|Tijuana Bibles, A History of Dirty Comics|
In the years before TV, and even movies with sound, Newspaper Comics were America's most popular entertainment and the comic greats were our celebrities. With such daily familiarity, who wouldn't wonder what happens when lecherous old Barney Google gets his way with one of those Gibson Girls, or as odd a couple as Tillie & Mac going all the way ... thousands did! They swept the country on the heels of prohibition, often sold by newsboys and neighborhood mom & pop stores, to many young men, they were their only sexual education.
What we know about Tijuana Bibles is mostly a matter of observation, as there is little real history ... call it the anthropology of dirty cartoons ... or more likely forensics :). This article is an effort to share those observations and will grow as the detective work continues.
The Early Books
Early George & Wife 10 pager
The "Girls" & "Love Nest" were applied
after printing. Perhaps this copy was
actually displayed somewhere where
women might have seen it.
Sometimes in the late 1920's the very first comic books appeared in America.... and they were dirty ones!
Exactly when, where they were printed, or which books came first ( if those survived at all) no one can say. One thing is certain, though, from very early on distribution was highly organized and they became available in a number of cities.
Very early series known included the greats of the 20's ; Barney Google, Toots & Casper, the Gumps, Tillie the Toiler, Happy Hooligan, Abie the Agent etc.
LaFrance 12 pager
Mac & Tillie reprint early 1930's
The earliest known books had nondescript or text covers, were printed on pulp paper and many were actually 12 pages in length. They were probably printed after hours in one of the large newsprint plants of Newark or Brooklyn. Awkward printing & folding often resulted in unevenly paginated books that usually started with blank pages and printing that jumped from side to side.
Some of these books are reprinted in their original 12 pages under the La France imprint (Paris, France), the most popular of these books trickle down through the 1930's, edited to the 8 page format as Tobasco Pub Co. (Havana, Cuba) editions.
The Golden Age of Comics
The 1930's was truly the Golden Age of Comics .... all comics, not just 8 pagers.
Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon.
In 1929, Hal Foster's Tarzan heralded the birth of the adventure strip and was followed by Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, Dick Tracy, Mandrake, the Phantom and hundreds of others. Some of these characters made it to the movie screens as weekly republic serials ... there's nothing like a cliffhanger to keep you on the edge of your seat.
By the mid 1930's legitimate comic books have switched from reprints of earlier syndicated newspaper strips to brand new material. The newsstands are flooded with 64 page comics, all in color for a dime .... while the 8 pager had an asking price of as much as a buck each.
The Most significant players of the 1930's
Though an unknown number of people contributed to ( or detracted from ) the eight pager over it's 75+ year history, it's creative foundation rests on the work of a few. The most notable, called "Mr Prolific", dominated the genre from around 1933 to 1938 and produced many of the greatest classics.
Al Capone was #1 with a bullet in
Mr.Prolific's Underworld Series.
Prolific was as capable as any comic pro, he had no problem drawing characters in their familiar styles and could nail the most well known likeness, as noted in his Underworld, and more obscure Radio Stars series.
Though his ultimate achievement is "The Hip Flipper", a semi-fictional recounting of Mae West's introduction to Hollywood debauchery in 32 beautifully drawn pages, he is best remembered for his "Adventures of a Fuller Brush Man", a series about an insatiable traveling salesman that spanned 10 eight pagers
Rare Cary Grant Artwork
Another important but less recognized artist began sometimes in the mid 1930s, he is known as "Blackjack", for the leathery, gnarled, menacing looking cocks he drew. Though he started with the usual cartoon parodies he soon found his niche in celebrity comics and turned out the classic "Cary Grant in who's a Fairy" as well as many other outrageous takeoffs involving Hollywood's major and minor personalities. As these books were dated by the stars popularity, many titles did not see the years of multiple reprinting enjoyed by the cartoon classics, so his contribution is underrated.
In the late 1960's, in downtown NYC, the original drawings to "Cary Grant" and several other books are discovered in a print shop where they were possibly first produced. These were recently acquired by TijuanaBible.org and will be the centerpiece of a planned public exhibit exulting the dirty little tombs.
She didn't Miss at the 1939 World's Fair
Perhaps the most memorable of all is the work of Wesley Morse. While most 8 pager humor had a dark side his books were lighthearted sex romps where everyone "came" away happy. (sorry!)
Morse, a seasoned pro of newspaper comics and advertising, knew how to connect with his audience through everyday scenarios we can all see ourselves in.
As an "A Train" rider for many years, I particularly enjoy "It Started in the Subway - and Ended in the Bronx". The fantasy of fucking a sexy straphanger rings a bell with every urbanite who's ever fixated on rubbing against a cute stranger's ass!
His 1939 Worlds Fair series books are probably the most reprinted 8 pagers of all time. The notion of sex at the Fair was innovative and fresh, even today these books get the best reactions from new readers, especially Women.
Deluxe Editions with Ornate Borders
Nertz To You 10 pager
By the mid 30's the demand for new 8 pages far outstripped their production and books are being constantly reprinted (pirated), sometimes by numerous publishers at the same time. The quality of these books varied from excellent to total crap. There were some attempts at deluxe books like Mr. Prolific's 8 issue Ringside Series which includes John L. Sullivan and Max Baer. These 10 pagers had 2 and even 3 color covers as well as exceptional artwork.
There was also, "She Will Be Coming Around the Mountain", "Art of Love by Popeye " , "Yes We Have No Bananas", "Nertz to You", "Kansas City Kitty", "The Lonely Widow" and others with 10 pages, .... some of which are actually 8 page stories "padded" with 2 filler gag pages. Altogether we know of 42 separate titles sharing the Ornate Border Imprint, both 8 and 10 pagers are included.
A Quick Gag Grows to Full Blown Cartoon Parody,
Tijuana Bible advertisement
(Illustrated Comic Booklets) from Amazing Stories 1947.
Illustrated Comic Booklets
(Tijuana Bible advertisement)) from Amazing Stories 1952
They were openly advertised in the cheap classified sections of pulp magazines that would accept them, as early as 1946, where usually three or four would mingle with tobacco cures, business opportunities and other sundry merchandise. Note the second ad, from 1952, boasts a new different line of comic booklets.
One artist, dubbed "Mr.Dyslexic", for mis-ordering the sequence of his pictures and word balloons, departed from the usual 8 pager fare and produced books that were as offbeat and twisted as his drawing were crude. A favorite, has Winston Churchill fathering a three headed baby with his own daughter. "Our Ma" is the story of three girls working in their Mother's whore house.
Other series from the late 1940's include the "Rammit Home" books and the "Boarderless" series, which includes Superman, Zatara, Lil Abner and Terry & the Pirates.
Another artist appeared at the end of the 1940s who's modern style was a sharp contrast to Dyslexic and the others. His attempt at lighthearted books like "South Seas Suntan" meet with mixed success for me, however, his "Phone Booth Built for Two" is a clear cut Tijuana Bible masterpiece.
Sex and violence in mainstream comic books reaches such an extreme, the US Congress steps in to curb them. Harvey Kurtzman's "Mad" elevates irreverent, rude, comic parody to virtuoso levels. You can actually see Mr. Prolifics influence in the drawings of young Bill Elder.
The 8 pager is still actively marketed through the mail, and becomes a border town standard which will forever brand them as "Tijuana Bibles".
Sometimes in the late 1950's the "Barber Pole" series is released. There are 12 poorly drawn books in this series that include comic book characters Supergirl and Batwoman as well as newspaper standards.
Most of the 8 pagers produced in these later years ( 50's and up) are quite obscure as they are usually distributed to a local audience.
As the 8 pager limps on with sporadic releases, the next generation of cartoonists are inspired to challenge the traditional boundaries of accepted taste.
In 1967, "The Realist" publishes "The Disneyland Memorial Orgy Poster" drawn by Mad veteran Wally Wood. Buy a copy directly from Paul Krassner here. Robert Crumb and Wife hawk the first Zap on the streets of San Francisco.
Counterculture newspaper "The East Village Other" hires Vaughn Bode to edit their comic spin-off "The Gothic Blimp Works". Bode, Crumb, Wilson, Speigleman, Deitch, Lynch and other contributors turn out 8 issues. An issue #6, I illegally purchased in times square as a teenager, remains in my archives to this day.
Also In '69, a printer and active comics fan began reprinting high quality 8 pagers from an Ann Street loft in downtown NYC. As a homage, he solicited comic book pros and produced some of the best 8 pagers ever ... all with excellent artwork and solid gags!
Leading the pack in perversion is Little Evie in "Lollipop Lover", a tale of Incest so graphic, just holding it, raises the fear of prosecution.
Though Dagwood in "All in a Day's Work" has become popular from it's inclusion in the Adelson book, the rest of these 8 pagers are relatively unknown to most collectors. Betty Boobs in "The Prophet" has the sexiest drawn women to ever grace an 8 pager, and is a must have item. Jud Saxon in "Caught" continues the office shenanigans, Buck Rogers' low gravity sex acrobatics get out of control in "Lust in Space" , LOA takes on Hitler & pals in "Joint Action", while Blondey & Dagwood are forced to fuck for their pet pooch's enjoyment in "Upsy Daisy". TijuanaBible.org is proud to be publishing new copies of these rare Tijuana Bibles, learn more here.
As the underground comics movement successfully overcome legal challenges, alternative publishers rise en' masse, reprinting the royalty free, public domain, 8 pagers under the pretext of social enlightenment. Boasting to be the first of these is Socio Library's "Little Dirty Comics" by R.G.Holt. Harlan Ellison recounts his schoolboy encounter with 8 pagers in " Hot Damn! The Kind Men Like",
Sex in Comics by Donald H. Gilmore PhD.
a review of Socio's book, appearing in "The Staff" Sept 1971. Socio Library followed suit with "More Little Dirty Comics" and "Famous Sex Comics". Other Socio Library titles are a hoot! They include, "Manuals of Sex Magic", "Oral Sex Compulsions" & the always indispensable "Handbook of Sex Tools and Devices".
The most recognized of the 70's books is the 4 volume set "Sex in Comics A History of the Eight Pagers" by Donald H Gilmore PhD. Unfortunately Gilmore's books are filled with obvious inaccuracies and misinformation, His greatest sin is crediting the work of Wesley Morse to a trio of lesbian women, a fallacy that would persist for years.
Numerous books reprinting the 8 pagers would come out in this period and follow in later years, with the exception of Adelson's excellent hardcover, they are just easy ways to make a quick buck. One can overlook the usual pseudo text and commentaries as BS filler, but their general failure to find decent source copies is unforgivable.
Though no longer profitable, 8 pagers still pop up, even in the 1980's Ronald Regan, Star Wars and Pee Wee Herman can't escape the wit of subversive artists. Cartoon Illustrator, Wayno, only distributed his "Wee Wee's Playhouse" (1987), to a dozen or so friends.
In 1997, The Eight Pager pokes it's head into the public consciousness again! As the subject of an Abrams Art Book, "Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s" by Robert Adelman, the dirty little comics reach a fresh audience hungry for nostalgia and offbeat vintage ephemera. Not just another collection of reprints, with a brilliant introductory essay by Art Spieigelman (read it at Salon.com) this volume is a genuine tribute to the genre, offering quality reproductions of some of the most significant works as well as astute commentary from Richard Merkin. Anyone interested in Tijuana Bibles should have a copy of this book.
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