Torchy makes an impression on an admirer. Artist: Bill Ward.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Published in: U.S. Army base papers
First Appeared: 1944
Creator: Bill Ward
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World War II brought new things in many areas, and one of those areas was cartooning. Sad Sack, Private Snafu, Mr. Hook, Willie & Joe and many …

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… others are widely known as having been created for a military audience, as a minor part of the war effort. Some, tho, like Hank Ketcham's Half Hitch, were also World War II toons, but relatively few people are aware of the fact. Torchy, whose sexy adventures formed a large part of cartoonist Bill Ward's output for more than half a century, is among the latter.

Most comic book buffs know Torchy (no relation) as a pretty girl who appeared in a few Quality Comics titles during the late 1940s, and had her own comic for a half-dozen issues in 1949-50. A major comic book reference work says she first appeared in the back pages of Doll Man Quarterly #8 (Spring, 1946) and lists no non-reprinted appearances after Modern Comics #102 (October, 1950). In fact, she had a "life" both before and after her stint at Quality Comics.

Torchy (last name Todd, tho that never appeared in her logo) actually began as a morale-boosting comic strip in the base paper at U.S. Army Fort Hamilton, in Brooklyn, NY, where Ward was stationed. Ward later said he designed her with the eyes of Ann Sothern, the legs of Betty Grable and the body of Anita Ekberg — never mind the fact that Ekberg was just hitting puberty at the time. More credibly, Ward explained he did it because drawing a comic strip was better than getting shot at.

Before long, she was being syndicated to base papers around the world. Tho she did her job admirably, boosting morale all over the place, she was never quite in a class with another resident of the base papers' comic pages, Milton Caniff's Miss Lace — not for poor draftsmanship, because Ward's was excellent, but because practically nobody in comics could ever beat Caniff in characterization. Torchy was every bit as sexy as Lace, but character-wise, she was just an ordinary ditzy blonde, as Blondie herself started out.

After the war, Ward was working at Quality Comics (Plastic Man, Phantom Lady), mostly doing Blackhawk, when publisher Everett M. "Busy" Arnold asked if he could come up with a new back-up series for Modern Comics (where Blackhawk was the main feature), to replace the war-oriented Death Patrol. Ward dusted off Torchy, and that's how she broke into the civilian press. She went over so well, Arnold gave Torchy her own book with a November, 1949 cover date. But shortly afterward, in response to the success of Young Romance, Quality Comics launched several romance titles. Arnold decided Ward's talents were better used on covers for that line, and wanted to take Ward off Torchy. Ward objected, and they reached a compromise, with Ward at least doing the lead stories in Torchy's comic and Gill Fox (who had done several features at Quality, including The Ray and The Black Condor, and who may have created Atomictot) on the rest.

Quality's Torchy series was cut short by an anti-comics crusade that had been gathering steam during the previous few years. Dr. Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist who used the medium as a stepping-stone to national fame, put Torchy at the very top of a list of comic books he considered inappropriate for children (whom he presumed to be the only people reading them), despite the fact that the most scandalous thing she'd done up until that time was look pretty — most people didn't see anything in her to object to even then, to say nothing of how the public would respond today. Still, the publisher attempted to appease Wertham by taking her off the schedule as of the sixth issue, dated September 1950. A few years later, Ward, too, left the comic book business.

Ward moved into magazine cartooning, particularly for editor Abe Goodman (no relation) at Humorama magazine. Torchy appeared frequently in his one-panel gag cartoons, and continued appearing in them for years. She got sexier as time went on, to the point where her later cartoons, which were aimed at an adult audience, were almost pornographic. Since DC Comics, which acquired Quality's properties in 1956, didn't object to his use of her in a timely manner, presumably, Torchy, unlike the majority of Quality characters, belongs to her creator now.

Eventually, the so-called "blonde bombshell" got back into comic books. Israel Waldman, whose IW Enterprises and its successor, Super Comics, would make unauthorized reprints of anything that wasn't nailed down, put out an issue in 1964. Innovation Press, a 1980s start-up publisher, did several authorized reprints. There was a set of Torchy trading cards, concentrating on the post-Quality cartoons, in the 1990s.

While Torchy is remembered by most comic book fans as a character firmly rooted in the distant past, in reality she remained a viable property for her creator for the rest of Ward's life. He died in 1998.


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Text ©2004-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Bill Ward.