Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bukowski: Lost Original Drawings Of A Dirty Old Man Are Found

by Stephen J. Gertz

Nineteen long-lost original drawings by Charles Bukowski, America's poet laureate of the depths, surfaced at the 46th California International Antiquarian Book Fair February 15-17, 2013, offered by ReadInk of Los Angeles. Sixteen of them appeared as accompaniment to Bukowski's classic column in the Los Angeles Free Press (The Freep), Notes of a Dirty Old Man. The remaining three originally appeared in Sunset Palms Hotel, Issue #4 (1974).

The drawings come from the personal collection of L.A. poet-publisher Michael C. Ford, who found them while cleaning out his desk at the end of his own tenure as a Freep staffer in late 1974. When he offered them to Bukowski, he was told “ah, you hang onto ‘em, kid, they might be worth something someday.” Ford took the advice and tucked them away in his personal files, from which they have emerged just once before now, for a short-run display a few years ago at a small and now defunct gallery in Long Beach, California.

Until its termination in 1976, Bukowski’s Notes of a Dirty Old Man feature in the Los Angeles Free Press was probably the single biggest contributing factor to both the spread of his literary fame and his local notoriety as a hard-living, hard- drinking L.A. character.  

Begun in John Bryan’s famous Open City underground newspaper, published in L.A. from 1967 to 1969, “Notes” continued in the Freep after Bryan’s paper folded, and was also picked up by underground and counterculture publications in other parts of the country (e.g. NOLA Express in New Orleans). Bukowski’s contributions, which alternated irregularly between prose and poetry, were often illustrated with his crude but evocative and humorous doodles; occasionally he dove into comic-stripland, as with his “Clarence Hiram Sweetmeat” episodes, which made a handful of appearances in late 1975. 

Deadpan and hilariously direct, these Free Press drawings represent an important “lost” element of one of Bukowski’s signature achievements. Both published collections of “Notes” columns - Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969, which of course predates these particular drawings) and More Notes of a Dirty Old Man: The Uncollected Columns (2011) - reprint only the text portions of the originals, omitting the illustrations. 

Yet it’s so much more satisfying to read Buk’s piece on his day at the racetrack (The Freep, November 2, 1974), when it’s accompanied by his slapdash rendering of a race in progress, its essence brilliantly encapsulated in his simple caption: “Right or Wrong in 18 Seconds.”

Until these originals came to light the only way to appreciate the “Notes” columns in their illustrated fullness was to either scrounge up old copies of the Freep (neither easy nor cheap, these days), or  park yourself in front of a microfilm reader at a major library and feel your eyes dissolve from the strain.

All the drawings are ink on paper, 81⁄2”x11" with a single exception, 6 1/2" x 4". Information regarding original publication date(s) is available upon request from ReadInk.

All images courtesy of ReadInk, with our thanks.

Of Related Interest:

Charles Bukowski's Last, Unpublished Poem, and the Bestial Wail.

Charles Bukowski, Artist.

Charles Bukowski Bonanza At Auction.

Dirty Old Man Exposed At Huntington Library.


  1. Great Epitaph!:
    "Don't Try" —Charles Bukowski

  2. Sometimes his stuff was brilliant and beautiful, but sometimes it was really disgusting shit. I was sad when I read that he had died cuz I always wanted to meet him.
    I was living as he had when I first read his stuff. For me, I had found a kindred spirit in his writing. I don't live like that anymore. Maybe again someday, but not nearly as boozy. With booze ya lose.......


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