The recent edition of the Wisconsin Magazine of History includes an article by historian Paul Buhle entitled Wisconsin’s Comic Art. It is a preview of his upcoming book on the subject. Buhle writes about classic newspaper comic creations from Wisconsin–Henry, The Gumps, Gasoline Alley–and also covers the “underground” comics that emerged in the late 1960s and ’70s.
The most important Wisconsin contributor to this genre was Milwaukee native Dennis Kitchen. He published heavily illustrated “alternative” tabloids as well as comics magazines in his home town, in Madison and, most notably at his Kitchen Sink Press near Princeton in Green Lake County.
I’ll let Buhle brief you on Kitchen’s contribution to comics world wide. My interest is in Kitchen’s work in central Wisconsin.
After moving his Press to a remodeled cow barn off Swamp Road, Kitchen partnered with fellow Milwaukeean Mike Jacobi to found a tabloid newspaper called The Fox River Patriot. The title bespeaks the time and place. It was the Bicentennial year of 1976, old fashioned Yankee Doodle patriotism was recovering from its Vietnam era swoon, and Princeton, where the Patriot’s office was located, is on the Fox River.
But Kitchen and Jacobi never intended to publish just another local newspaper. Like the Fox River, which flows from Portage to Oshkosh and Green Bay, the Patriot was designed to be a regional resource and, in time, it was distributed in ten counties. It combined elements of the new glossy city magazines and “alternative” tabloids like Isthmus in Madison and The Shepherd Express in Milwaukee, but its editorial content was focused on rural living. The typical Patriot reader was one of the growing number of people who lived in the country but did not farm.
The Fox River Patriot was arguably the first “alternative” newspaper devoted to rural, non farm living in Wisconsin. I worked as a reporter and editor for about five of its eight years of life. Articles on gardening, horticulture, landscaping, small-scale forestry, small stock-raising, weather lore, fishing, cooking and preserving home-grown produce, filled the pages, as did serious pieces on groundwater contamination, wetlands preservation, even the potential threat of storing nuclear waste in Waupaca County. We covered local history and legends, reviewed musicians and artists, profiled colorful old timers and interesting newcomers.
Patriot articles on recycling, energy conservation, wind and solar power– living “green”– would prove useful today. Green, however, was merely a color then, and one that appeared frequently on the cover.
For among the many features that made the Patriot special, it was the only rural “alternative” publication in the country with covers and inside graphics designed by Kitchen Sink Press comics artists. Dennis Kitchen, Pete Poplaski, even Robert Crumb, contributed.
By the mid-1980s, the wheels of time and place had turned. “Alternative” became mainstream. Differences between rural and urban living faded into today’s shared suburbia. The Fox River Patriot faded with them.