Spongeware

Dark Snacks

Old homemade hummus rehabilitated with a tablespoon of flax seed oil. A Bubbies pickle chopped into slices and stirred into the hummus. Spread over an ancient bialy hastily rehabilitated in the broiler. Sprinkle the shebang (whole) w/ crushed red chili pepper. Your stomach will howl as you chew.

A funny idea

Let’s say you have a funny idea. Clearly it should go on the internet. That way you can maintain the hold you’ve got on your international audience. But where on the internet should your funny idea go?

Is it an ingrown, fake-Oulipian sentence-ornament? If so,
Post it on Twitter.

Is it a medium-concept, link-heavy thunk-piece? Did you end up making a funny photoshop image to accompany it?
Post it on wordpress.

Is it a barely redacted, lightly annotated version of the email a copywriter you’ve never met sent you after you drunkenly posted a flattering photo of yourself smiling in a damp T-shirt at an NYC club?
Tumblr.

Someone who spends more time on the internet than I do has already written a version of whatever this is that I’m writing. Not pictured: Facebook, blogger, C-E-R-E-A-L, message boardz

Bill Blackbeard’s Backwards Obituary

I’ve long maintained that Bill Blackbeard’s obituary in the New York Times is mysteriously and immeasurably improved when it is read, paragraph by paragraph, from end to beginning. I’ve taken the trouble of reordering the paragraphs for you, below. I’ve also appended the little black diamond that ends articles in the New Yorker. (Is it any coincidence that this is the symbol that U.S. ski areas use to rate the steepest, most dangerous runs on the mountain? If you arrive at the black diamond at the end of a New Yorker piece without injury, you’re made of tough stuff, indeed! Treat yourself to a cup of cocoa down at the lodge.) (Perhaps unusually difficult New Yorker pieces could end with two dingbats: the forbidding double black diamond!) I think the diamond makes the obituary (as if this were even possible) better still.

In any case, see if you agree:

“A filmmaker like Martin Scorsese couldn’t make what he makes if he had never heard of D. W. Griffith and Orson Welles,” Art Spiegelman, who created the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic narrative “Maus,” said in a telephone interview. “Similarly, as my art form develops, it’s clear that the future of comics is in the past. And Blackbeard was the granddaddy that gave us all access to it.”

Mr. Blackbeard’s messianic lifework gave rise to the work of many other scholars, artists and publishers.

His other books include several volumes he compiled and edited, among them “The Comic Strip Art of Lyonel Feininger,” about the German-American painter who drew strips for The Chicago Tribune; “R. F. Outcault’s the Yellow Kid”; and “Sherlock Holmes in America.”

Mr. Blackbeard, whose marriage appears to have dissolved in later years, had lived recently in Santa Cruz, Calif.

He soon learned that the San Francisco Public Library, having microfilmed its newspapers, was about to jettison them. As he had done with his childhood neighbors, he offered to relieve its burden. Word got around, and before long, Mr. Blackbeard had unburdened the Library of Congress, the Chicago Public Library, the Los Angeles Public Library and many others.

In the 1960s, wanting to write a history of the American comic strip, Mr. Blackbeard began scouring libraries for old newspapers. But no archive had all the strips he hoped to study, and he hoped to study the entire run of every strip ever published.

After Army service in Europe in World War II, Mr. Blackbeard studied literature and history at Fullerton College in California. He was later a freelance writer for pulp magazines including Weird Tales.

Entranced by comic strips, young Bill discovered that neighbors were delighted to have him cart away their piles of old newspapers, which he promptly took home. This did not please his mother.

William Elsworth Blackbeard was born on April 28, 1926, in Lawrence, Ind., and reared in Newport Beach, Calif. Though “Blackbeard” sounds lifted straight from a comic-strip character, it appears to have been his actual surname.

In later years, Jenny E. Robb, curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, said, Mr. Blackbeard reformed and left bound volumes intact.

“The thing about Blackbeard — he is like so many collectors in that he saved something terribly important, but he was single-minded: he saved things with a razor,” Mr. Baker, sounding pained, said in a telephone interview. “He had no interest in the women’s sections, in the magazine sections, in the beautiful photographs that had nothing to do with comics.”

Meeting Mr. Blackbeard inspired Nicholson Baker, who caught newsprint fever from him, to write “Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper” (2001), in which Mr. Blackbeard appears.

It was perhaps just as well that he cared little for comic books, which he called “meretricious dreck.”

There were newspapers in the garage, where stacks stretched to the ceiling. There were newspapers in the bedroom. There were newspapers in the living room, where foot traffic was dictated by the paths carved among tottering piles. There were newspapers in the kitchen. There were newspapers everywhere but the bathroom, and that, Mr. Blackbeard told inquisitors, was only because the humidity would have been bad for them.

To judge from published accounts of the place, Mr. Blackbeard used the same interior decorator as the Collyer brothers. Every horizontal surface — he collected more than comics — was piled with books, magazines, dime novels, penny dreadfuls, pulp paperbacks, Holmesiana and, of course, newspapers: whole papers, loose sheets, Sunday supplements, bound volumes and the torrent of comic strips he had shorn from them all.

Those tons previously resided in the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, the nonprofit institution that Mr. Blackbeard founded in 1967 and ran for decades from his house there. (More precisely, the academy was his house there, which he shared with his wife at the time, Barbara.)

In 1997 the archive was acquired by Ohio State University, where it forms part of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. It took six semitrucks to move the collection, more than 75 tons in all.

Mr. Blackbeard first brought attention to the comic strip as pop-cultural treasure with “The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics” (1977), which he edited with Martin Williams. The book teems with images from Mr. Blackbeard’s personal archive, which eventually comprised more than 2.5 million strips published between 1893 and 1996, culled from libraries and newspaper morgues across the country.

His death, on March 10 in Watsonville, Calif., was confirmed by Social Security records. The death was not made public at the time — Mr. Blackbeard, an enigmatic, somewhat elusive figure, appears to have left no immediate survivors who might have done so — and word of it began percolating in the online world of comics aficionados only recently. The delay befits a man who spent his life steeped in the news-has-reached-us-by-packet-ship age.

This did not please Bill Blackbeard. An author, editor, anthologist and ardent accumulator who died in March at 84, Mr. Blackbeard is widely credited with helping save the American newspaper comic strip from the scrap heap, amassing a collection considered the most comprehensive ever assembled.

Those early comics were the essence of ephemera, preserved only by libraries and fervent collectors. Then, in the mid-20th century, microfilm let libraries unload decades of newspapers in their unwieldy bound volumes. Mutt and Jeff, Little Nemo, Polly Sleepyhead and the denizens of Gasoline Alley seemed destined to spend eternity as tiny black-and-white ghosts of their once-vibrant selves.

In the 1890s, when newspapers were made of sweat and trees and ink, some, amid circulation wars, began to carry a new kind of narrative art form: the comic strip. The strips were devoured daily by readers; on Sundays a new technology, color printing, further enhanced their appeal. ♦

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s