- Posted by Johanna on April 12, 2010 at 8:45 pm
- Category: Books and Prose
- PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Books; $34.99 US
This coffee-table book takes a look back at the four-decades-long career of a significant comic publisher and artist.
Denis Kitchen is an excellent choice for this kind of retrospective: He’s got a body of work that will mostly be new to readers, and he made major contributions to different areas of the comic industry. He began as a self-publisher before running Kitchen Sink Press, whose products ranged from underground comix to classic reprints (The Spirit, Li’l Abner) and seminal comic titles (From Hell, Omaha the Cat Dancer) to a variety of merchandise, including records and candy bars.
That company “went under” (to use his words) in 1999. Since then, Kitchen has gone back to publishing a limited number of works as well as acting as an art representative for such clients as the Harvey Kurtzman estate. He also was a founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. According to Kitchen’s Acknowledgments, this book in some form or another has been in the works for 20 years.
Kitchen has been known to many for his editorial work (including editing Marvel’s attempt at an underground, Comix Book) for so long that you may have forgotten or never known about his art. I reviewed a PDF on-screen, which I’m sure can’t capture the full glory of the hardcover. I couldn’t take in the spreads all at once, which left me scrolling around to see the large pieces of art and the captions, which explain well what’s included. Even so, I learned a lot. Mostly from the 40-page (due to its copious illustrations) essay by Charles Brownstein.
That biographical piece covers Kitchen’s life from childhood through today, including his college days, in a very different time (60s) and place (Wisconsin), and his first underground comix work. In addition to cataloging the many ups and downs of a struggling artist, there are some fascinating points about his transfer from cartoonist to publisher and how to conduct business ethically and artistically. Then comes the art, after a note that it’s been published in an unrestored, “as is” fashion, which means the oldest pieces show their age. I like that approach; it’s a reminder of the history involved.
The captions are written by Kitchen himself; it’s amusing to compare them to the way the same events are presented in Brownstein’s piece. Several of his early “hippie” stories are reproduced in full. I appreciated the text history more than the images, just because I don’t have the nostalgic attachment to that kind of art, although it’s an interesting picture of a time and industry long past. I also wanted to know more about exactly what happened with Kitchen Sink and Tundra and the final days, but they’re quickly moved over.
Neil Gaiman provides a two-page introduction. The book is due out in June, and it can be ordered through comic shops with Diamond code FEB10 0040.