Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Golden Bookshelf:


Bill Ward's blonde bombshell of the 40s set the stage for his later fame as a cheesecake artist for Playboy. Rob Salkowitz takes us to revisit this inimitable series in Innovation's 1992 collected edition.

Torchy was a classic 1940s humor series based on the screwball antics of the title character, a stereotypical blonde bombshell. She appeared as a backup in various Quality comics titles including Dollman and Modern Comics before graduating to her own series in the late 40s.

Basically one long “blonde” joke, Torchy is more fondly remembered today for the artwork of Bill Ward than for its stellar literary quality or historical importance. That said, Ward set the early standard for delineation of the scantly-clad female form and showed an inventive knack for putting Torchy in situations requiring elaborate lingerie, revealing costumes and/or extensive time in the bath or shower. Ward milked the reputation he created with the racy strips to become an illustrator of broad appeal, his work appearing in Playboy and other outlets where readers enjoyed being thrown a curve.

In 1992, Innovation collected several stories already reprinted in an ongoing series into a slender graphic novel edition. Once you get past the unfortunate “modern age” cover painting by Olivia deBerardinis, the collection features a few rare early Torchy newspaper strips, a nice assortment of stories from Torchy’s heyday and a good introductory essay. Comic historian Greg Theakston applied his color-bleaching technique to the original strips, leaving clean, detailed linework for the black and white reproduction.

The stories feature Torchy in the movies, at her grade school reunion, as a babysitter, visiting a haunted house, and in other situations fanciful and mundane. Needless to say, the cheesecake is served out in fat, generous portions, and if the erotic elements seem tame by today’s standards, Ward’s sense of proportion, balance and fashion hold up just fine. Cheesecake aside, these are all well-drawn, well-paced and amusing golden age stories, full of wit and charm.

The Innovation collection was originally priced at $6.95 but sharp-eyed fans can probably find it in dealer discount bins today because the cover makes it look like something much worse. It’s actually a modest little treasure of quaint 1940s naughtiness, worth seeking out for fans of good girl art.


Bill Ward’s Torchy™ the Blonde Bombshell

Innovation Books

Publication Year: 1992

Art/Story: Bill Ward

Rob Salkowitz is a Seattle-based writer and authority on all manner of aging newsprint. You can e-mail your comments and queries to Rob at Use "ComicBase" as the subject line.

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