Biography of the Collector

The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art (SFACA) Collection is the life work of author and collector Bill Blackbeard, whose goal was to establish a complete collection of cartoon art from American newspapers, beginning with the earliest examples. In addition, the SFACA collection grew to include popular periodicals, popular fiction, popular film, narrative art reference works, comic books and graphic novels, dime novels and story papers, Victorian cartoon-illustrated fiction, science fiction fanzines, British boys' papers and "penny dreadfuls," and the works of significant fiction writers, all of these reflecting Blackbeard's desire to amass a comprehensive collection of popular narrative. As this finding aid describes only the newspaper comics part of the SFACA collection, the following biography concentrates exclusively on Blackbeard's efforts in this area.

Bill Blackbeard was born in Lawrence, Indiana, on April 28, 1926, and grew up in Newport Beach, California. He began reading newspaper comic strips during the 1930s, an era that featured such accomplished artists as Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, George Herriman, E. C. Segar, Cliff Sterrett, Chester Gould, and many others. He attended high school in Newport Beach and went to Fullerton College on the GI Bill. His military service was in the 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squad, 9th Army, in France, Belgium and Germany, during World War II. During high school and college, his main interests were in history and literature, particularly English and American literature. After college, Blackbeard began working as a freelance writer, publishing stories in serials such as Weird Tales. He has written, edited, or contributed work to more than 200 books, primarily on the subject of cartoon history and criticism.

During the 1960s, Blackbeard began to be interested in writing a history of the comic strip. He found, however, that there was no research center collecting complete runs of comic strips from American newspapers. Concurrently, he discovered that many public and university libraries were discarding older, bound newspapers after microfilming them. In order to acquire these materials, he established the SFACA as a non-profit organization in 1968. He began collecting newspapers from California libraries, then expanded his scope to institutions nationwide, including the Library of Congress.

For the next 30 years, Blackbeard continued to acquire newspapers, along with the other materials mentioned above. In 1997, he sold the SFACA collection to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at the Ohio State University, ensuring that the collection would be kept intact and remain available for research. The collection, 75 tons of material in all, was carried from California to Ohio in six moving vans. Blackbeard moved the SFACA to Santa Cruz, as a publicly accessible reference center. He continued to edit and publish comic strip collections, and to collect representations of popular narrative art until his passing in March 2011.