John Lennon Illustrates Two of His Books with Playful Drawings (1964–1965)


Upon his trag­ic ear­ly death at 40, John Lennon left behind a body of work few pop­u­lar artists could hope to equal. And that’s only the pub­lished stuff. As we point­ed out in a recent post on his home demos, the for­mer Bea­t­le also left hun­dreds of hours of tape record­ings for his fans to sift through, and, as if that weren’t enough, Sotheby’s recent­ly auc­tioned off a store­house of orig­i­nal man­u­scripts and auto­graphed draw­ings for two books Lennon wrote in the mid-six­ties, In His Own Write (1964) and A Spaniard in the Works (1965), a Sher­lock Holmes par­o­dy.


Lennon’s play­ful sense of humor and sur­re­al imag­i­na­tion shine through the sto­ries and poems in both books, as does his more moody broody side. If any­thing, Lennon’s word­play and out-there line draw­ings close­ly resem­ble the work of Shel Sil­ver­stein, who was prob­a­bly not an influ­ence but cer­tain­ly a kin­dred spir­it. Sotheby’s spe­cial­ist Gabriel Heaton cites as Lennon’s influ­ence “the non­sense tra­di­tion of Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture,” and indeed Lewis Car­roll comes to mind when read­ing his work. See, for exam­ple, “About The Awful,” his author’s state­ment for In His Own Write:

I was bored on the 9th of Octover 1940 when, I believe, the Nas­ties were still boom­ing us led by Madolf Heatlump (who only had one). Any­way they did­n’t get me. I attend­ed to vari­cous schools in Lid­dy­pol. And still did­n’t pass — much to my Aun­ties sup­plies. As a mem­ber of the most pub­li­fied Bea­t­les my (P, G, and R’s) records might seem fun­nier to some of you than this book, but as far as I’m con­ceived this cor­rec­tion of short writ­ty is the most won­der­foul larf I’ve every ready.
God help and breed you all.

And then there’s the art­work. At the top, see an unti­tled ink draw­ing of a vic­ar leer­ing at a nude cou­ple (and hold­ing in his hand “That Book”). The draw­ing above shows a clique of naked partiers, with the cap­tion “Puff­ing and glob­ber­ing they drugged they­selves ram­pling or danc­ing with wild abdomen, stub­bing in wild pos­tumes amon­st them­selves…”


Recall­ing the art­work in Silverstein’s The Giv­ing Tree, direct­ly above we have a sim­ple illus­tra­tion for a poem called “I Sat Belone­ly,” cap­tioned with the poem’s first two lines: “I Sat Belone­ly Down a Tree, Hum­bled Fat and Small” (read the full poem here).


Anoth­er Sil­ver­stein­ian draw­ing is titled “A Lot of Flies on His Wife” from a short sto­ry called “No Flies on Frank,” whose title char­ac­ter speaks in an argot right out of James Joyce: “I carn’t not believe this incred­i­ble fact of truth about my very body which has not gained fat since moth­er begat me at child­burn. Yea, though I wart through the valet of thy shad­owy hut I will feed no nor­man. What grate qualm­sy hath tak­en me thus into such a fat­ty hard­buck­le.”


Just above, Lennon sketch­es a Picas­so-like four-eyed gui­tarist in this unti­tled draw­ing (notice the tiny cyclist at his feet)—estimated by Sotheby’s between $15,000 and $25,000. The eighty nine lots that went up for auc­tion includ­ed many oth­er draw­ings (see more here) and some hand­writ­ten notes from Paul McCart­ney. All told, the sale net­ted close to $3 mil­lion, though for Lennon devo­tees, these arti­facts are price­less. Learn more about the sale at The Guardian.

via The Dai­ly Beast

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear John Lennon Sing Home Demo Ver­sions of “She Said, She Said,” “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er,” and “Don’t Let Me Down”

John Lennon Plays Bas­ket­ball with Miles Davis and Hangs Out with Allen Gins­berg & Friends

The Last Time Lennon & McCart­ney Played Togeth­er Cap­tured in the Boot­leg A Toot And a Snore in ’74

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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