Thursday, December 8, 2011

Racy Heroines (Part 1)

As most of my regular visitors are already aware, I have a tendency to get on my high horse over the issue of censorship. In previous articles, I've railed furiously against the likes of Will Hays and his ludicrously puritanical Motion Picture Production Code (see the Wikipedia article for more info, I can't discuss the matter without suffering a major conniption).

Being opposed to all forms of censorship, I've also harbored a life-long loathing for the Comics Code Authority, the "self-regulatory" body that effectively drove free speech from the American newsstand between 1955 and 1972.

For those of you whose lives don't revolve around suspenders, stockings and Bettie Page, a brief synopsis will probably be in order. Stating the case as simply as possible, comics were more-or-less entirely uncensored throughout the so-called Golden Age. Publishers followed their own judgment regarding what was considered acceptable content - a decision based mainly on whatever their target demographic happened to be.

While most titles were obviously aimed at kids (funny animals had always been the biggest seller), there was also a burgeoning market for teens and young adults (ie single males with waaaaay too much time on their hands). Naturally, some publishers catered to the demand for "risque" funny books (no, not that kind) featuring scantily dressed heroines in mildly compromising situations.

While Companies such as Fiction House and Fox had always specialized in "good girl" imagery, by the end of the 1940s, practically everybody was leaping onto the band wagon, especially after the romance, crime and horror genres began take off. Oddly enough, the best-remembered character of the time belonged to neither genre. As various comic historians have observed, Bill Ward's Torchy occupies a niche all of her own.

Created by Ward while he was still in the Armed Services, Torchy was a ditzy blond who spent most of her time looking for work in post-war America (a process which generally involved falling out of her clothes for some inexplicable reason). Despite her haphazard employment prospects, Torchy seemed to possess an exceptional sense of fashion - particularly in regards to her lingerie, which she displayed at least once every story. Wandering obliviously from one unlikely escapade to the next, Torchy found herself stripped to bra, panties and stockings on the flimsiest pretexts imaginable.

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