"I see no intrinsic reason why a doubly talented artist might not arise

and create a comic strip novel masterpiece.

--John Updike, 1969

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

-- Hunter S. Thompson, 1974

When first approaching the archive of Denis Kitchen’s Kitchen Sink Press (hereafter KSP), it is impossible not to be dazzled by the seemingly infinite volume of eye-popping and mind-blowing visual content, quite literally a parade of 20th Century North American and European comic history unfolding before one’s eyes. From the earliest beginnings of the sequential narrative strip, which began appearing in American newspapers in the late 1800’s as an outgrowth of the political cartoons of the day, through the rise of the Superhero comic books in the Golden Age of comics of the 30’s & 40’s; through the genre-bending pre-Comics Code EC and MAD Comics of the 50’s; through the the sexndrugsnrocknroll explosion of the 60’s & 70’s undergrounds; through the rise of the alternative comics and graphic novels of the 80’s & 90’s, this collection has it all and more.

Multi-faceted doesn’t quite capture the reality: multi-dimensional is closer to the mark. To fully grasp and honor the importance of the 30+ years of Denis Kitchen’s role as archivist, curator, publisher, historian and collector in this universe, there is no better way than to pore over the original letters and drawings of the most important and ground-breaking graphic artists of that era. The acquistion of this archive will be a veritable coup for any institution hoping to attract scholars, researchers and historians to their Special Collections.

And it is specifically from a scholarly or research-oriented perspective, however, that makes this archive the Motherlode, the Holy Grail, the Tabula Hypergraphia. Here’s why:


Denis Kitchen (besides his usual hats as artist/publisher/collector) is, for all intents and purposes, an archivist himself. He has always been, by his own admission, a “saver,” a person who would tend to save, cherish (and catalogue) the very things that a pedestrian individual (one without a trained eye) would banish to the (literal) dustbin of history. From the very beginnings of Kitchen’s activity in the radical underground newspaper world of the late 1960s onward, he saved everything and filed it away with the care of a little old lady tending her flowerbed.

Take his correspondence files, for example. (Almost) every single letter (and there are many thousands) received by Kitchen over the years bears his own hand-stamped date in red ink on the top of the page of when the letter was received; a carbon copy of his (usually lengthy) typewritten response and the mailing envelope, all stapled together and organized chronologically. From an archivist’s perpective, this represents the complete or full correspondence between two individuals (i.e. “both sides”) . However, Kitchen, never to be outdone, also retained the notes of important telephone conversations (!) that occurred between himself and his artistic collaborators, often embellished with his own surrealistic artwork. For scholarly researchers, this attention to detail is of utmost importance in determining historical timelines, attributions and context.

This conservational aspect of the Kitchen Sink Press archive is what makes it unique and so valuable. Of the “Big Four” publishers of underground comics (the others being Last Gasp, Rip Off and Print Mint), KSP is the only one today that can boast of such detailed, complete holdings. Beyond the correspondence files, Denis (amazingly) has retained the complete business files of Kitchen Sink Press and its sister endeavor Krupp Distribution, from 1970 to the dissolution of the business in 1999. For any student studying underground publishing and distribution history (think “head shops”), this is, again, a unique treasure trove of material unavailable anywhere else.


The primary difference between the letters in Denis Kitchen’s correspondence files and, say, the letters one usually finds in 20th century literary archives is so obvious at first that it almost goes unnoticed: the majority of the letters are holograph (i.e. hand-written) and often beautiful works of art in-and-of themselves. Robert Crumb, the Grand Poobah of the undergrounds, in fact, never touched a typewriter and carefully hand-lettered every letter he wrote to the point that his lettering is as instantly recognizable as his graphic work. Interestingly, Crumb seems to have set a precedent, in that most of the comic book artists from the 1960s onward, followed his lead in hand-lettering and illustrating their correspondence. Why are these letters so wonderful and delightful? They are graphic productions, just as the letters of poets are poetic and the letters of writers literary. Often, at the end of a letter, the artist has rendered a quick-sketch of either themselves or one of their characters.

Of particular historical interest are the letters of other heavyweight artists like Charles Burns, Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, Joel Beck, Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson, Richard Corben, Bill Griffith, William Stout, Harvey Kurtzman, Jay Lynch, Pete Poplaski, Harvey Pekar, Chester Brown, Skip Williamson, Joe Matt, et. al. Denis Kitchen understood the importance of these letters, by storing them in a humidity-controlled, air-conditioned, and fireproof environment. Again, the professional, curatorial care of this collection should not be under-estimated.


Denis Kitchen is an active scholar and researcher into almost every aspect of graphic comic art, from the earliest William Hearst newspaper art of Windsor McKay in the 1800s to the most cutting-edge, ground-breaking graphic novels of today. Kitchen made a point to track down, seek out, phone call and pester almost every notable American cartoonist of the 20th C. who was still alive for potential projects, collaborations, and in some cases, original artwork. In doing so, he amassed a wealth of contacts, which in the end resemble an veritable Who’s Who of 20th C. comic art history.

In a few short years, he had built up such a reputation as a publisher that artists began seeking him out for projects, the most famous example being master storyteller and graphic artist Will Eisner, who tracked down Denis in 1972 at a comic book convention. It was this meeting that would launch KSP into the world of graphic novels as well as reprints of classic comic art and forever link undergrounds to the earlier comics. It’s truly astonishing, in retrospect, that Kitchen was able to cover so much historical territory, connect so many disparate areas of the industry and maintain an impeccable level of professionalism in publishing at the same time. Dave Schreiner’s labor of love, “Kitchen Sink Press: The First 25 Years” is the definitive record of this activity.


In his introductory essay to an exhibition of underground comic art in San Francisco, Will Eisner wrote :

“This medium (comics), which so long confined itself mostly to simple entertainment, now began to function as a conduit of the larger themes that social project involves. Now the comic book, with its very sophisticated arrangement of words and pictures in sequence, was functioning as a kind of revolutionary literature in the hands of angry dissenters who had something to say.....The underground artists who contributed to the output were the modern equivalents of social gadflies, Rowlandson and Daumier, of an earlier time......It was shocking but it sent signals of possibilities to all of us in the comic book establishment. The few undergrounds that fell into my hands during those years affirmed by my long held belief in the literary viability of comics.....They were employing the medium as it should be --- not as a gimmick but as a language.”

It is this insight and understanding that elevates the importance of this archive beyond simply a collection of amazing artistic activity, it is the definitive record of the transition of the wild, anarchic undergrounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s into the graphic novels of today. In fact, in just a cursory overview of the correspondence files, one can see numerous occurances of “seminal moments” of this transition, by noting the absolute beginnings of so many (now iconic) masterpieces of the form: Will Eisner’s Contract With God (1978/1985); Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1974); Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor (1972); Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur (1983); James Vance and Steve Rude’s Kings in Disguise (1988); Joe Matt’s Peep Show (1992); Charles Burn’s Black Hole (1993); Alan Moore’s From Hell and James O’Barr’s The Crow (1993). So many letters to Denis Kitchen from now-famous masters of the field begin along the lines of “Hello. I am this young, unknown person who likes to draw comics...here are some of my earliest attempts....”

Kitchen Sink Press’ extensive holdings of original dummies, mechanicals, layouts and rough sketches of Will Eisner alone are a treasure trove for anyone interested in the production of sequential art. Indeed, if Eisner’s assessment of comics as a language, then this archive uniquely delineates the origins, developments and fullest expressions of this language, told through the detailed, intimate, revelatory and behind-the-scenes communications of the major movers and shakers of the field.

Basically, if comics are indeed a language, then this archive delineates the origins, developments and fullest expressions of this language told through the detailed, intimate and often revelatory content of the correspondence.