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Atomic Scribblings from a Maniac Age

However, not all those sketches were destroyed, because eleven of them eventually surfaced and were published in 1971 in the second issue of Harrison Street Review, a little magazine edited by John Arnoldy and Lawrence Alton. The drawings were featured in a section titled “Portfolio,” where the editors claimed, “these drawings are part of a series in the fifties that were to have been published under the title Photo of a Dogs Heart. Drawings lent by Wayne Philpot.”viii Inaccuracies and change of title notwithstanding, Bukowski confirmed to Arnoldy that Philpot had disappeared with his illustrations without further notice: “On Philpot the story is sad … he dropped out of contact after I’d drawn him up 2 or 3 hundred drawings.”ix When asked about Philpot and his lending the drawings to the magazine, Arnoldy’s reply did not cast light on a rather unusual chain of events: “He said his name was Wayne Philpot and he had a cache of drawings by Charles Bukowski that he wanted to donate to Harrison Street Review. We thanked him … we never saw him again or learned how he had come into possession of the drawings.”x At any rate, even if two or three hundred illustrations had been destroyed or lost, Bukowski “was glad we had printed the drawings.”xi Bukowski had always believed that his drawings and Thurberesque doodles were as valid an art form as any, and the fact that he attended art classes in late 1956 and early 1957 at Los Angeles City College, prodded by his first wife Barbara Fry, corroborates his passion for painting. Despite the five-year delay, it seems undeniable that Bukowski was delighted to learn that some of the Atomic Scribblings drawings had been finally made available to the public.

Editors and publishers alike acknowledged Bukowski’s art by printing his drawings in their publications. As early as 1946-47, Whit Burnett, editor of the prestigious Story magazine, where Bukowski’s first known short story appeared in the March-April 1944 issue, urged him on several occasions to submit more sketches for consideration.xii Bukowski, always prompt to reply, explained to Burnett that “I haven’t any other pen sketches, without stories, right now. Matrix took the only one I did that way.”xiii Indeed, Matrix had reproduced a somewhat unusual Bukowski drawing to illustrate his short story “The Reason Behind Reason,” published in the summer of 1946 issue. Even though Burnett did not recall having published him in Story, much to Bukowski’s chagrin, he was especially fond of his sketches, always mentioning them in glowing terms: “It was pleasant to hear from you again, and particularly to see your wonderful drawings.”xiv Since all the short stories from the mid-to-late 1940s were hand-printed, Bukowski illustrated them lavishly to highlight them, as he noted to Caresse Crosby, Portfolio editor. While he claimed that he had destroyed all the rejected short stories from that period, he would occasionally request some of them to be returned since he was prouder of the drawings than of the stories themselves. In 1948, he asked Burnett to send back the short story, “A Kind, Understanding Face,” because the drawings “came out especially well.”xv

Bukowski’s letters were embellished with drawings as well, and the center sections and front covers of the Black Sparrow Press volumes of selected correspondence evidence their relevance. In some singular cases, as in a letter dated October 9, 1946 to Caresse Crosby, the illustrations would become stories in themselves, where Bukowski would use words as mere captions.xvi It was an art form that he would successfully cultivate in the 1970s, when he conceived several cartoon strips for underground newspapers. The drawings from the 1946 letter to Crosby bear a striking resemblance to the comic strips featured in Los Angeles Free Press almost three decades later. Presumably, cartoons had always been yet another outlet for Bukowski’s prolific output, and not only in letter form, as the 1946 missive to Crosby. He submitted a group of them to a mainstream magazine in the mid-to-late 1950s, most probably when he was taking art classes at Los Angeles City College with Fry, as he explained to William Corrington:

Fry once egged me on to make a bunch of cartoons with captions, the joke bit, and I stayed up all night, drinking and making these cartoons, laughing at my own madness … I mailed [them] to either the New Yorker or Esquire … [They] never came back. I wrote about my 45 cartoons and they never came back. ‘No such item rec. from you,’ wrote back some editor … [Then] I came across one of my largest no-caption drawings (I mean, the idea of it, it was not my drawing) upon the front cover of the New Yorker, then, I knew I’d had it.xvii

Years later, Sheri Martinelli would publish his first cartoon strip ever in the Anagogic & Paideumic Review #6 (Sept. 1961). The untitled series was made up of nine drawings with relatively long, humorous captions, the last of which displayed Ezra Pound and Aldous Huxley embroiled in a heated discussion.

Critics realized that editors appreciated Bukowski’s art as they would regularly publish his drawings and doodles in their magazines and chapbooks. As early as 1970, bibliographer Sanford Dorbin remarked that Bukowski’s “second chapbook [Poems and Drawings] … included three of his drawings. Since then a number of his books as well as some of his newspaper and magazine appearances have featured his own art work.”xviii Indeed, besides the unusual illustration printed in Matrix in 1946 and the cartoon strip reproduced in the Anagogic & Paideumic Review in 1961, Bukowski’s drawings would appear on the front cover and throughout his actual second chapbook, Longshot Pomes for Broke Players (1961), in his fourth chapbook, Poems and Drawings (1962), in It Catches My Heart in Its Hands (1963), where drawings would illustrate poems such as “Old Man, Dead in a Room” or “The Tragedy of the Leaves,” on the front cover of Border #2 (1965), in several Open City issues (1967-69), including a caption-less cartoon titled “The Horseplayer” (1967) or a series of illustrations dedicated to his daughter Marina published in the first issue of Open City’s literary insert, Renaissance (1968).

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