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average writing
skilled art
historical bonus 2
total score 6
Smile 1 1st _ Smile 2 _ Smile 3
Smile #1
Smile #2
Smile #3

1970-1972 / Kitchen Sink - Krupp Comic Works
When he was a bright and good-natured teenager in the mid 1960s, Jim Mitchell's father wanted him to become a lawyer. His mother was even more ambitious, encouraging Mitchell to become a surgeon. Instead, the Milwaukee native attended (the now defunct) Layton School of Art, one of the most progressive art schools in the country. After one semester there, Mitchell enrolled in Marquette University and majored in journalism.

Mitchell began contributing cartoons and caricatures to the school yearbook and the University newsaper, The Marquette Tribune. Denis Kitchen, who had just launched his own successful and groundbreaking Mom's Homemade Comics, saw Mitchell's work and invited him to join Kumquat Productions, a fledgling underground comics publishing company Ktichen was organizing in Milwaukee. Kumquat tanked after putting out two books in the summer of 1970 (Teenage Horizons of Shangrila #1 and Quagmire), but Kitchen simply reformed Kumquat as an artists collective named Krupp Comic Works. Krupp was formally owned by Kitchen and sweat-equity partners Mitchell and cartoonist Don Glassford, and Kitchen Sink Enterprises became the comic-book publishing division under Krupp.

Mitchell had also contributed to Teenage Horizons of Shangrila but still had a bunch of other strips worthy of publication, so they were compiled that same summer for Smile #1, which became the first comic book of Krupp Comic Works (via the Kitchen Sink Enterprises imprint). Smile #1 was quite a success, going through three printings of 10,000 copies each and leading to two more issues of the title over the next couple years.

Mitchell also contributed to Kitchen's underground newspaper, The Bugle-American, and his strips were syndicated to other underground and college newspapers via the Krupp Syndicate (a division that Mitchell himself was in charge of but soon failed to sustain by not collecting all the payments due from subscribers). In addition, Mitchell provided strips for other Kitchen Sink comics, including Mom's Homemade Comics, Bizarre Sex, Pro Junior, and Hungry Chuck Biscuits Comics & Stories.

As if the comic books weren't enough to keep him busy, the prolific Mitchell also designed rock concert tour posters (Deep Purple) and a number of t-shirts (including shirts for Yes and Peter Frampton's Humble Pie). He spent so much time on various schemes and side projects he had little left for the company he shared with Kitchen and Glassford. Krupp was expanding rapidly and Kitchen Sink was churning out tons of books, but both Mitchell and Glassford weren't pulling their fair share of the labor involved and the company was barely breaking even.

Ironically, while Mitchell was helping out a friend he ended up causing his own downfall with Krupp Comic Works. In 1971 he introduced Kitchen to Tyler Lantzy and Dan Molidor, who had collaborated on their own comic book, Dirtball Funnies, that they hoped Kitchen Sink would publish (which they did). Lantzy and Kitchen hit it off right away and the aspiring comic-book writer Lantzy soon became the unpaid business manager for Krupp Comic Works. Turns out Lantzy had a nose for business and quickly turned Krupp into a profitable and thriving venture.

With someone as energetic and productive as Lantzy on board, it became increasingly obvious to Kitchen that his original partners Mitchell and Glassford were nothing but dead weight for the company. Lantzy and Kitchen easily convinced Glassford (who was much more excited about a separate project) to forfeit his sweat-equity shares in Krupp, but Mitchell was not so easily swayed.

Lantzy and Kitchen gave Mitchell an ultimatum: deliver all of your overdue projects by such-and-such a deadline or relinquish all of your shares in Krupp. Mitchell failed to come through by the deadline and lost his share of ownership in the company. He was pretty upset by what he considered an ambush, especially one led by a friend (Lantzy) whom he'd introduced to Kitchen in the first place.

Mitchell began considering a legal challenge to his ouster, but while traveling in Mexico in 1972 he was busted on possession of marijuana (with intent to distribute) in Mexico City. Mitchell was convicted and ended up being imprisoned in Mexico for nearly five years, consequentially ending any fight for Krupp. For that matter, his jail time also ended his involvement in underground comics. By the time Mitchell was released from prison in 1977, the underground comix movement was gathering dust and Mitchell's blossoming cartooning career was nearly destroyed.

Mitchell picked up the pieces of his shattered life and slowly put them back together. Today he runs his own art studio in Milwaukee, Distant Thunder Studios, where he still demonstrates his exceptional skills as an illustrator and

I imagine that Jim Mitchell recalls his Smile comic series with bittersweet memories. I'm sure he had fun when he created the books and he still leverages some of the strips for his company website, but if I were him I would surely wonder "what might have been." As I'm sure Denis Kitchen would acknowledge, Smile is a quintessentially midwestern underground; mostly upbeat and charming, yet rampant with naughty jokes, mild drug humor, fantasies and silly meanderings. It's not brutally dark and violent, nor oppressive with its political agenda, but provides a pleasant time to laugh (or groan) at its impish playfulness.