« Ward’s beautiful buxotics operate in a strange separate universe, in which all women are gorgeous voluptoids, all men oafish, saucer-eyed drooling dupes. » — Chris ‘Coop‘ Cooper
Well, I certainly wasn’t planning to hog all the blogging this week, but there were birthdays and other hopefully mitigating factors. While today is the great Will Eisner‘s birthday, it’s likely to overshadow that of a fellow Golden Age toiler, one with an equally intriguing career, but with a trajectory quite divergent from Eisner’s own.
Bill Ward (1919 – 1998) was also born on this day, one hundred and three years ago. Ward started out in comics with the Jack Binder shop, turning out material for Fawcett’s line of characters (Captain Marvel and his family, Bulletman…); he soon found himself working for Quality Comics, most notably on Blackhawk (an Eisner co-creation, it should be noted). He inched closer to his true passion when assigned to Quality’s romance line.
In the mid-50’s, when came the brutal, censorship-induced compression of the comic book industry, Ward smoothly shifted to producing girlie cartoons for Abe Goodman’s Humorama line, becoming its star and most prolific performer, thanks to his popularity and prodigious speed. He was aided in this by his choice of tool and technique: the conté crayon on newsprint. While everyone else was working on 8″ x 12″ illustration board, Ward was using a soft, beige paper of a size (18″ x 24′) and texture familiar to any art student who’s taken a life drawing class. With this type of stock, he could produce texture rubbings and achieve smooth, sensual sheens ideal for rendering highlights of hair and stockings. Said Ward: « It didn’t take me long to figure out that the quicker you could do the work… the more money you could make. » Over the course of a quarter-century, he wound up producing around 9,000 drawings for the Humorama line.
As Ward recalled of his early training in Binder’s studio, « [Binder] trained me to do layout, which is the most difficult part of art. » To wit, layout never counted among Ward’s strengths. A lot of his pinup work is undermined by poor staging, often grotesque proportions, and absolutely minimal attention to non-erotic detail.
Now, had I ever wondered what Ward’s pencils would look like, if inked by Bill Everett? I readily confess I hadn’t. But upon learning that such a momentous collision once occurred, my mind was set slightly reeling.
Another weathered fellow combatant in the trenches of the Golden Age, Everett (1917-73), unlike Ward, always gave his best, whatever the conditions. Right to the end, despite his rapidly declining health, Everett was, incredibly, producing top-flight work.
In the 60’s, Ward also provided covers for various soft-core novels, such as this one from Satellite Publications’ ‘After Hours’ imprint. He even wrote some of them, notably under the alias of ‘Bill Marshall’. His fellow Quality Comics alumnus Gil Fox also penned many of these potboilers under a staggering array of aliases.
Love Ward’s women!
Love just about everything by Wood but for the life of me don’t remember PUSSYCAT and I would have sworn on a stack of Tijuana bibles that I found anything and everything resembling a comic book that came out in the ’60s (not that I necessarily bought them all).
Never a fan of Everett but that’s a killer Thor cover.
Thanks ever so much for this post!
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Hi Neal! Can’t say I blame you for loving Ward’s women. They have a certain… je ne sais quoi. 😉
Click on the Pussycat link (under the cover picture), and you can check out the insides as well.
I wasn’t a big fan of Everett as a kid, since I chiefly associated him with Namor, a character that bored me silly. But when I encountered his Atlas horror covers of the 50’s, I began to change my tune.
And you’re very, very welcome! What started as a relatively unambitious post turned into a massive production. Since I’d never written about Ward on this blog, I felt I had to provide *some* context, which led to further developments and complications as the cast of characters grew. That’s how these things tend to get away from you.
Tell me about it—I am currently addressing a comment on my Elvis blog that made some good points and asked a few questions of me. So far, my “answer” has turned into a 4-part “mini” series of articles with the third part (“About the Billboard Pop Charts of the ’50s”) clocking in at 3,700 words.
And my wife wonders why I am never available to do the dishes or take the garbage out …
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PS: Just checked out the link to the PUSSYCAT pages and I swear that Wood’s drawing of Ivan Passion is Elvis with his hair parted in the middle!
There’s only one reasonable response to that, Neal, and it is to be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knc9LKjukSQ.
Fascinating post and a great comparison of these two artists. I had not made the connection between the Everett of golden age Sub-Mariner and the bronze age Kirby inker. That Thor cover is majestic!
While neither artist could be considered exactly gifted, the Ward romance cover you lead with is wonderful in its way, hitting every signifier to excite a young girl’s heart conceivable, while retaining an artistic integrity and coherence.
On bizarre animals: Ward’s dog is pretty sketchy, like he’s not only faking it but does care; but I’d defend Vargas’ cat, which, while utterly fanciful contains a wild plausibility and beauty. Look also at the crazy mouth of teeth on the tiger, placed around the mouth like numerals on a clock face.
Yet these “inaccuracies” are somehow fun flights of fancy, paired with Vargas’ masterful treatment of warm, sexy, female flesh!
Thanks for the comment, not to mention the kind words! Agreed on the Thor cover… some real power in there.
Ward-wise, I was endeavouring to illustrate the contrast between an inspired, committed Ward, and one who was more blasé and hardly bothering at all with the trimmings. Everett, on the other hand, was a man possessed, always giving his all, even at the expense of his health. An interesting collision, in other words.
Well, we can agree that Vargas’ ‘cat’ is memorable in its uniqueness. Once seen, its mark in the memory is pretty indelible. And no argument about Vargas’ mastery of flesh tones, not achieved through any airbrushing effects, but rather with that most delicate and difficult of media, watercolours. And we also concur on the fun aspects, part of what makes them worth showcasing and discussing.