The Daily Heller: Denis Kitchen Afloat With Comics

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Denis Kitchen founded Kitchen Sink Press in 1969, and since then he has published work by the greatest creators of graphic novels and archival comic strips. Kitchen’s pantheon includes Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Trina Robbins, Charles Burns, Neil Gaiman, Carol Lay, Dave McKean, Kate Worley, Howard Cruse, Alan Moore and many others.

In 1986 he introduced the First Amendment initiative the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, created in response to legal crises affecting retailers. Today it is a valiant advocate of graphic novels under increasing attack in public schools and libraries.

Kitchen began his career as an artist and long hoped to return to that focus. And now that day has come. His Creatures From the Subconscious is a deluxe collection of drawings created directly in marker on chipboard. The drawings in this book represent a bit of a performance, “where [I] enter a kind of trance, and without forethought” produce exquisitely detailed, bizarre but whimsical tableaus. Kitchen adds, “There are places in the mind that we can access by creating images that are as bizarre and beautiful, as foreign but familiar, as the places you can reach on a high dose of psychedelics. These are the realms I’m exploring in Creatures From the Subconscious.”

The book, announced on Kickstarter, contains 150 drawings. We chatted long enough to get some perspective on this next act in his life of comics.

What is the origin of Creatures From the Subconscious?
I’d been drawing privately on chipboard, a disrespected surface that I love, since around 1990. In 2010 a collection called Denis Kitchen’s Chipboard Sketchbook was published. That public sharing spurred me to be more prolific and to refine the technique. You included a few in your 2012 Comics Sketchbook. Over the past decade I’ve developed much stronger and weirder compositions, all spontaneous and without aforethought. The best of these form Creatures From the Subconscious.

There have been a few sad recent deaths in the comics world, Justin Green and Neal Adams among them. Are you beginning to feel the specter of our collective mortality?
At 75 I certainly am, Steve. Justin’s demise hit particularly hard. That said, in March I helped celebrate my mother’s 100th birthday, so now I’m working on a 25-year plan.

Is there a background narrative to these creatures that you’d care to share?
I wish I could more easily. As the title implies, they spring from an unconscious part of my mind. As a Sharpie marker hits a blank piece of chipboard, the lines form quickly and evolve, and I’m along for the ride. At a certain point I see an image or multiple images emerge, and at that moment I can’t help but consciously become involved. The shading, the backgrounds and embellishments are done with an awareness, but the concepts and essential images are never preplanned.

You have been publisher of Kitchen Sink Press for over four decades. Will you continue in that line?
On a significantly smaller scale, yes. I just published two beautiful sets of boxed cards, Legends of the Blues and More Legends, by William Stout. And I still have a hand in packaging some books with John Lind for Dark Horse or for other “real” publishers. I still represent some artists and estates. But the last thing I want at this stage is a staff and the headaches endemic to full-time publishing. I’ll simply keep a sentimental foot in that door while one hand grips a brush or pen and the other a cold beer.