Cartoonist Bill Ward created some of the most prolific pinup art during his tenure yet remains in relative obscurity. Best known for his character, ‘Torchy Todd,’ Ward is undeniably a trailblazer in the world of pinup cartoons yet his name goes largely unknown despite an extensive portfolio.
Ward’s name returned to the public eye in 2017 when one of his original works appeared on the popular PBS program, Antiques Roadshow. An original 1949 Torchy poster was valued at over $3,000, much to the owner’s delight.
Ward rose to prominence during pinup art’s golden age of the ‘40s and ‘50s but remained in the shadows of his peers like Gil Elvgren. Perhaps Elvgren was more respected because he worked in the traditional medium of paint while Ward’s sketches were published on simple newsprint? To his publishers, Ward was satiating readers seeking more risque illustrations and he continued filling that need. Employing his trademark Conte crayon technique, Ward’s illustrations really popped on newsprint and captivated readers with his unique ability to have cartoon lingerie sheen and even shimmer! Ward’s work began boasting a more personal and recognized style. If his peers were working to recreate lifelike stills of Americana pinups with glamorized imagery, Ward broke from that paradigm with a more cartoon-based celebration of vivacious and curvy women. His work was often accompanied by campy, humorous headlines.
Hailing from Brooklyn, Ward immediately gravitated to art and attended Pratt Institute, a well-respected and prestigious school known for its fine arts programs. In a stroke of irony, being drafted by the U.S. Army in World War II was the catalyst for Ward’s Torchy Todd character concept. Perhaps out of isolation or lust, Ward ultimately created the buxom blonde for Fort Hamilton’s army paper. After his service, Ward began his career as a cartoonist and Torchy made her official comic book debut in Doll Man #8, published by Quality Comics in 1946. Luckily for Ward, the golden age of American comics ran parallel to the explosive popularity of pinup and cheesecake art. Hard-boiled detective novels and other ‘dime store’ pulps had covers adorned with pinup imagery and other racy themes. Artists were finding an abundance of work and Torchy Todd’s popularity grew, leading to a solo comic series that ran from November 1949 until September 1950.
Ward continued his illustration career with the Blackhawk comic, earning an April 1953 cover. He ultimately transitioned to magazine cartooning, which gave way to his adult-themed work that characterized his later career with Juggs, Leg Show, and Screw. The ‘70s were certainly the right match for Ward’s more sexual characters! As the decade drew to a close, Ward’s popularity dwindled as ‘the decade of excess’ ushered in more stylized portrayals of women thanks to the rise of consumerism. His work would make the odd appearance in comics but his erotic work continued within John Mozzer’s Weird Smut comics issue 1 in 1985 and in 1987’s issue 2. Though he had proven success as a cartoonist, Ward remained a freelancer for his career. One could argue that the timeless imagery within Playboy would have offered Ward another, more permanent platform for his work but nothing came to fruition and he continued as a freelancer for the remainder of his career.
Ward passed in 1998 and it appears his personal life remains in the shadows despite proudly producing work featuring characters welcoming the spotlight. His work has slowly seen a resurgence thanks to Comic Images’ 1994 release of Torchy collector card series sets. It can be said that the character Jessica Rabbit in the hit film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? bore a strong resemblance to Ward’s curvy cartoon ladies, but the producers never commented if any kind of homage was being paid to Ward’s legacy.
One can argue that new generations embracing pinup culture and couture have yet to discover Ward’s work but once they do, his character Torchy Todd will live on as a testament to individuals proudly flaunting their buxom figures complemented with undeniable self-confidence.