Three Charles Bukowski Books Illustrated by Robert Crumb: Underground Comic Art Meets Outsider Literature

Think of the artists you know who, espe­cial­ly in the 1960s and 70s, por­trayed an often sor­did real­i­ty in detail, just as they saw it, gar­ner­ing acclaim from enthu­si­asts, who per­ceived a high artistry in their seem­ing­ly rough-hewn work, and cries from count­less detrac­tors who object­ed to what they saw as the artists’ lazy cru­di­ty. In the realm of poet­ry and prose, Charles Bukows­ki should come to mind soon­er or lat­er; in that of com­ic art, who fits the bill bet­ter than Robert Crumb? It makes only good sense that the work of both men should inter­sect, and they did in the 1980s when Crumb illus­trat­ed two short books by Bukows­ki, Bring Me Your Love and There’s No Busi­ness.

“Crumb’s sig­na­ture under­ground comix aes­thet­ic and Bukowski’s com­men­tary on con­tem­po­rary cul­ture and the human con­di­tion by way of his famil­iar tropes — sex, alco­hol, the drudgery of work — coa­lesce into the kind of fit that makes you won­der why it hadn’t hap­pened soon­er,” writes Brain Pick­ings’ Maria Popo­va.

“In 1998, a final posthu­mous col­lab­o­ra­tion was released under the title The Cap­tain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Tak­en Over the Ship — an illus­trat­ed selec­tion from Buk’s pre­vi­ous­ly unpub­lished diaries, cap­tur­ing a year in his life short­ly before his death in 1994.” As one stu­dent of the graph­ic nov­el sum­ma­rizes Bring Me Your Love, “the main char­ac­ter is a man whose per­son­al­i­ty resem­bles the main char­ac­ter of most Bukows­ki sto­ries. He goes through life rather aim­less­ly, killing time by drink­ing and hav­ing sex. His wife is in a men­tal hos­pi­tal.”

“Crumb’s illus­tra­tions give the already grit­ty sto­ry­lines a visu­al con­text — such as a man who looks much like Buk wrestling on the floor with his ‘wife’ after a dis­pute involv­ing answer­ing the phone or var­i­ous bar­room skir­mish­es depict­ing a Bukows­ki-look­ing char­ac­ter run­ning amok,” says Dan­ger­ous Minds. “He was a very dif­fi­cult guy to hang out with in per­son, but on paper he was great,” Crumb once said of Bukows­ki, and his illus­tra­tions also reveal that he under­stands Bukowski’s own aware­ness of the dif­fer­ence between his page self and his real one. “Old writer puts on sweater, sits down, leers into com­put­er screen, and writes about life,” Bukows­ki writes, in their third and final col­lab­o­ra­tion, above a Crumb illus­tra­tion of just such a scene. “How holy can we get?”

See more Crumb illus­tra­tions of Bukows­ki at Brain Pick­ings.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Four Charles Bukows­ki Poems Ani­mat­ed

Watch “Beer,” a Mind-Warp­ing Ani­ma­tion of Charles Bukowski’s 1971 Poem Hon­or­ing His Favorite Drink

R. Crumb Shows Us How He Illus­trat­ed Gen­e­sis: A Faith­ful, Idio­syn­crat­ic Illus­tra­tion of All 50 Chap­ters

Robert Crumb Illus­trates Philip K. Dick’s Infa­mous, Hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry Meet­ing with God (1974)

Car­toon­ist R. Crumb Assess­es 21 Cul­tur­al Fig­ures, from Dylan & Hitch­cock, to Kaf­ka & The Bea­t­les

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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