All These Things And More: Celebrating Denis Kitchen!
Artist, author, historian, agent, activist, businessman: Denis Kitchen, born August 27, 1946, has worn all these hats (and a number of others) over the course of his storied career. He's worked with many of comics' finest artists, brought lost classics back into the public eye, written definitive texts on some of the medium's most important creators, and laid the groundwork for countless alternative publishers. On top of all that, he's the founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an organization that works to ensure full First Amendment protection for comic creators, retailers, and readers.
Denis Kitchen spent his early life in Wisconsin, and showed an interest in comics and cartooning from a young age. In high school, he founded and produced an alternative school paper, serving as the publication's primary writer, editor, and illustrator.
Similarly, he co-founded a student-produced humor magazine while attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the late '60s. Inspired by the burgeoning underground comics movement, he tried his hand at self-publishing in 1969 with his Mom's Homemade Comics, which quickly sold through its initial 4000 copy print run.
Thus inspired, he founded Kitchen Sink Press in 1970, which after releasing a number of scattered underground titles, soon established itself as a home for all manner of alternative content, printing important work by talents such as Jay Lynch, Richard Corben, Tim Boxell, Grass Green, Bill Griffith, Kim Deitch, and Trina Robbins.
In 1973, Kitchen negotiated with WIll Eisner for Kitchen Sink to release a pair of issues reprinting classic Spirit stories, which helped bring the character (and his creator) back into the public eye. In 1974, Kitchen joined forces with Stan Lee to launch Comix Book, a short-lived but influential magazine that was initially published through Marvel's Curtis Magazines imprint, then moved to Kitchen Sink for its final two issues.
And in 1977, he re-teamed with Eisner to take over long-term publication of The Spirit, which would become one of Kitchen Sink's flagship series for the next fifteen years.
Over the course of the '80s, Kitchen Sink became an increasingly important player in the comic market, releasing a number of original graphic novels, collections, and new series, and becoming one of the standard bearers for a new generation of indie publishers.
Kitchen's grounding in fandom became increasingly apparent as he issued an absurdly diverse slate of titles, reprinting classic material by creators like Al Capp, Alex Raymond, Dan Barry, Harvey Kurtzman, Ernie Bushmiller, and Milton Caniff; while also issuing new works by Reed Waller & Kate Worley, Howard Cruse, Steve Rude, Don Simpson, Mark Schultz, and other influential artists.
At the same time, Kitchen founded the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which began in 1986 as a organization to raise funds for the defense of a comic shop manager accused of distributing obscene materials, but by 1990 evolved into a full-scale non-profit organization dedicated to combating censorship and ensuring that comics receive the full protection of the First Amendment.
Unfortunately, the 1990s were a tough time for the comics industry. Rapid expansion, rampant speculation, and distributor wars created an unstable market, and despite Kitchen Sink's efforts to adapt, merging with Kevin Eastman's Tundra Publishing in 1993 and taking on a number of new investors over the next few years, the company ceased operations in 1999.
Still, Denis Kitchen's passion and enthusiasm persevered. He launched a secondary career as an art agent, representing the Harvey Kurtzman estate and working closely with Will Eisner, continued his work with the CBLDF, issued a handful of books under the auspices of a new enterprise, Denis Kitchen Publishing, and delved deeper into his scholarly work.
He co-authored an acclaimed Harvey Kurtzman biography; teamed with Dark Horse Comics to release the long-awaited autobiography / artbook The Oddly Compelling Art Of Denis Kitchen; and launched a new collaborative imprint with Dark Horse, Kitchen Sink Books, with a reprinting of the '70s Comix Book material.
In 2013, Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library arranged to acquire the Kitchen Sink Press archives, cataloging and preserving tens of thousands of notes, correspondence, and publishing records. Kitchen has also co-authored the definitive biography of cartoonist Al Capp, and overseen and edited the first-ever collection of Harvey Kurtzman's long-lost Trump magazine.
So it's our pleasure to wish Denis Kitchen a happy birthday, and celebrate all aspects of his career --- whether showcasing the work of those he admires, crafting a treatise on some overlooked aspect of comics history, or creating something all his own, his dedication, humor, and passion always shine through.