July 4th, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Comix Book Rides Again

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Now that the advance PR has begun to hit, I can mention my brief involvement in the forthcoming collection The Best of Comix Book.

This is a huge helping of comics stories from the magazine series that Marvel Comics (and, later, Kitchen Sink Press) published from 1974-76. Featuring work by prominent underground comics artists, it marked the first time many of those artists were given exposure to a mainstream readership. More importantly, it helped keep a number of those creators afloat during a dire slump in comix sales and, by its very existence, fired an early resounding shot in the battle for creators’ rights by creating an unexpected precedent that Marvel could not long ignore.

Stan Lee had recently been named Marvel’s publisher, and it was his idea to reach out to underground publisher Denis Kitchen for editorial expertise in putting together the magazine. Kitchen assembled a lineup of underground superstars, up-and-comers and a few talented folks from outside the comix world. In spite of some restrictions imposed on the creators due to mainstream newsstand distribution, it was a fascinating hybrid product that lasted for three issues from Marvel and two more from Kitchen Sink Press.

The new collection is the first release from Kitchen Sink Books, a new imprint from Kitchen and his partner John Lind that’s being published through Dark Horse Comics. Kitchen and Lind asked me to write an introductory essay that traces the magazine’s history…and though I thought I knew the story already, there turned out to be plenty of background info that I’d never heard. I had the privilege of interviewing contributors Trina Robbins, Kim Deitch, Howard Cruse and Justin Green, and was given peeks at decades-old correspondence between Lee, Kitchen and various comix artists who took part in the series.

The behind-the-scenes story of Comix Book turned out to be entertaining as hell, filled with endless negotiations for creators’ rights, temper tantrums over perceived slights, adolescent backstabbing and a big pile of damned good comics. I was amused to see Stan Lee encouraging Kitchen – the publisher of Bizarre Sex – to ask the contributors to turn in spicier material, a little gobsmacked to learn that Alex Toth had submitted to the magazine (only to be turned down by Lee), and appreciated Kitchen’s glee in getting S. Clay Wilson published by Marvel. I hope half the fun I had in reading those old magazines while uncovering the rest of the story comes through in the essay.

Of the new volume, I’ve only seen the handful of sample pages that have popped up in preview articles, but I suspect it’s an extremely handsome book; John Lind is a first-rate designer, and he has some eye-catching material to work with. I’ve been made privy to some of the projects in the new Kitchen Sink’s upcoming slate, and I’m looking forward to seeing them. But the one I’m looking forward to the most right now is that collection of Comix Book stories, which ought to return a nearly forgotten bit of comics history to the public eye.

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