Virgil Partch’s Captain’s Gig

With a jump and a start, we realized that we haven’t written a proper post about Virgil Partch. Not even one lousy little post! How embarrassing.

Virgil Franklin Partch (1916-1984), mostly known as VIP, is legendary, and I’m not one to use this description lightly. One can spot his work a mile away by his surreal sense of humour and a kinetic, unhinged-yet-clean style. He was also prodigiously prolific, the gag-man of his day. VIP not only wrote and drew tons of cartoons for magazines in the 40s and 50s (Collier’s Magazine, True, the Man’s Magazine, The New Yorker, Playboy…) but also provided glorious art for LP covers; illustrated other people’s books, as well as releasing collections of his own cartoons with invariably entertaining titles (The Wild, Wild Women; Cork High and Bottle Deep; Relations in Strange Locations, etc.). His doodles also adorned merchandise – my favourite being, of course, cocktail glasses!

Detail from cover of the True Magazine Bar Guide paperback (1950). « Flinging himself into the study of this challenging matter, Vip left no glass unturned, no drink unbottled, no bottle undrunk, etc. Leaving statistics to the statisticians, analysis to the analysts, facts to the factories, data to the dataist, Vip went straight to the sources. Often he worked until the wee small hours of the night, crawling home exhausted from his studies, numb with the impact of startling discoveries, quivering and all but incoherent with surmise… » Quote from the introduction to Bottle Fatigue (1950).

« Almost at once, wherever his cartoons appeared, Partch’s manic artwork inspired alarm because of his nonchalance about ordinary anatomy. He may have been among the first to discard such niceties almost entirely, striving instead for approximations of the human figure that served his comedic purposes and no other. A frequent objection was made to his unabashed disregard of the number of fingers that are customarily issued with each human hand.  With the giddy abandon of footloose youth, Vip produced hands with fistfuls of fingers—five, six, seven, however many fell, uncounted, from his pen or brush. To those who carped about his anatomical irresponsibility, Partch reposited patiently: “I draw a stock hand when it is doing something, such as pointing, but when the hand is hanging by some guy’s side, those old fingers go in by the dozens.  And why not?  At Disney’s studio, I spent four years drawing three fingers and a thumb.  I’m just making up for that anatomical crime.”» (excerpt from Making the World Safe From Insanity by Bob Harvey)

Aside from his magazine work, Partch also tried his hand at newspaper strips (after his friend Denis Ketcham, creator of Dennis the Menace, suggested it, I might add). I could launch into an examination of Big George, the successful syndicated comic strip about an average American husband-and-father and his daily struggles with neighbours and family. But this blog (as you’ve probably noticed) likes to tantalize its readers with the obscure, so today’s post is about Captain’s Gig, another syndicated (also by Field Enterprises, like Big George) strip that never got much traction and is nearly forgotten by now. VIP clearly toned down his oddness down a bit for Big George… he even started drawing people with five fingers! Captain’s Gig, on the other hand, is considerably  weirder and more surreal. No, it’s not on par of VIP’s height of glory in the days of magazine cartoons – but this strip definitely has its charms.

I never thought I’d become the type of person who actually purchases old newspaper pages to get some comic, but what is a girl to do when this stuff hasn’t been reprinted at all? However, I only have a few of Captain’s Gig (and quite a bit more of Big George) – it seems that people mostly didn’t feel it was worth saving – so this post has both scans of the newspaper pages I have as well as some original art found online (and cleaned up).




« Virgil Partch burst onto the scene in the nation’s magazines with his zany, sometimes surreal but always hilarious cartoons. Known to millions by his signature, “Vip,” this comedic genius was unlike anything the world had seen before. His unique brand of humor and trendsetting approach to cartooning ushering in a new era of the gag cartoon and pioneered a standard of madcap humor across the spectrum of comedy that was reflected in the cutting-edge sensibilities of comedians and the trailblazing pages of Mad magazine. Inspiring a new breed of cartoonists, Vip became the more sought-after cartoonist of his generation, as well as one of the most prolific and influential cartoonists of his era. » (introduction from Fantagraphics’ VIP: The Mad World of Virgil Partch )


It appears no-one caught the typo in the *title*; well, the “Captan” bears an awfully smug expression, so perhaps he did.
An ad for for Captain’s Gig from March 1977, just shortly before the strip’s launch. It sang its death song and went down in December 1979, according to Stripper’s Guide.

And now for some scans of original art (not owned, O woe!, by me):






Ger Apeldoorn, who has been doing the purchasing-and-scanning-newpaper-pages thing for longer than just about anyone, has a nice selection of strips over at his blog, The Fabulous Fifties. That being said, I hope to be forgiven for including two strips scanned and posted by him, both because they illustrate the point about VIP’s surreal sense of humour and because they made me laugh out loud.



~ ds

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