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Preview: The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Tuesday, March 02 2010 and posted in Previews

Royal Nonesuch takes a look at the upcoming biography of comix legend Denis Kitchen!


Denis Kitchen (W/A), Neil Gaiman (W), Charles Brownstein (W), with design by John Lind
On sale June 9
FC, 200 pages
HC, 9" x 12"

A well-known personality in the comics world, Denis Kitchen has worn many hats: publisher, founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and literary and art agent. But his career as a pioneering underground comix artist has been overdue for rediscovery—until now!

The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen, the long-awaited collection of Kitchen's comics, covers, and illustrations, brings Kitchen the artist to the forefront. A comprehensive career overview, this compendium includes approximately two hundred illustrations, most unseen since their original publication in the late '60s and early '70s, and many from regional publications not seen even by serious comix fans.

• Featuring an introduction by Neil Gaiman, and an expansive, career-spanning essay by CBLDF executive director Charles Brownstein, The Oddly Compelling Art is both a fond look back for underground comix aficionados and an excellent introduction for new fans of Kitchen's body of work!

• Designed by John Lind, winner of an American Graphic Design Award for his work on Underground Classics.

"I think "oddly compelling" is a very good title for a book of Denis Kitchen's work, and describes it very well." —R. Crumb


What do Art Spiegelman, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, R. Crumb, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund all have in common?  They have all, somwhere in their respective histories, intersected with Denis Kitchen, one of the most important men in modern comics history.  Kitchen has written, drawn, published and packaged comics since the late 1960's, and became one of the prominent figures in the underground comix movement. 

With THE ODDLY COMPELLING ART OF DENNIS KITCHEN, Dark Horse now presents Kitchen's story in one beautifully designed hardcover that is as much biography as it is showcase for the man's talent.  That seems appropriate, as looking at his life story alongside his work just goes to show that for Kitchen, his life is art, in many ways.


The book starts with an introduction from Neil Gaiman detailing his discovery of Denis Kitchen, but most of the text is written by Charles Brownstein, Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF).  Kitchen, of course is well known as the founder of the CBLDF, which he started in the wake of his guilt over a comic book retailer being brought up on obscenity charges for selling a comic Kitchen had published.  This and so many other milestones in Kitchen's life are covered, with anecdotal contributions by the man himself, from his birth right up to his current role as the art agent for the estates of both Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman, two formative figures in Kitchen's life, as well as partner in Kitchen, Lind, and Associates, which, as Brownstein writes on page 48, "packages books and represents cartoonists to the mainstream literary marketplace." 

In between, Kitchen has had so many roles in the world of comics, particularly underground comix, that his list of collaborators and associates is a veritable murderer's row of comic book legends.  He even had an unlikely stint at Marvel, curating a short-lived comix anthology published by the superhero giant in the mid-1970's. The breadth of Kitchen's life is staggering, and Brownstein covers all of it, even the unpleasant experiences (the two failed marriages and unfortunate stretches of poverty are particulary heartbreaking to read about).  The reader gets a true appreciation for just how important Kitchen has been to comics.


The biography is great, but the true centerpiece here is the 150 pages of Kitchen's artwork, all of which is reproduced as is.  The paper may have yellowed, but perfectly archived are various comic strips, covers, pin-ups, and self-portraits that showcase a bizarre but talented artistic mind at work.  With all the warped anatomy and surrealist humor incumbent upon the comix scene of the 1970's and 1980's, Kitchen's linework is full of sensitivity and playfulness, with a taste for strange, eye-catching energy.  The humor is riotous, and the reprductions are perfect.  All the artwork collective serves as mile markers along Kitchen's journey, as detailed by Brownstein's essay.

Final Thoughts:

Kitchen, the man and the artist, is someone all comic book fans should know about, but he was (and is) so prolific that it could be daunting to figure out just where to start.  He's worn so many hats that the sheer amount of information out there can be intimidating.  Even his Wikipedia page is so abbreviated that a reader could never appreciate just how deep his connections to the comics industry are.  That's what makes Dark Horse's book so important, and so successful.  It is a fantastic look into one of the most influential figures in the industry and a great compilation of his work.  It's good to have this all in one place.


10 of 10

The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen Cover

The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen Inside Front Cover

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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch

As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well.  You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.


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