Bill Ward discovered
that drawing might be something more than a hobby at Ocean City,
Maryland when he was seventeen. He earned enough painting pictures
on other kids' jackets to support himself through the summer.
And more than earning money, as Ward says, "what a fantastic
way to meet girls." What better motivation could a young man
Ward enrolled in
the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Right away, Ward started specializing.
He drew girls. Ward took little advantage of attending one of
the finest commercial art schools in the country. With the certain
advent of war and the knowledge that he'd be going into the
service when he turned nineteen, he neglected his studies and
concentrated on girls and fraternity life. In his own opinion,
he wasn't a good artist when he graduated in 1941.
Ward's first job
after school was with a Manhattan art service, but this proved
a major disappointment when he learned his work was to clean
up for the illustrators. He soon managed to get himself fired
from this job and found himself working for Jack Binder, drawing
backgrounds for Fawcett's comic books, including Mr. Scarlet,
Bullet Man, Ibis and The Shadow. Ward credits Binder with teaching
him the real skills he needed to become one of the best comic
book artists of the period.
Ward got his big
break when he did an entire Captain Marvel book. He decided
to try for a job at Quality, the top comic line at that time.
His timing was perfect. Reed Crandall had just been drafted
and Quality offered him Blackhawk. Ward was somewhat overwhelmed.
He had only hoped to do a secondary story in one of their books.
Instead he was replacing who was, in Ward's words, "the greatest
comic book artist of them all." According to Ward, his training
by Jack Binder had prepared him well for Blackhawk. All of his
practice in inking paid off. Quality particularly liked his
covers. Ward comments:
"I'm especially proud of Military No. 30, a shot of that silly
Blackhawk plane coming at you, cannons firing, Blackhawk piloting,
Chop-Chop waving his meat cleaver menacingly over his shoulder.
I drew that idiotic plane (from the early Military Comics) for
years before it was changed to a jet. I used to wonder what
nut designed the damn thing. Of course it could never fly --
ridiculous to think so. A few years ago I was leafing through
a copy of a 1942 Aerosphere that I had acquired. Imagine my
astonishment . . .there it was, an actual photograph of that
same silly plane! Reading on I found it was an experimental
model, the Grumman Sky Rocket, that the army had rejected. Can
you blame them? . . . but it must have at least flown!"
Ward was at the top of the comic book world, when as had happened
to many others before him, he was drafted. After training, Ward
was assigned to communications for an anti-aircraft unit at
the Quonset Point Naval Air Base, R.I. His duties left him with
plenty of spare time so he began laying out stories for Fawcett
during his long night tours. A naval officer noticed his work
and suggested he do a strip for the base paper. Ward did, and
created Ack-Ack Amy. That strip eventually evolved to become
the character for which he is best known, Torchy, the blonde
After the war, Ward returned to Quality. He was concerned that
he would be lost among all the other fine artists returning
from the service, but things worked out well for him. Reed Crandall
went back to Military, changed in peacetime to Modern Comics,
and Ward was given Blackhawk. Unfortunately, Quality wanted
them both to do only the pencils. Their art would be inked by
other artists. Both Ward and Crandall were very unhappy about
this arrangement. And many comic historians agree that their
best work was that they inked themselves.Ward has a low opinion
"I've always contended, perhaps unfairly, that an inker was
an artist that couldn't handle a strip on his own, that all
he had to do was go over the pencil lines with a brush. I was
very disappointed with the way my Blackhawks turned out. They
weren't nearly as good as the complete jobs I'd done before
the war. If it affected me, it affected Reed Crandall far more."
Never again was he to create the classic Blackhawks that he
did in 1941-42. His bold yet simple inking style was lost as
the inkers butchered his pencilling. He and I were destined
to go on doing Blackhawk this way for seven years:
"Drawing Blackhawk was probably as difficult a job as there
was in the comics. There were seven main characters and they
had to be shown constantly, really overcrowding the panels.
I envied the writers - they could type out 'Show all seven Blackhawks
in a mele with the thugs' in probably ten seconds. Imagine how
long it took me to draw it. One of the most difficult things
I found about drawing the Blackhawk characters was their military
hats. A hat has to look just right, if it doesn't it looks silly.
There's no in-between. Agitated about pencilling and the length
of time it took me, I developed a way of solving the hat problem.
I had them all knocked off in their first fight, which usually
occurred by the second page. Then for the rest of the story
they would be bare headed. I got away with it for about six
months, then, not some astute editor, but some damn smart aleck
kid wrote George Brenner (the head editor at Quality), 'Why
don't the Blackhawks get a new hatter? They don't seem to fit
very well. They all get knocked off at the beginning of each
story.' They really ripped into me over this. So in the next
story the Blackhawks all had to swim underwater out to a submarine.
You're right, I drew them swimming underwater with their hats
on. 'All right, Ward, let's not overdo it,' George Brenner screamed
into the phone."
Around 1946, Busy Arnold, Quality's publisher, asked Ward if
he had any ideas for another story for Modern Comics. Ward suggested
Torchy, the strip about the daffy blonde that he had created
while he was in the Army. It quickly became a big success and
even got its own book. Ward's particular talent for drawing
women stood him in good stead in this period when romance comics
became very popular. Ward was soon so busy doing the covers
and lead stories for Quality's romance comics that he didn't
have time for his own creation and Torchy was turned over to
another talented artist, Gil Fox. But Ward's career in comics
was nearly finished anyway. It was the early fifties, and Dr.
Wertham's campaign to paint comics as bad for kids was having
effects. Soon the diminished sales caused Quality to go out
Ward found other work drawing cartoons for Abe Goodman's Humorama,
and in 1954, at Cracked magazine where he continued for many
Reference: The Man Behind Torchy, by Bill Ward. Biography by