Cork High and Bottle Deep

By Virgil Partch, Edited by Jonathan Barli (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-664-5

Virgil Parch is possibly the greatest of those almost forgotten key men of comedy cartooning: a pervasive creative force who worked away tirelessly for years, making people laugh and slowly, steadily changing the very look and nature of the industry.

Although largely forgotten these days, Virgil Franklin Partch II (1926-2004) is probably one of the most influential and successful of all American cartoonists.

His arch, absurd, rude, sly, subtle, skewed, whacky and astoundingly unique gags, strips, stories and animated shorts were generated with machine gun rapidity from a seemingly inexhaustible well of comedy excess, which could be rendered in a variety of styles which utterly revolutionised the American publishing from the moment in 1941 that the artist switched from a Walt Disney Studio ideas-man to freelance gag-maker.

He is most well regarded for his cavalier abandonment of traditional form and anatomy. Partch is the guy who liberated gag-cartooning from the bonds of slavish attention to body detail: replacing broadly human shape and proportion with a wildly free and frenetic corporeal expressionism – perhaps even symbolism – which captivated legions of fellow artists and generations of fun-starved readers. This is the guy who made 19 fingers on one hand work…

Following 2013’s VIP – The Mad World of Virgil Partch– asuperbly comprehensive art book/biography – comes this themed collection of his most arch, dark and absurd gag panels all devoted to his favourite hobby and avocation: the heroic and determined downing of strong liquor…

This glorious pocket-sized (174 x 174mm) hardback collection gathers – in colour and black-&-white – the vast majority of his hootch-flavoured (and, perhaps, often -inspired) party favours, ranging from the antics of barflies and boozy babes to the aggravated effects of a lifetime of dedicated tippling and how to offset or escape them…

Subtitled “Amidst the stormy seas of booze, with your faithful skipper, the mad Vipper” the first section focuses on the general run of alcohol-induced visions starring blurry, cheery, dreary, maudlin and dumbfounded imbibers of every class and station as well as the long-suffering worldly-wise barkeeps who attend them; an often (literally) staggering precession of invention, surreal acceptance and inevitable regret, ranging from atrocious visual puns to bewilderingly brilliant observations.

The general carousing is followed by a steady stream of themed sections beginning with an astoundingly visually inventive succession of suggestions on The Hangover… and Some Cures, complete with a sneaky subsection of .descriptive diagnoses of particular brain seizures ranging from the ‘Thirsty-Bedouin Hangover’ to the ‘God! Is that Me? or Hallucination Case’

Assuming you survive that, the blinding switch to full painted colour will shock you sober enough for ‘VIP Views The Drink as seen by…’; a savage selection of interested parties including The Bartender, The Wife and The Guy On the Wagon

Digging deeper, the artist then invites you to observe fizzy, happy people at ‘Dr. Freud’s Cocktail Party’ displaying Introversion, Exhibitionism , Wish Fulfilment, Hallucination, Rejection and a host of other “isms”, after another large round of general gags and panels runs into ‘VIP’s Tips: How to Taper Off…’

Virgil Partch possessed an eternally refilling reservoir of comedy imagination and a unique visual perspective which made him a true catalyst of cartoon change, and Fantagraphics Books have once again struck pure gold by reviving, commemorating and celebrating this lost legend of cartooning.

Best of all, this is an astoundingly funny collection: a wealth of outrageously funny, deliciously barbed funny drawings and clever ideas as powerfully hilarious now as they ever were, and all brilliantly rendered by a master draughtsman no connoisseur of comedy can afford to miss.


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