Friday, September 2, 2011

The Work of H.J. Ward

Hugh Joseph Ward (1909-1945) painted many of the most sensational pulp magazine covers that ever graces a sidewalk newsstand and stopped a pedestrian dead in his tracks. He painted sexy women hounded by ferocious predators, whose merciless villainy is only matched by their shocking lack of chivalry. His work as fascinated generations of fans, but his life has remained a mystery ever since his untimely death at the age of 35, while serving in WWII.

August 1940 issue, H.J. Ward cover.
Thankfully, a friend of mine named David Saunders has written an insightful biography, richly seasoned with quotes from the artist and his associates, that chronicles the life and art of this important American master of 20th century popular culture. For fans of Ned Jordan, Secret Agent, Superman, The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, this book is a treasure trove.

The book, simply titled, H.J. Ward, reveals the life of the man behind so many masterpieces of pulp art. It chronicles his humble family roots, his art education, and his early career as a newspaper cartoonist. The artist's methods are documented along with his impressive contributions to the earliest conceptualizations of America's famous super heroes -- The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, Ned Jordan, Kato, Judy Medwick, and Superman.

While I did not count them, I estimate over 500 high quality reproductions of pulp art are included in this large coffee table sized book. Over 100 original paintings, 80 conception drawings, and 50 historic photographs, along with a comprehensive checklist of all published illustrations are included. That means if you want to see conception sketches of Kato (from The Green Hornet) in the livery stable working on the Black Beauty, an oil painting that was never made, this is your chance to see the proposed art work. 

Lone Ranger pulp magazine
My favorite is on page 120. Graphite on paper, a preliminary drawing for The Lone Ranger "fan photo." Turns out, the art work was commissioned and used for tons of radio and newspaper advertisements, the cover of The Lone Ranger and the Menace of Murder Valley (Big Little Book from 1937), a promotional booklet from 1938, and other examples all pictured splendidly for all to gather an excellent example of how such oil paintings were put to use.

In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted to The Lone Ranger, another chapter devoted to The Green Hornet, another for Superman, and well... you get the idea. For fans of these classic icons, this book offers rare glimpses of materials you would never have gotten the privilege to see otherwise. And it's books like David's that makes us grateful that such documentation has finally become available.

One of the more amusing facts I learned from reading the book was that Ward used his wife to model for many of the damsels in distress. This might explain why the women in his oil paintings appear to look the same.

And how did David manage to mass such a large collection of high-quality scans and photos for the book? All the biographical material and family portraits of Ward? The family of the artist, of course, who welcomed David into their homes for countless hours of research and interviews. This was a rare opportunity and a privilege, since many family relatives of famous pop culture icons have been taken advantage of. Just last year I was in the Midwest browsing photographs, newspaper clippings and tons of archival material, in the home of the son and daughter of a famous radio script writer. Sadly, they opened their doors and hearts to others in the past and little (if anything) was ever done. Firsthand, I can understand why family relatives don't often allow strangers or historians into their homes and David fulfilled his promise to immortalize H.J. Ward in a book that was lovingly produced with a passion to ensure the best job possible.

If the author, David Saunders, sounds familiar, it should. Not only did he deliver a slide show presentation on H.J. Ward at the fifth annual Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, but his father was the great Norman Saunders, a pulp artist who provided strikingly good images for pulp magazine covers, paperbacks, pre-code comics, Men's magazines, Mars Attacks and Wacky Packs. David wrote a book about his father, in the same manner as the H.J. Ward book, available from the same publisher.

Speaking of H.J. Ward, Eric Roberts is seeking to buy prime examples of Hugh J. Ward's artwork, as well as original paintings from Saunders, Finlay, Desoto, Brundage, Bergey, Parkhurst and Schomburg. For more info, call Eric at 650-814-9196, or e-mail him at or visit his web-site,

February 1940 Spicy Mystery cover art.

The people responsible for the publication of both the Norman Saunders and H.J. Ward books is The Illustrated Press, Inc. They have a superb magazine that is (to my knowledge) the only periodical dedicated to the history of American illustration art. Issued quarterly and printed in full-color on the finest paper stocks (which means these are high-quality, expensive printings), Illustration is a beautiful source for new information on the great illustrators of the past. Each issue is a reference book in itself. Subscription rates are $60 (postpaid) per year. 3640 Russell Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63110. Their web-site, should you want to view every page of their latest issue, is

Information on how to purchase copies of the Norman Saunders and/or H.J. Ward books can be found at, or the same St. Louis address listed above. I recommend you buy the book direct from the publisher because it helps support such efforts. Buying a copy from or your favorite book store will only save you a dollar or two, but eliminate almost any profit margin for the men responsible for making these books available in the first place.