill Blackbeard’s founding contribution to the understanding of it as an art was, and always will be, timeless.”

Chris Ware
via Austin Kleon

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