Vol. 2, Issue #8 May 11th - May 24th, 2007

Book Review: The Pin-Up Art of Bill Ward by Alex Chun & Jacob Covey (Fantagraphic Books)
By: Wilhelm Murg

Bill Ward (1919 -1998) was one of the masters of good girl art who is posthumously getting the recognition he deserved in life. Ward is best remembered as one of the great artists from the “golden age” of comics, where in between writing, drawing, and inking whole runs of classic titles like “Blackhawk” and “Captain Marvel” he also had time to create comic strips for Army newspapers, which lead to his best known creation, the statuesque and scantily clad “Torchy.”

Torchy had a short run as a comic book character - the title soon came under fire in Dr. Fredric Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent,” the book that touched off the infamous 1954 Kefauver Senate hearings on juvenile delinquency, which lead to the Comic Code Authority, the de facto censor of the industry for the next twenty-five years. Ironically any comic mentioned in Wertham’s tome became a top collector’s item, a “Seduction issue,” so while Ward’s work is famous in the high-priced, upper echelon world of comic geekdom, he really never surfaced as an artist of merit until the recent flood of books on pin-ups and naughty cartoons from the fifties and early-sixties.

After the disruption of the “golden age,” Ward found an abundance of work not only in “Cracked,” the mutant half-brother to the more famous “Mad Magazine,” but also in winking sex cartoon magazines like “Humorama,” “Romp,” “Stare,” “Joker,” and “Sex to Sexy.” He often produced thirty illustrations and one-panel comics in as many days.

Ward’s artistic vision is filled with buxom seductresses, usually fitted in the fetish uniform of shiny black hoses, cruel stiletto heels, operas gloves, and a Veronica Lake flip of hair over one eye. They are often seen lounging on black satin sheets while fingering long cigarette holders, and usually barely wearing their undergarments, or either spanking each other or being spanked by a man. Ward was a master at both the conté crayon, where he could get a glare off of a satin covered leg in one stroke, and in feathering with a paintbrush, which gave him control of the women’s flowing, medusa-like hair. The stylization is so baroque compared to today’s standards that the women look more like drag queens rather than anything human. Meanwhile, his men are the sorriest bunch of cheap suit wearing horn dogs this side of R. Crumb’s dirty-minded “Snoids” and Tex Avery’s howling wolves. In one panel the brunette dominatrix walks into the room pulling up an opera glove as her “date” is caught on the couch with a dressmaker’s dummy; the caption is “Don’t mind me Doris – I was only getting in a little practice.”

Bill Ward was a master of erotica from a bygone era. His work is beautifully rendered and should be included in any collection of pin-up art. He was a true “outsider” whose work is finally coming in from the cold.

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©2007 NONCO Media, L.L.C.