The Best of Comix Book: When Marvel Went Underground, published by Dark Horse under the imprint of the Kitchen Sink Press from Denis Kitchen and John Lind is now available. It’s a who’s who of some of the top names in comics. The Introduction is written by none other than Stan Lee himself with a foreword by Denis Kitchen.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Denis Kitchen and John Lind in October at New York Comic Con to discuss the latest publishing efforts from Kitchen Sink Press. Denis Kitchen is considered to be the founding publisher of independent and underground comics. He was instrumental in publishing people like R. Crumb, Harvey Pekar, Howard Cruse and Trina Robbins to name a few.It’s especially prescient to look at the work that Denis and John are currently publishing in light of recent world events. The Best of Comix Book showcases some of the best of the underground comics that Denis published with Marvel under Stan Lee’s direction. This momentous occasion occurred during the period when Stan agreed to help Denis continue publishing while Denis was going through difficult financial times.
What were the underlying causes of those difficult financial times? Here’s a bit of comic book history to add to your understanding of what it’s all about Alfie?–During 1969-1974 underground comics were mostly distributed through head shops. As obscenity laws enacted by local authorities forced many of the shops to close it caused distribution of underground comics to fall rapidly. Stan Lee offered Denis Kitchen an opportunity to come to Marvel and the amusing letter from Stan to Denis is revealed to us as part of the fun graphics included in the book. The arrangement that developed was for Denis to publish under Marvel as a survival strategy. The word Comix with an x was used to distinguish these comic books from the regular run of Marvel Comics.
One of the sticking points for Denis was that his artists receive their art back and as soon as the regular Marvel artists discovered this—well—viva la revolution! They demanded to have theirs back as well. Thus the collaboration did not last long. Comix was discontinued after the 3rd issue but there were two additional issues ready and Denis was able to publish those as well.
John Lind, the editor of The Best of Comix felt that these comics should be available once again to a whole new generation of readers. He edited down to about 80 choices and some of your favorite comics artists are included like Kim Deitch, Trina Robbins, Art Spiegelman (with the first appearance of Maus), Howard Cruse and more.
The Best of Comix is the first of several titles available this fall and I was lucky enough to get a preview during New York Comic Con. A couple of additional titles to keep on your list are Bob Powell’s Complete Cave Girl published in early November. For all you lovers of the genre and for those of you new to these terrific comics of Thun’Da and Cave Girl stories it’s presented in a gorgeous deluxe hardcover collection. Extra goodies include essays by James Vance (Kings in Disguise, one of the most gorgeous graphic novels ever!) and John Wooley (of Fangoria and a super pulpster).
Cave Girl was followed in mid-November by Popular Skullture: The Skull Motif in Pulps, Paperbacks and Comics. Edited and designed by Monte Beauchamp it’s a pop culture valentine to the creepiest and oddest of skull designs and the answer to why it’s fun to be scared to death.
To top it off Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book is in print once again. It’s considered a lost classic as it hasn’t been in print for 25 years. So many artists like R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman were inspired by this comic telling and filmmaker Terry Gilliam counts it as one of his favorites as well. It’s a beautiful book and includes an essay by Denis Kitchen with an afterword by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski.
You won’t be surprised to learn that The Best of Comix won two Harvey awards in 2014 for best design and best essay. Denis and John always provide essays in the books they produce of comic art. The believe it is important to place comic art within the context of the history and cultural phenomenon of comics. Their collections are for the serious fan who appreciates graphic literature but the books are also easily available for the non-scholar because they are beautifully designed, edited and presented with some of the most fun and interesting comics from the period. From knowing their work for many years and seeing what they have recently produced I think that’s the best way to describe everything that Denis and John accomplish.
[Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson is writing a biography of her grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, military intelligence officer, prolific pulp writer, inventor and founder of DC Comics, with Gerard Jones (Men of Tomorrow) entitled Lost Hero. Her most recent publication is co-editing and writing an Introduction to a reprint of some of the Major’s adventure tales from the pulps entitled The Texas-Siberia Trail published by Off-Trail Publications. Nicky is a writer, editor and audio publisher and holds a Master’s in Classical Greek Mythology. She was featured in Women’s Enews with an article on Wonder Woman and San Diego Comic Con and appears frequently at Comics Conventions throughout the US speaking about early comic book history.]