Bukowski’s Lost Drawings

Los Angeles writer Michael C. Ford was going through his desk at the LA Free Press one day in 1974 when he stumbled on a handful of drawings by one of the publication’s famed contributors, Charles Bukowski. The drawings weren’t much more than doodles, quick line sketches in black ink on standard-sized 8 ½” x 11” printer paper. Most were made to accompany “Notes of Dirty Old Man”, Bukowski’s column for the LA Free Press (The Freep), and they featured Bukowski doing many of the things he liked to write about: staring at women, admiring legs, watching horses at the racetrack, and drinking port wine and beer in bed. Ford tracked down Bukowski, who wrote for the Freep until it folded in 1969, and offered him his drawings back. “Ah, you hang on to ‘em, kid,” Bukowski said, “they might be worth something someday.”

He was right. As Book Tryst’s Stephen Gertz points out, Ford’s collection resurfaced earlier this year at the 46th California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena, ushering in a new wave of appreciation for these obscure and highly original sketches. With their deadpan wit, it’s hard to wonder why these drawings fell by the wayside in the first place. They were originally published alongside the column, but have been omitted from both collected volumes of writing, Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969) and More Notes of a Dirty Old Man: The Uncollected Columns (2011).

“Notes” originally began in 1967 in the underground paper Open City and moved to The Freep when Open City folded in 1969. The column branded Bukowski a savage outlaw and made him a minor celebrity in LA, and was loosely syndicated in other underground columns across the country until the column folded altogether in 1976. Like his best writing, these drawings demonstrate Buk’s uncanny ability to communicate complicated emotions concisely, humorously, and without apology.

Lane Koivu