Review: Best of Comix Books: When Marvel Went Underground (HC)

The cover of this book (which was the cover of the first issue back in 1974), says it all. We see a drawing board with a panel set in the standard “Marvel” style that has a knife plunging into it, drawing blood. The cover was meant to be a statement representative of what the Comix Book line was… a mainstream comic company’s  underground “experiment“ rendered by Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame and Denis Kitchen whose “Kitchen Sink Press” were in the thick of the underground comics world at the time. This “experiment” is what you get here covering the “best of” and allowing the reader insight to what was one of the boldest moves ever made by anyone at the time in the form of the Comix Book title that spanned three “published” issues with a total of five made (the remaining two were later published under the Kitchen Sink line with Lee’s permission).  The fact that this title was ever published at all during that time by a mainstream company is just simply amazing. Reading the story introductions, forwards, essays, correspondence letters, and conceptual art allows us even more insight into what was a groundbreaking moment in the comics world, but was well before its time.

Reading through these stories, you get to hear (and see) the words of all the people involved. First from Stan Lee who states that this move was “one of the most courageous things (he) had ever done editorially” and then from Denis Kitchen who Lee utilized to put this together that would capture the independent spirit, but would also be a significantly watered down version of a real underground production.

The Best of Comix Book CoverYou also get to view of the amazing polar opposites that the mainstream and underground world of comics were. The mainstream was a highly censored, clean, family friendly brand of good guys vs. bad guys storytelling with very little commentary where the underground was a Pandora’s box of anything goes that was littered with profanity, hyper-sexed, hyper-violent naked people, that was loaded with commentary on every page from social, to political, to even religious authority. That these two extremes came together is a true testament to the power of compromise and how two very opposing views can work together to have something that benefitted both parties involved. Marvel got to release a cutting edge comic line with some edginess while the underground was exposed to large numbers for the first time. More importantly though, Kitchen Sink Press was able to be subsidized for a time (thanks to good pay) that allowed Denis Kitchen to continue his company which would go on to produce titles such as The Crow and Megaton Man and would propel the underground to eventually surface that would evolve over time and introduce us to cutting edge independent groups like Image and off course, Dark Horse, which is the one housing these wonderful issues for us.

Even more so, I think gaining the insight on how the big comic companies dealt with copyrights of their titles compared to the fiercely independent artists and writers desire to hold on to their creations is quite interesting. Once again, it’s just amazing to see how this little experiment really opened up the comic book world in a lot of ways. But it apparently was not an easy thing and this book helps to detail the task, as well as show us the finished products.

This book is a must have for anyone who is a fan of the history of comics. Comix Book had some amazing contributions to include the first American publication of the critically acclaimed “Maus”, as well as less “deep” renderings like Flip the Bird! my favorite here. You also get to see some interesting  work that puts in some religious commentary (We Fellow Traveleers), some overtly bad taste racial (as well as other) stereotypes (The Sammy Smoot stuff), and, of course, naked people (Panthea).  You finally get a very entertaining and historical comic read. It may be a little watered down, but you can see why Marvel tried to play down everything about this. I bet when this thing hit the newsstands back in the day, that it shocked a whole lot of people. Not so shocking by today’s standards, but definitely a good investment to have in a collection. Also added is the story 39/74 by Guyla and Alex Toth which was originally to be released in Comix Books #1, but didn’t make it.  I found all renderings to pull out a slice of history that was entertaining. Some of the slices might be a little bitter, but all make for a good pie.

Score: 5/5

Creators: Denis Kitchen and Various Publisher: Dark Horse/Kitchen Sink Price: $35.00 Release Date: 12/11/2013