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Cartoonist Leaves a Legacy of 'Big George'

June 22, 1986|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

"It's difficult for me to place him in (cartoon) history, but I think he's universally thought of as pretty much a genius with his line drawings and his approach to cartoons--his weird sense of humor," Interlandi said. "I think his better stuff--his genius work--was with True magazine and his free-lance work. He had more freedom of style and content" than with "Big George."

Nofziger describes the VIP drawing style as being "remarkably simple. But actually, it sort of grew out of his resistance, if you will, to the Disney style."

Strict Rules

As a "Disney man," Nofziger said, Partch was required to follow such strict edicts as, for example, drawing four fingers on Mickey Mouse to make it easier for animating. "So VIP went the other way and drew six to eight fingers on his cartoons," he said. "It was sort of teasing (the Disney style) in a way."

Nofziger said: "VIP was also an artist and a painter and there is a little Picasso there in the beginning, with the eyes on both sides of the face, six fingers, the outrageous graphic puns. An awful lot of people back then were outraged. And, of course, that only made him more famous."

In contrast with other cartoonists who were more literal in their approach to drawing, Nofziger said, VIP's "was a very original style and a real breakout--way off the board. He had people holding their (disembodied) heads in their hands and talking. It was a thing like, 'Anything goes for the gag.' "

As an example of one of Partch's visual puns, Nofziger recalled one cartoon in which "somebody had a lot of 'connections'--and here's a guy with pipes all over the place. Well, nobody else could have gotten away with it."

Prolific Output

Anna Couch of Costa Mesa, one of Partch's three children and his only daughter, sums up her father's prolific output of cartoons this way: "He liked his work."

And for her father, Couch said, drawing cartoons "was an ongoing thing."

"When I was a kid and we traveled," she recalled, "he did drawings on scraps of paper when we were sitting down at dinner. He'd use paper place mats and whatever was handy. When we were in Europe, he used toilet paper. He tried traveling once and not working and he ended up with an incredible migraine and not feeling good. If he tried not to work, it would make him sick."

"Being raised with him," she added, "I thought that's the way all cartoonists worked. And when you find out it's not, it's a surprise."

Couch said she looks at the "Big George" cartoon only occasionally. "I don't think about it that much. It's there, and it's around and that's neat."

For her, she said, it's not the cartoons but the memories of her parents that she thinks about.

Asked to describe what she most remembers about her "Pop," as she called him, Couch admitted that she hasn't been able to pin it down.

Flood of Things

"Every time I try to sort it through, there's a flood of things that made his personality, humor being a part of that," she said. "He had a real keen sense of humor in things--and not a sarcastic humor, but a warm humor and a comforting humor that would, I don't know, there's a word there that describes that. . . . But he would take an unhappy situation and make it not so bad, make it more bearable.

"And that was part of his work, too. It's what made people laugh at themselves and get through their problems."

Partch's cartoonist buddies, of course, have their own memories of Partch.

"He was a very, very gentle man," Interlandi said. "Virgil's passing had an impact on our lives."

Indeed, Interlandi said the weekly lunches and the daily bar stops at the Ivy House have largely fallen by the wayside.

"We don't meet as regularly as we used to," he said. "Something kind of happened after Virgil died."

But beyond their individual memories of Partch, his friends are pleased that a bit of VIP remains alive--in the old cartoons and in the continuing saga of "Big George."

VIP Signature

Nofziger observed that, to young people, the VIP signature on a cartoon might not mean as much as to the older generation.

"Kids today are glued to adventure comics," he said. "I have a grandson who's 11 and a granddaughter who's 20, and if you say Virgil Partch, or VIP, they'll look at you like, 'What?' "

But, Nofziger believes, VIP will not be forgotten.

"My personal opinion is that Virgil was one of the originals and he will be known," Nofziger said. "As time goes by he will stand out. It's like what happens with artists and musicians. If he's ever forgotten, he'll come back again because he was a doggone original."

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