For pioneering cartoonist, publisher, literary agent and all around comics impresario Denis Kitchen, the revival of Kitchen Sink Press as a book imprint at Dark Horse Comics is something of a dream come true. Announced just before the San Diego Comic-Con, Kitchen and his book packaging partner John Lind have forged an alliance with Dark Horse to launch Kitchen Sink Books, an imprint that will publish several titles a year focused on new book editions of out-of-print classic material and archival art and survey volumes.
For the imprint’s first volume, Kitchen Sink Books will return to Kitchen’s underground comics roots and release The Best of Comix Book, a collected edition of a remarkable anthology comics magazine Kitchen produced for Marvel and Stan Lee in 1970s that presented the work of underground comics revolutionaries like Art Spiegelman, S. Clay Wilson, Trina Robbins and others. With Lee’s enthusiastic support, Kitchen edited five issues of Comix Book (1974-1976), an anthology featuring work by the aforementioned un-Marvel comics artists (Comix Book also included the first appearance of Spiegelman’s Maus, looking markedly different than it would in the longer book-length edition of the story).
The Best of Comix Book (to be released in December) will collect about half of the material that was published by this experimental enterprise. Although The Best of Comix Book is the only project that has been announced by the imprint, Kitchen and Lind do not rule out publishing original graphic novel works. But they also emphasized that for the immediate future, Kitchen Sink projects (about four to six per year) will proceed in a similar vein, focused on resurrecting classic comics materials in new archival book editions. More new projects will be announced later this summer.
It has been fifteen years since Kitchen’s legendary indie publishing house Kitchen Sink Press folded. Founded in 1970, Kitchen Sink Press published the biggest names and creators of the underground comics movement, from Speigelman, R. Crumb and Justin Green, not to mention Kitchen’s own comics, as well as such acclaimed comics artists as Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman. Since KSP folded in 1999, Kitchen and his partner, designer-editor John Lind, have enjoyed success with their packaging firm Kitchen, Lind, and Associates. (KLA packaged the Eisner-winning The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics for Abrams, as well as this year’s Eisner nominee, the multi-volume Crime Does Not Pay Archives, for Dark Horse.)
For the new imprint’s first volume, Kitchen and Lind are revisiting that odd moment in the 1970s when Kitchen convinced Stan Lee that Marvel should publish not just comics, but comix, the new experimental comics work that developed out of the underground comics self-publishing movement. The result was the anthology magazine, Comix Book, a project Kitchen brought to Lee in the early ‘70s. In a recent phone conversation with PW, Kitchen recalled the genesis of Comix Book having developed out of a casual correspondence with Stan Lee.
“When I self-published my first underground comic, I sent him one in the mail with a little cover letter that just said, ‘I am a fan of Marvel. I just did this. Hope you like it.’ And I was astonished when I got a letter back from him,” Kitchen says. That initial exchange developed into a regular correspondence. Kitchen continued to send Lee comics – and Lee was intrigued.
“I don’t think anyone else in the underground was even attempting to correspond with Stan,” Kitchen added. “Early on he started saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you come work for me?’ At that time, I didn’t want to move to New York,” Kitchen said, “I don’t think he was used to that, either. If you were in comics and Stan offered you a job, you’d say, ‘When’s the next train?” But by 1973, underground comics were in a big slump, Kitchen’s wife was pregnant and the next time he spoke with Lee, “ I was, like, ‘Stan, let’s talk.’”
Under the new Kitchen Sink Book imprint at Dark Horse, editor Philip Simon will shepherd upcoming Kitchen Sink book projects from the Dark Horse offices in Portland, Or. (Kitchen and Lind are based in Massachussetts.) Simon notes that Kitchen’s book projects have always celebrated the cultural and historical significance of the comics medium – and that that will continue to be the case at the new imprint. Simon already has a history working with Kitchen and Lind on other Dark Horse reprint projects, such as the Crime Does Not Pay Archives books and others. Simon notes, “As a teenager, vaulting from superhero stuff to comics literature, I knew Denis as a guy who was always producing solid books. Denis has a clear vision for what he likes to see. And that will continue.”
As a business venture, the Kitchen/Dark Horse partnership can be seen as a natural outgrowth of editorial affinities shared by Kitchen and Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson. “We had worked with Dark Horse on The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen and Crime Does Not Pay,” Lind says. “It led to talking about how to structure this [imprint]. There’s a strong mutual respect on Denis and Mike [Richardson]’s part, going back twenty-five years or so.”
Simon says that although Kitchen Sink plans to pursue original graphic novels as well, book projects of historical significance are foremost in his mind. He adds, “I feel that starting with The Best of Comix Book, everything [Denis and John] are bringing to the table is going to be historically important.”