Virgil Franklin Partch (October 17, 1916 – August 10, 1984) was one of the most prominent and prolific American magazine gag cartoonists of the 1940s and 1950s. His unusual style, surreal humor and familiar abbreviated signature (VIP) made his cartoons distinctive and eye-catching.
Partch's cartoons expressed a dry, sardonic wit, and his characters were instantly recognizable by their lipless mouths, large triangular noses, thin ankles and thin wrists, and sometimes well-combed bangs. He was a gagwriter for The New Yorker magazine, but his own cartoons were rarely published there because, according to VIP biographer Bhob Stewart, "New Yorker editor Harold Ross couldn't stomach VIP's drawing style."
Born on Saint Paul Island, Alaska, Partch attended high school in Tucson, Arizona and studied at the University of Arizona. In 1937, Partch enrolled at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where he attended Rico LeBrun's classes for six months before dropping out. He later began a four-year stint working for Disney studios – his departure was connected to the Disney animators' strike of 1941. Soon he began selling gag cartoons to large-circulation magazines, including Collier's and True. After he left Disney, he worked briefly for Walter Lantz on Woody Woodpecker cartoons.
World War II
Partch was drafted into the US Army in 1944, and by the end of his two-year stint had been transferred from the infantry to become art director and cartoonist of the Army's weekly newspaper, the Fort Ord Panorama.
Out of the Army, Partch freelanced for ERA Productions with great success. He published a number of books of single-panel cartoons, some previously published, others done specifically for the books. His 1950 bestseller, Bottle Fatigue, focused on alcohol-themed humor, selling nearly 95,000 hardcover copies by the decade's end. Many of VIP's cartoons depicted a suave, urban sophisticate or trendy suburbanite, revealing him to be a dipsomaniac obsessed with sex, power, prestige and money. In VIP Throws a Party, one of his cartoons shows a depressed man sitting over his drink in a dark corner table, all alone, saying, "Sometimes I get so tired of me, I make myself sick." On the cover of Cartoon Fun a surfer holds the loose bikini-top straps of a woman who says, "I hope you know how to steer this thing, Sam."
Later in his career Partch drew the successful syndicated comic strip Big George and created the lesser-known but somewhat edgier strip, The Captain's Gig (about a motley bunch of mariners and castaways), syndicated by Field Enterprises. He also illustrated several children's books.
From 1956, Partch lived in a house on the cliffs above Corona del Mar, Newport Beach. He often joined the cartoonists who regularly met at midday in the bar at the White House restaurant on the Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach: Phil and Frank Interlandi, Ed Nofziger, John Dempsey, Don Tobin, Roger Armstrong, Dick Shaw and Dick Oldden. The gathering began after Phil Interlandi moved to Laguna Beach in 1952. "That was the first bar I walked into in Laguna," Interlandi explained in 1982, "and it became a habit."
With the onset of cataracts, Partch retired from cartooning in January 1984 and donated his collection of 3,700 original cartoons to the University of California, Irvine library. Partch and his wife died in an auto accident August 10, 1984 on Interstate 5 near Valencia, California. His cousin was the composer Harry Partch.
- Bhob Stewart, "R.I.P. VIP," Nemo 14 (August 1985). Agoura, California: Fantagraphics, p.39
- Bhob Stewart, "R.I.P. VIP," Nemo 14 (August 1985). Agoura, California: Fantagraphics, p.44
- Armstrong, Carla Interlandi. "A Brief History of Phil Interlandi," ASIFA, March 26. 2009.[dead link]
- Williams, Jonathan (2002). A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude. David R. Godine. ISBN 9781567921496.
- Moore, Scott. "Life Inside a Comic Strip," Los Angeles Times (December 26, 1974), p. E1
- "Obituary," Los Angeles Times, (August 12, 1984), Metro Section, p. B1.
- Illustrated biography/bibliography
- Virgil Partch photo gallery
- Toonopedia entry on Big George
- Animation Archive