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Kitchen Presents Underground Comics, Discusses Free Speech in Graphic Novels

On Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. at St. Mary’s Hall, Denis Kitchen spoke about underground comics of the 1960s and 70s. Kitchen is not only a cartoonist, but also a publisher of comics and the founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Students were informed via email that, “His Kitchen Sink Press subsequently pioneered the graphic novel genre.”

Some students arrived without any experience with comics. Senior Cassandra Benner said afterward, “I’ve actually never read any comics before. I thought it was really well put together.” Likewise, some students came with a little more knowledge about the 60s and 70s counter culture. Matthew Anthony, a junior, said, “Overall I did enjoy the lecture, but I’m already a little predisposed because I tend to be in to 60s and 70s pop culture. Comics [are] not my background, I’m more of a music guy. I enjoyed it overall.”

Both Benner and Anthony enjoyed Kitchen’s use of images in relation to the narrative he presented. Benner said, “I liked that he used the visuals. I think that was really cool in terms of explaining not only the actual comics, but also the context of the time.”

Kitchen identified himself as a hippie, saying, “It’s a term I’ve really learned to embrace.” He described the counter culture not just through the images of comics, but also through his experiences and pictures of himself and friends at the time.

In terms of the comics, almost all tested the limits of free speech. Benner said, “The sex and violence was really interesting, I feel like that grabs attention.” Kitchen said what he thought to be his most famous comic cover was one where a penis monster breaks through the pavement and attacks New York City.

Reactions against this material, and specifically the arrest of retailers of these underground comics, drove Kitchen to found the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. He explained that usually this meant supporting retailers charged with selling obscene material. The fund could also support cartoonists. Kitchen told the story of a Supreme Court ruling banning a specific cartoonist from drawing his comics even in the privacy of his own home because of how obscene his material was.

Anthony explained that he was happy to have a speaker that shared a particular experience, saying, “I like that he used a lot of the art in his presentation and I think what was also nice was having someone lecture who is an insider. He’s not necessarily an academic historian, but he knew all the guys. It gives you a different kind of perspective that you maybe don’t get from a normal historian.”

Anthony also thought this affected Kitchen’s delivery of the presentation, saying, “Overall, I liked it. In some regards I guess he wasn’t the best lecturer or speaker I’ve seen, but of course he is not a lecturer by trade.”

Benner also liked it, saying, “I think that people in general tend to lean towards the taboo. They lean towards things that people don’t want to talk about. It made me more interested in maybe reading comics.”

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