1970: Teen-Age Horizons of Shangrila

Teen-Age Horizons of Shangrila (1970) #1-2 edited by Denis Kitchen

The anthology was the primary underground comix medium, wasn’t it? Comics anthologies didn’t really sell in the later direct comics market, but there was a buttload of them around this time, and I’ve never seen anybody try to explain why.

Perhaps it’s the inspiration from Mad Magazine? That is, most of the underground comix were humour comics, so going for shorter pieces seems natural, and doing anthologies meant that you could produce the books much faster. Can do a handful of pages between toking and partying.

On the other hand, perhaps this is what the readers preferred: These are perfect for reading at parties, too.

This one starts off with a piece by Denis Kitchen about the horrible path drugs has led him down.

The horror. The horror!

Undergrounds were into shocking people, but Kitchen was doing “milder” comics in the mid-west than the sex-and-violence saturated books from the left coast, so… what do you do? Dan Clyne does the most shocking story ever seen in a comic book: It’s about worms.

It’s such a weird flex that I’m wondering what the reaction to this was. I mean, reading Zap, you’d go “right aaawn!” or “whee hoo!”, and this is more “what the… what the!”

It’s the most deranged thing ever, and I support this comic 100%.

Jay Lynch does a Projunior story… wasn’t that a Crumb character? I’m totally misremembering, probably.

Justin Green would later give birth to the entire autobio comics genre, but he’s just goofing off here. I mean, in a good way.

Ah, that generation gap.

In the second issue, Trina Robbins does a very amusing satire on the whole hippie ethos, and also squeezes in a couple of pages of paper dolls.

These comics are all 32-page standard size comics, but in this issue, Kitchen adds an eight page advertising supplement to the middle. Very enterprising.

And… that’s some collection of posters they’re selling!?

Unfortunately, the longest piece in the book is by Grass Green, who sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s a basic dopey humour strip, but made “edgy” by adding some boring sex.

These two books flow pretty well, though — I’m not sure Kitchen knew exactly what he was doing at this point, but he’s got some good talent in here, and it seems like everybody’s having a lot of fun.

This is the fourth post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

1970: Smile

Smile (1970) #1-3 by Jim Mitchell and others

The first issue of this series is standard comic book size, while the last two are magazine sized. Let’s look at the first bit in the first issue:

It’s pretty good? I leans heavily into a 60s Mad Magazine aesthetic, though. But with more drugs.

And slightly more sex, but not a lot.

This is probably the best sequence in the book: The escalation is just about perfect; getting more absurd by the panel.

Most of the strips are drug related, but the plots are often what people will come up with without having any drug experience, like this kid-on-acid-jumping-to-his-death thing. It’s a bit odd.

And this “how to become a hipster” thing is amusing, but again — it seems kinda square?

The second issue is allegedly published by Krupp Comic Works, which was an entity established by Kitchen to syndicate underground strips to underground weeklies all over the US. And this issue is apparently just reprinting a whole bunch of these strips? So get get a whole lot of different people on the pages.

The humour is often quite topical, and at this remove, it’s a bit hard do decipher what the joke actually is. But it’s mostly… fine?

It’s quite varied, at least.

Most of the bits aren’t that funny, though, which leaves you to wonder whether this is just, you know, garden variety not-that-funny-joke or slightly racist? I dunno.

I’m sure that hat isn’t an allusion to anything.

The third and final issue is mostly comics by Jim Mitchell again. Very confusing publishing strategy, but I guess Kitchen was still getting into the swing of things.

About one third of the final issue is by other people, like Bill Lee’s very strange piece above.

And this very… I don’t know. The art style is so intensely 1971, but the violence seems like more of a bad trip?

Kitchen was interviewed in The Comics Journal #63, page 214:

SHERMAN : There was a period where there seemed to
be a series of syndicated strips that got reprinted in
Smile magazine.
KITCHEN: Yeah. For a while we were syndicating strips
to alternative newspapers and college papers…
SHERMAN: It sounds like the Rip Off Syndicated pages.
KITCHEN: Yes, it was, as a matter of fact. This was
1971. Actually, it lasted two years, and this was when one
of my partners was Jim Mitchell, who did the Smile comics.
He was in charge of the syndicate, and he wasn’t the most
organized person in the world, but it still did fairly well.
Five of us, Mitchell, Don Glassford, Bruce Walthers ,
Wendal Pugh, and myself, all did a weekly strip and we
had at one point 50- some papers and that would have been
enough for it to be successful. The problem was not
getting them to carry it , the problem was getting them to
pay for it (laughter] . We had something like a collec-
tion rate, and that just wasn’t enough. We ended up
making three dollars a strip after expenses per week,
and we just finally had to give up. Also, at that point
Jim Mitchell was disenchanted With Krupp and Vice
versa. He left the organization shortly thereafter and
ended up in a Mexican prison for four and a half years.
so it was an experiment that could have succeeded if
we had persevered, and I think if we’d had a good
business manager at the time who knew how to collect
and who knew how to get people to sign binding con-
tracts (laughter) , it could be a syndicate to this day.
But now Rip Off is doing something similar and they
seem to be doing it successfully. Of course they also
have the fact that Gilbert Shelton is doing Wonder
Wart-Hog and so forth for them, and they also have
Griffith’s Observatory and Joel Beck; a really strong
line-up. I think Trina’s doing strips for them now and
some new cartoonists. It does change, but they’ve had
a pretty good line-up of artists, and so far as I can tell
it’s succeeding.
We even ran their strips in the Fox River Patriot, the
local paper that I eo-publish, gnd we were able to get
away with Warf-Hog for quite a while until (laughter]
it got a little too outrageous and some Of the farmers
complained [laughter) . It’s kind of a parochial area,
but now We run Phoebe and the Pigeon People and what-
ever comics we can. I try to inject comix into the
community media, and for the most part they’re well
received. We ran one of Bill Griffith’s Zippy stories and
Zippy in one Of the panels says, “Oh, God!” and we got
I think seven letters from old ladies complaining that it
was blasphemous. So that’s where I live.

Still interviewed in The Comics Journal #63, page 219:

KITCHEN: Right. And then it also was where the Krupp
Syndicate was based. The Bugle was our deadline on
which the syndicate was based so that we gould then take
that weekly package, reproduce it, and send stats Out to
all the members. So the Bugle had the strips a week or
two before any other paper in the Country and frequently
had comics that we didn’t use elsewhere because they
were either too local or sometimes we would so six, seven
strips a week and we could only fit five on the proof
sheets. Some day I might even like to go back and collect
the best of those, because only a few were really reprinted
in Smile, and even Smile was not a widely circulated comic.
So there’s a lot of good stuff languishing in the files.
SHERMAN: Yeah, I think I’ve only seen about four or
five Of your strips from that period.
KITCHEN: Yeah? It was probably my most prolific
period ever, because I had to draw something every Week.
That’s one reason I liked it: because somebody forced me
to draw. wish somebody now would make me do a strip
every week, but nobody will.
[general laughter]
HOLLY BROOKS: 1 know. I do my best.
KITCHEN: Holly tries her best, but.
I don’t take
her threats seriously.
SHERMAN : At one point, some California artists were
critical of Krupp —Roger Brand in particular.
KITCHEN: Yeah, Roger was probably the most vocal
critic—he commented in Funnyworld at one point that
he thought Krupp was the Charlton of underground
comics, which really hurt, but I certainly understand
why Roger was saying that. The San Francisco artists
Were certainly the vanguard of the undergmund artist
movement at that point in time, and the Midwest was an
awfully dumb place to be in their view and perhaps even
from my own point of view. Everyone was migrating out
to San Francisco with good reason: it was a cultural
mecca, it was a beautiful place to live, and why I
stayed in Wisconsin was because I was stubborn and had
family ties and was dumb laughter] . When I was covered
with four feet of snow, I often wondered why I didn’t go
to San Francisco too. But in Wisconsin I did stay and the
distance caused lack Of communication and misunderstand-
I think Roger felt what he and some Of the other West
Coast cartoonists were doing was much more valid at the
time, shall we say more “underground and I think
probably it’s true. Had I published S. Clay Wilson in the
Midwest, I probably would have been tarred and
feathered out of Milwaukee, which is a large city but
would have tarred and feathered me nevertheless. The
San Francisco artists had a much freer situation. I was
probably more conservative personally than many of them
and I also, at that time, was certainly geographically
isolated from the mainstream of underground cartoonists.
It changed as more of them began to travel and pass
through the Midwest and as we met in person a lot of those
misunderstandings began to clear up. I know that for
instance a comic book like Smile at the time. which was
mainly a collection of Jim Mitchell’s work, was considered
horribly cute and juvenile by most of the San Francisco
artists. in the same way Barefootz was criticized later on.
I think part of it was a general California attitude
toward the Midwest which still prevails, to a large degree,
If you’re on the East Coast or on the West Coast, you’re
where things are happening and Midwest bumpkins can’t
possibly produce anything valid. As the artists began
passing through and Crumb began giving me books, and
the Bijou books came out of the Midwest, more and more
things began being done in Wisconsin, and the idea that
the Midwest was a stupid place to be began to slowly
disappear. I think when West Coast artists visited and
saw how pretty it was and how clean the air was and
saw what a nice operation we had and saw how low the
rent was and saw how friendly the people were where I
lived—a lot of these misconceptions just withered away.
I have often second-guessed myself, but in the long run
I’m glad I decided to stay in Wisconsin from a number of
viewpoints. Certainly from a practical viewpoint , it makes
sense to have a publishing company in the Midwest,
beause it’s a very easy way to ship to all points of the
country. It’s a printing center. Itm very near paper
supplies. You can ask the Comics Journal and others,
it’s a good place to print and to warehouse and to
distribute. From a cultural viewpoint Pm sure it would
be much more interesting to live in San Francisco.
Leonard Rifas, for example, moved to Wisconsin to work
at Krupp for about a year. He constantly bemoaned the
fact that the library only had 28 volumes and he had to
drive 35 miles to see a movie and we had no community
theatre, we had no Indonesian restaurants (laughter] ,
and so on.

This is the third post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

1970: Deep 3D Comix

Deep 3D Comix (1970) #1 by Don Glassford

In the 90s, Kitchen would (if I remember correctly) follow the trajectory of Eclipse Comics, and concentrate on selling novelty items instead of comics. Eclipse went for trading cards, while Kitchen started selling candy bars and metal signs? I think? I guess we’ll find out when this blog series reaches the 90s.

But the very second comic Kitchen published was a 3D comic, so gimmicks were embedded in Kitchen Sink’s DNA from the very start.

This helpfully has 3D glasses stapled to the inside cover, but…

… I’ve never seen any comic that’s this faded in my entire life. Where did Kitchen get this printed?

Man. I can just about make out some stuff here, but I’m not going to read the issue, so you’ll just have to imagine what it’s about.

This looks like it might have been quite cool as a 3D comic? Perhaps?

So how about if I futz about a bit in Gimp and separate some layers…

*gasp* I can almost tell what’s on the page! The wonders of technology. But reading it this way is just too much work.

This is the second post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

1969: Mom’s Homemade Comics

Mom’s Homemade Comics (1969) #1-3 by Denis Kitchen and others

Kitchen was in his mid-20s when he was inspired by other early underground comics, like Bijou Funnies and Zap Comix, to self-publish his own book, and this was the start of the Kitchen Sink Enterprise empire.

Since this is the first comic published by Kitchen Sink, let’s read the entire first story in the first issue together:

Yeah, OK, it’s not exactly the best thing ever in the history of comics. Kitchen would later develop a pretty meticulous and recognisable art style, but it’s not here yet. And even in this four page strip, he really seems to be casting about for something to write about, and settles on a sorta mild sit-com-ish take on how much those darn Americans like their TVs.

It’s not the most auspicious start ever, but on the other hand: It’s not that bad, either?

The rest of the first issue is mostly single page gags, and like the above, they’re mildly political: The cops and the military sucks, and drugs are cool. Which means that he’s totally right aaaaawn, but it’s more “that’s sure tellin’ ’em” than knee slappers.

Many of the gags are straightforward pleas to the older generation to realise that kids these days are just the same as them.

And… are all these strips really by Kitchen? The art’s all over the place, so I started wondering whether they’d been made by a group of people, but there’s no other name in the book than Kitchen’s, so…

The front cover on the second issue promises sex and gore, but the inside insists that this is going to be a “clean” book. I’m not sure how Kitchen was trying to position this book on the general underground scene — it’s certainly not as out there as Zap, for instance. Is he trying to keep it family friendly?

In the first two issues, Kitchen seems like he’s trying to get a friendly imaginary feud with R. Crumb going, calling him the “no. 2 cartoonist”, which is fun.

The second issue is apparently published by Print Mint? And we’ve now moved to an anthology format: About half the pages are by somebody else than Kitchen.

And it’s pretty rough stuff. Here we have Guy Nelson and Kohl, and … uhm…

Kitchen’s favourite theme: Kids these days are just kids, like always — it’s the older generation that’s crazy.

*gasp* Kohl eerily predicts covid!

The first issue had fake letters, which is why it says “Real Letters” here. And I’m guessing that Kitchen had sent copies to a bunch of famous comics people? So here we have Stan Lee (who Kitchen would later collaborate with on Comix Book) and Harvey Kurtzman (who Kitchen would later publish a number of books by).

And they all quite liked The Message strip from the first issue, and that was indeed the best thing — it was a pretty funny and absurd little ditty.

*gasp* Such hippies!

With the third issue, Kitchen has the book back again, and he’s upped the ambitions considerably — gone are the amateurish contributions, and all the pieces in the issue are from well-known underground artists.

Kitchen’s artwork is now getting closer to his mature style, and he’s using zip-a-tone a lot more confidently. He’s also obviously decided that perhaps going for the shock factor is a more productive angle than the political approach. So the main story in the issue is about the sexual exploits of a five year old girl.

*sigh*

But there’s a pretty amazing jam thing.

That ends with the most hippyish way possible. Look at that page. Just look at it!

Kitchen apparently envisioned keeping the series running, but I’m guessing he just didn’t have time, as Kitchen Sink Comix (and the Krupps off-shoot) were getting pretty busy by now.

Kitchen is interviewed The Comics Journal #264, page 123:

ROSENKRANZ: so Mom’s Homemade
Comics your comic book?
DENIS KITCHEN: Mom; was the first
comic book that I did, which I started in
the fall of 1968. I was never involved
With fanzines, although had seen a few
at that point. Mostly, was a loner in
Mihvaukee. I started an underground
newspaper of sorts when I was in
grade in 1960, called It continued
inro high school. I wrote, illustrated,
typed, and hawked it, the whole works.
When I attended the University Of
Wisconsin in Milwaukee, I worked on
the student newspaper, doing editorial
cartoons, illustrations and I started a reg-
ular strip called Sheepshead U. In my
junior year, I was art editor and contribu-
tor to Snide, a humor magazine that only
lasted one issue. When I got out Of col-
lege, I was drafted almost immediately,
served my three weeks, which is a story
in itself. Then I decided to become a
freelance cartoonist. It was a stru* at
the beginning but somehow I survived. I
freelanced for a lot of places in
Milwaukee. I did a poster for Schlitz,
posters and flyers for various rock groups
that came into town, stuff for the
Milwaukee Journal, ads for Various stores,
but my true love was comic books, and I
freelanced mostly to pay the rent. In late
’68, I Saw a copy Of Bijou Funnies
and said, “Wow, I could do that. ”
That’s how Mom; began. Bijou #1 was
the Only underground
comic I had ever seen
when I did Mom’s. I had
4000 books printed local-
l”. Then the Print Mint
saw a copy and offered to
publish and distribute it
nationally.
ROSENKRANZ: What exactly
is Krupp Comic Works?
KITCHEN: Krupp is incor-
porated. I’m the principal
stockholder and president,
so Krupp and I are pretty
much one and the same.
TO backtrack a bit
though, so you know how
Krupp began Print
Mint did a couple Of
printings of and
then they did Mom’s #2,
but I unas never satisfied
With the way were
happening. write a
rer to them and I’d never
get an answer. call to
find out when my book
would be ready or When
I’d get paid or how many
svere being printed. All I’d
ever get was a runaround
over the phone. I asked
for printer’s receipts Of
print runs When I got a
little suspicious and none
ever came. I just got very suspicious. I
had no evidence that they cheated me
really, but they made no attempt to be
upfront about their operation. I got sick
of having to rely on some outfit 2000
miles away that didn’t seem to give a fuck
about artists, and decided the only thing
to do was to start a company in the
Midwest. Rip Off was the only other real
publisher at the time and they seemed to
be very unstable. Since then, they’ve got-
ten very good. I’ve gotten to be very close
with Jaxon and the Rip Off guys. But
anyway, at the time, there were no other
alternatives.
My roommate Gene Gessert invested
some money and we formed a partner-
ship, which we called Kumquat
Productions. Kumquat published
Shangrila and Quagmire and folded.
then approached several other Milwaukee
cartoonists about starting another com-
pany, which I envisioned as an artists
cooperative, which in retrospect, was a
pretty naive thing (o do. I approached
Jim Mitchell, and Don Glassford, and
Bruce Walthers, and Wendel Pugh, who
were all interested. The idea Of an artists
cooperative just didn’t work. There were
too many generals, if you know what I
mean. Krupp is finally beginning to run
On the efficient basis it needs to, in order
to Stay alive.
ROSENKRANZ: did you get the rights to
print Mom’s Homemade Comics and
Bijou Funnies back from Mint?
KITCHEN: Actually, publishing companies,
at least in the underground, do not own a
title. The copyright holder does. took
Mom; aveay from the Print Mint, obvious-
Iy, and Jay and Skip took Bijou away from
them. We can reprint the Old Mom’s any
time we want — Print Mint has absolute-
Iy no control over that any more. We’re in
the process of reprinting the old Bijous.
We’ve already done our own edition Of
Bijou #4 and will soon be doing #3.

Another interview in The Comics Journal #63, page 213:

BILL SHERMAN : Let’s start with some history—that’s
what my notes say. How did Krupp Comics come about?
DENIS KITCHEN: I was in college, in Milwaukee. I
got drafted right Out Of college. I’d always had aspira-
tions to be a cartoonist, but I don’t think I was
terribly serious about it until was drafted and 22
days later became a civilian—but that’s a different
story—and decided I did want to be a cartoonist after
I was browsing in a bookstore in Milwaukee and saw a
copy of Bijou #1, and I remember thinking to myself that
that was the sort of thing I would like to create. I
bought a copy and took it back to my hovel. My roommate
said he would vigorously promote the book if I would
draw my own. So we formed a brief partnership and
that’s how Mom’s was created. It was strictly for local
consumption, and in fact had a lot of Milwaukee jokes.
To my astonishment 4, 000 copies sold very quickly in
Milwaukee. In fact, Bill, the roommate, went to San
Francisco with a box in his trunk, dropped them off at
Gary Arlington’s San Francisco Comic Book Store and
within a week the box had sold. Gary wrote me, asking
for more. But I was running out of copies. And then The
Print Mint, which at the time was the only viable under-
ground publisher, offered to be my publisher and I was
delighted. I was beginning to think that maybe I could
actually make my living at this. At this time, of course ,
there were tens of thousands of “hippies” looking for
their “own” literature and this was a mushrooming
phenomenon.
To make the long story short, I was unhappy with The
Plült Mint for a variety Of reasons, and I decided to
publish books myself. Based on my brief experience in
Milwaukee, I thought I knew ‘tall about” publishing,
which was terribly naive. With the help of another friend,
I started Kumquat productions. That didn’t last very
long at all, publishing only two comics. It reorganized
into Krupp Comic Works in September of 1970. I had a
certain knack for business even then but was very
naive. I was very lucky that there was a great demand
for underground comix; that there was a subculture and
a network of head shops literally begging for books.
Other cartoonists offered me their books. They said,
“Here, you print them and distribute them and pay us a
royalty,” and I said, “Well. okay,” and became a
publisher by default. I had no intention Of ever being
a publisher.
SHERMAN : The first issue of Mom’s was all your work.
KITCHEN : It’s the only solo book I ever did. (laugh-
ter)
SHERMAN : What happened? Why was the next issue not
all Denis Kitchen ?
KITCHEN; Because already I didn’t have time to draw
it all myself and I didn’t show a great deal of taste in
choosing contributors for the second issue. It was put
together hastily and my contributions kept shrinking.
To this day I’m probably the least prolific cartoonist I
publish, but I still like to draw. I do have a page here
and there in various books. But publishing takes at least
of my time.
SHERMAN: How fast are you as an artist?
KITCHEN: When I’m just drawing, probably half a page
a day at best. I consider that a good rate. But it’s hard to
find full days. To take two days to draw a page is a real
luxury to me now. Usually the only time I turn out work
is when I have a deadline imposed from outside because I
don’t take my own deadlines seriously. Time after time I
have books with myself on the chart and I end up crossing
my name out and substituting someone else because can’t
produce in time.

This is the first post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.