Odd Pairings: Bill Ward & Bill Everett

« 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.

Ward’s cover for Love Diary no. 1 (Sept. 1949, Quality). Artistically speaking, this is what a fully committed Ward can produce.

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.

A typical example of a Ward girlie cartoon produced using the conté crayon. This one first turned up in Comedy no. 51 (Jan. 1960, Marvel); in a typical work-for-hire arrangement, for a flat fee (in Ward’s case, 7 dollars a cartoon, topping out at the princely sum of $30 near the end of his 25-year run), Goodman retained all reprint rights (and reprint he did, liberally) and kept the original art, which he sold to collectors for several times its original cost, naturally. Nowadays, these pieces exchange hands for several thousand dollars.

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.

This is The Adventures of Pussycat no. 1 (Oct. 1968, Marvel). Cover by Bill Everett. Highly sought after today, this scarce, magazine-size one-shot is merely a reprint collection of some of Pussycat’s ‘adventures’ from various Goodman Playboy knockoffs, and one of a gazillion contrived acroynym-based attempts to cash in on the ubiquitous 007 craze of the 60’s. It does contain the first Pussycat tale, illustrated by Wally Wood, who would soon go on to his own entry in the super-spy stakes, Tower’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.
Concentrate on the artwork. The less said about the writing (was it Stan the Man or Larry the Lieber? We’ll likely never know), the better. As usual, any American attempt at French is mangled, even at a mere two words and two syllables (for the record, it should read either “C’est fini!” or “C’est la fin!“). Pensively squinting while adjusting his pince-nez, a ‘curator’ at Heritage Auctions made this uproarious whopper of a claim: « The figures of Pussycat look to be by Bill Everett and everything else is Bill Ward. » So you think Bill Ward drew everything… except the one thing he was interested in drawing? These folks don’t seem to know how comics are produced.
The Bombshell and the Bank!“, never reprinted, saw print in Male Annual no. 6 (1968).
This is The Mighty Thor no. 171 (Dec. 1969, Marvel). Jack Kirby pencils, Bill Everett inks. Coming late in Kirby’s run, what a vigorous breath of fresh air after years of lazy erasures!

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.

This is Side Street (1966, After Hours). I’ve noticed over the years that certain artists of a more single-minded frame of mind can’t be bothered to devote much attention to anything but the object of their obsession. Such was the case with Bill Ward, and with the passing years, ever increasingly so. Exhibit A: has Ward ever seen an actual dog?
Which reminded me of this classic, by another ‘can’t be bothered’ master of ‘Good Girl’ art, Alberto Joaquin Vargas Chavez (1896-1982). Another howler from the comedians at Heritage: « This early masterpiece, one of the greatest pin-ups the artist ever painted, was reproduced as a full-color double-page spread in Vargas, Taschen, 1990. Alberto Vargas thought so highly of this lot and the following two stunning paintings that he retained them in his personal collection. » I wouldn’t presume to criticise Vargas’ depiction of the female form, but on the other hand, this is Exhibit B: has Vargas ever seen an actual cat? Don’t worry, Alberto, you’re not alone in this affliction: neither has Neal Adams.

This, er… pussycat brings to mind botched attempts at taxidermy and/or artwork restoration.

-RG

7 thoughts on “Odd Pairings: Bill Ward & Bill Everett

  1. nealumphred March 6, 2022 / 19:46

    RG

    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!

    NU

    Liked by 1 person

    • gasp65 March 6, 2022 / 20:06

      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.

      Like

      • nealumphred March 6, 2022 / 20:11

        GASP65

        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 …

        NU

        Liked by 1 person

  2. nealumphred March 6, 2022 / 20:13

    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!

    Like

  3. sbmumford March 7, 2022 / 10:02

    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!

    Like

    • gasp65 March 13, 2022 / 22:08

      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.

      Cheers!

      Like

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