Big George in 1987. Artist: Virgil Partch.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributor: North America Syndicate
First Appeared: 1960
Creator: Virgil Parch
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Through most of the 1940s and all of the '50s, Virgil Partch was known as one of America's zaniest and most prolific magazine cartoonists. He started in the field when, as a participant in the famous Disney strike, he needed income. That soon became his full-time …

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… occupation, and he never had a regular job again. Much of his magazine work could be seen as a reaction to Disney, in both content (his bizarre and sometimes off-color style of humor would be unlikely to get into the Mouse Factory's final product) and style (he consistently drew too many fingers — sometimes a lot too many — to balance the many three-fingered hands he'd drawn for his former employer).

In the late '50s, his friend Hank Ketcham (Dennis the Menace, and also a Disney veteran) suggested he get into newspaper comics. He tried his usual stuff — single-panel cartoons without continuing characters, signed "Vip" — on Hall Syndicate (Mark Trail) and Publishers Syndicate (Tales from the Great Book), but they weren't exactly what the syndicates were looking for. After a lengthy negotiation, the now-merged Publishers-Hall Syndicate finally settled on Big George, which began in 1960. Following more mergers and acquisitions, it wound up at North America Syndicate (Luann, Marvin). (The whole conglomeration is now part of King Features.)

Big George is a family man, who often functions as the low man on his own totem pole — just like a lot of other comic strip husbands, for example Waldo Nutchell or Horace Dripple. He still got most of his humor across in a single panel, which was always Partch's forté; but after a few years it added a Sunday version, done in strip form.

Big George started out in over 300 papers, but circulation quickly dropped. Apparently a regular panel with an ordinary protagonist weren't what newspaper editors expected from the famous "Vip", but he'd toned things down for syndication. In fact, he'd even stopped drawing excess fingers. But an equilibrium was soon reached, and the feature went on for years at a respectable, if not spectacular level of sales.

Like Henry Boltinoff, Partch worked far in advance, building up a stockpile to last years. Thus, despite the fact that he was killed in a traffic accident in 1984, there was enough material to keep his panel going until 1990. After it ran out, however, Big George ended.


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Text ©2006 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features.