Milwaukee Talks: Denis Kitchen
Denis Kitchen is a major player in the world of comics; that's the world of R. Crumb, Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman and others. And he's a Milwaukee boy.
Kitchen grew up here in the 1960s and by the latter part of that decade was at UWM and ensconced in the vibrant counterculture here, which encompassed music, literature, film, poetry and more. In 1969 he started Kitchen Sink Press, which went on to become perhaps the most influential graphic novel and comics publisher.
Kitchen is still active and has never stopped creating new ventures. But we'll let him tell you about all that in his own words. As Kitchen prepares to visit Milwaukee as curator of the documentary film "Will Eisner: The Spirit of an Artistic Pioneer" at the Milwaukee Art Museum this week, we asked him about his work, his history and Milwaukee.
OMC: I think younger generations think they've got a lock on DIY and counterculture, but Milwaukee in the late 1960s was a hotbed of activity of all kinds, wasn't it? What was it like for a young artist at the time here?
DK: Surprisingly rich, actually. Milwaukee, at least then, had a rap as an un-hip blue-collar industrial city, always in the shadow of Chicago. Maybe that's still the view of many, and Chicago will never go away. But when the counterculture exploded beyond San Francisco, Milwaukee very quickly developed its own identity, one with sometimes national impact.
Kaleidoscope was there very early and when I and a handful of friends founded The Bugle in 1970, Milwaukee was one of the few cities with two competing underground newspapers. The Bugle ended up lasting as a weekly for eight years. There was a lot going on in the city regarding the music and fine arts field, too, but I can only speak with expertise in my own area.
Outside The San Francisco bay area, the biggest other underground comix pocket by far was in Milwaukee. We had six or seven good local cartoonists contributing weekly strips and covers for the Bugle --- including Jim Mitchell, Don Glassford, Bruce Walthers, Wendel Pugh plus Dan Burr and others. Many of our strips were then syndicated to another 50 or so college and underground papers across the country. With Krupp Distribution and Kitchen Sink Press in Milwaukee, the city became a cartooning magnet. Alternative cartoonists from all over the country and Europe sent their work to us for publication or for distribution.
To put it in perspective, Chicago only had three underground cartoonists of note and even New York City had fewer. There were four substantial comix publishing companies. Three -- Rip Off Press, The Print Mint and Last Gasp -- were all in the Bay Area and then there was Kitchen Sink in Milwaukee. And we ended up the largest ironically enough.
OMC: The scene was pretty diverse, wasn't it; with the Avant Garde and Reitman's poetry nights and the avant garde film nights and bands like The Velvet Whip and the Negative Movement?
DK: Absolutely. It was a wonderful time.
OMC: What led you to start Kitchen Sink Press in 1969? Can you tell us a bit about the gestation?
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For more on underground comic artist and publisher Denis Kitchen, check out this 30-minute Mr. Media TV interview with him from August 19, 2010: http://www.mrmedia.com/2010/08/denis-kitchen-oddly-compelling-mr-media.html
It's wonderful to see how Denis Kitchens' life has progressed. I rented a room from him up until the time of his first marriage. Watching him work, helping layout and hawk the Bugle American, and meeting R Crumb and other famous cartoonists,were some of the greatest times in my life. bob brewer
Jerry Horton said: I was so excited to here about Denis Kitchen again. But unfortunatly I can not make it to MAM on Thursday. I bought most of the items in the Kitchen Sink Press catalog. I still wear my silver Kitchen Sink Press jacket. I once visited Denis Kitchen at the farm in Princeton. I worked on an underground paper in high school - The Jaundiced Orb. I kept many of my Bugle American's and still have them. I used to be a friend of Gary Huck who contributed labor and political cartoons to the Bugle American. It's fun to think about the cartoons of the '60's and '70's again. I hope to meet Denis Kitchen again some day. I sure wish I could make it Thursday. I'd be wearing my Kitchen Sink Press jacket.
Andy said: It is great to read another interview with Mr. Kitchen... I was also pleased to see him stepping back into the publishing business with an article about his "KLA" agency for cartoonists in Publisher's Weekly. He always seems to be a step ahead of the trends...
Dan Ball said: It certainly is a treat to read the interview with Denis. There were a lot of great memories of an old friend and compatriot. Did you know Denis drag raced a hearse at Union Grove? He was also the driving force in my run at the student prsidency at UWM. He was very generous in illustrating a number of posters and handouts for the Velvet Whip. I wish him all the best.
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