1993: Blue Block

Blue Block (1993) by Scott Deschaine and Jim Woodring

Here’s where the “Kitchen Sink” concept becomes a bit muddled.

Flush with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle money, Kevin Eastman started Tundra Publishing, who seemingly had a mission to give all alternative comics artists huge paychecks for publishing things that didn’t sell well. My impression was that it was halfway between a charitable concern and a commercial entity? Three years in, Eastman was fed up with the entire enterprise (understandably enough), and brought in Denis Kitchen to mop things up.

Or as they tried to frame it: The Comics Journal #158, page 17:

Kitchen Sink Press Buys
Tundra Publishing

Right from the start, everybody called bullshit on that story. How did Kitchen Sink, a small company, buy Tundra, which was much larger? I’m not sure whether anybody has ever gotten down into the nitty gritty of it and figured out just what actually happened, but everybody assumed that Eastman had paid Kitchen a bunch of money to get the mess off his hands, and to avoid losing even more money:

“Going down the list (of Tundra’s creators),
some contracts will obviously have to be rene-
gotiated,” said Kitchen. “Some are structured
in a way that I don’t think KSP can benefit from
them. In some cases, Tundra was just too
generous in its deals. KSP just isn’t positioned
to carry on with certain projects that are big
money loser-s unless I think there’s an overriding
artistic or political reason for me to do it.

I.e., Eastman didn’t want to be the heavy and cut his friends’ books, but Kitchen could. So Kitchen moved the Kitchen Sink offices from Princeton, Wisconsin to Massachusetts, where Tundra had their offices. Of the 14 people who were employed in Princeton, five made the trip, and many of the people who already worked for Tundra were fired, too.

And for the next year or so, Kitchen Sink’s publishing schedule would be dominated by things that Tundra had in the pipeline, of which this is obviously one.

So that left me in a slight conundrum for the concept of this blog — should I perhaps just bite the bullet and also cover all the pre-Kitchen Tundra books? Because it’d be weird to do just, say, Tantalizing Stories #6, when the first issues were published by Tundra and that one by the Kitchen Tundra.

I decided to just wing it, and do all the books that have “Kitchen Sink” in the indicia (as determined by comics.org), but with continuing series, I’ll also be looking at previous issues.

*phew* So much drama!

But let’s look at Blue Block!

It’s written (and layouted (that’s a word)) by Deschaine, but the very pretty artwork is by Jim Woodring, who was doing various oddball series at Tundra at the time, as well as illustrating monster comics for Fantagraphics.

This is a done-in-one 32 page comic book, which is on par for Tundra: They published a lot of stuff that you’d be hard-pressed to see how would reach a larger audience. But the colour reproduction here is just weird — it mostly looks really good, but look at that net the dog er cat catcher is using: It’s pretty much illegible what’s actually going on.

This is a semi-dystopian sci fi story, and we’re not given much of an explanation about anything in that society. Instead we focus on a couple of small events (the cat getting its head caught in a glass jar and this guy’s attempt to help it), and one big event.

(Don’t worry, the cat’s gonna be fine.)

It’s… it’s a kind of perfect little book? It’s a jolt of mystery and humanity — it’s without context, just 32 pages of a little story about a day in this society. Woodring is an odd choice for an artist for a sci fi story, since his art looks so grounded (in this mode of drawing), but that only heightens the strangeness of the book.

It’s really good.

The Comics Journal #166, page 128:

This is a strange little work, writ-
ten and laid out by Deschaine and
illustrated by Woodring, with col-
Ors by Mary Woodring. It tells the
story of@man and his family
who live in the “blue block” of some vague future
city where districts are separated by color. Huge
banks of lights crown all the buildings, making the
sky glow blue day and night. The other star of the
book is•årt omery alley cat, who prowls the margins
Of the, centralized society and whom the man feeds
and inadvertently traps in a
broken bottleneck.


No, I’m not going to give away the end-
ing. Blue Block is a short, simple Story. but in the
Woodrings’ hands it becomes something beyond
that, something hypnotic. There’s nothing all that
original about the story, but for some reason I find
myself rereading this book over and Over. Maybe it’s
because the cat’s so darn cute.

I don’t think this book has ever been reprinted? Somebody should do a collection of Woodring-illustrated books from this era.

This is the one hundred and forty-fourth post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *