Though there are bound to be some who will loudly declaim that the Tijuana Bibles demean women, I think it important to note that they demean everyone, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, or even species.
–art spiegelman, "Those Dirty Little Comics," Tijuana Bibles 9.
Pornographic and erotic representations have probably existed as long as there has been art, but the Tijuana Bibles–- pocket-sized, illegally produced pornographic comic books–- first began to flourish in the 1920s, and had run their course by the 1960s. They went by several names, including just "dirty comics" and "eight (or other number) pagers," but "Tijuana Bible" stuck. The name references Tijuana, Mexico, a town popular with American tourists seeking activities they would never tolerate in their own backyards, and "Bible" reflects the little books’ self-consciously subversive nature. They may have provided a warped sort of sex education to many of their readers, but they actively wanted to lack socially redeeming values.
Some of these booklets present the extraordinary adventures of horny Fuller Brush Salesmen, voluptuous co-eds, and other ordinary folk. However, most feature fictional and real celebrities. Familiar pop icons, engaged in sexual acts, provide greater perverse pleasure: a kind of copyright sacrilege. While the Bibles generally stole their cast from other sources, they may be the first comic books to publish original material. Their legitimate contemporaries only reproduced newspaper strips until the mid-1930s.
Pretty much every popular character from comic strip and animated cartoon had their erotic adventures depicted. Bibles exist wherein Donald Duck does Minnie Mouse ("Tee hee, Donald that tickles so good"), Betty Boop does just about everyone, and Blondie and Dagwood conceive their children. Even advertising icons, such as Aunt Jemima, turn up in these old, rude booklets. An illustrated Mae West hosts the sixteen page "Love Guide." A holy grail to dirty comix collectors, this crude classic features several major mid-Depression comic strip characters in a drunken orgy. "The Love Guide" ends with measurements of the various characters’ genitals, and some terrible gags that take the hyperbolic violence so typical of cartoons into the sexual realm.
Other real-life celebrities became targets for the Tijuana Bibles. Joan Crawford, John Dillinger, the Marx Brothers, and many others have appeared; even ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s wooden dummy, Charlie McCarthy had a second, unauthorized career as a dirty comic lothario. While no one ever authorized a depiction in this form, W.C. Fields was allegedly delighted by his own appearances. Perhaps the nastiest of the Bibles are those that feature political figures. Booklets from the 1940s starring the Axis leaders drip with a malevolence next to which most mainstream propaganda seems flaccid.
Indeed, racism, sexism, homophobia, nasty stereotypes, and scurrilous rumours run rampant in the Bibles, along with the expected sex, toilet humour, bestiality, and masturbation. Rarely has one genre been so entirely void of any hint of political correctness.
Many of the most notorious Tijuana Bibles were created by one man, referred to variously as "Mr. Prolific" and "Square Knob," and tentatively identified by implausibly-named sexologist Gershon Legman as one Doc Rankin, a commercial artist who worked for Larch Publications between the two world wars (Spiegelman 7). This artist’s work can be recognized by his distinct style and surprising competence. Many of the genre’s other auteurs would have been tossed out by the lowliest of pulp fiction houses and comic-book publishers, and the shoddiness of some surviving examples may prove more shocking than any act depicted.
The Bibles also lack literary merit. Short in length but firm of purpose, they don’t feature much of a plot. Generally, characters are introduced, they engage in various sexual acts (oral sex figures prominently), and the story ends with a punchline or dirty joke twist.
Around 1980, when I was in high school, someone showed me a photocopy of something called "The Fuckstones," which necessarily had to have been created after 1960. It was crudely drawn and filled with the kind of snickering locker room humour that marks the old Tijuana Bibles. Generally, however, the true Tijuana Bibles have disappeared, save as artifacts. More liberal times permit better-quality, legal material, and the World Wide Web offers distribution possibilities undreamt of decades ago. Erotic fan fiction, with its use of existing characters and generally poor quality, is the twenty-first century heir to the eight-pager. Its pervasiveness online suggests that a deep-seated need exists, at least in some people, to do strange and sexual things with figures from the broader culture.
Ikura notes that dojinshi-- which have much in common with the Tijuana Bibles-- retain popularity in Japan.
Bob Adelman, ed. Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies. Commentary by Richard Merkin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
GB Graphics Tijuana Bible Reprints. http://www.antiqueweird.com/8-pager.htm
Quinn. Tijuana Bibles. http://tijuanabibles.org/
Art Spiegelman. "Those Dirty Little Comics." Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies. Bob Adelman, Ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
The Tijuana Bible Official Home Page. http://www.tijuanabibles.com/comix2.html