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Lust and Lechery in Eight Pages: The Story of the Tijuana Bibles, Pt. 2

Politics in the eight pagers were usually as crude and ignorant as the sex. Another one of Mr. Dyslexic's ventures into political commentary, "Mussolini in Ethiopia," is so incoherent that it's hard to call it either sexy or offensive. Joe Stalin makes an appearance in "The Great Leader," in which the narrator observes that "That's right, Joe. Not only do you have the biggest prick in Russia, you are the biggest prick in Russia." Mr. Prolific went to even more grotesque extremes in a 16-pager starring Adolf Hitler called "Hyme Putz Presents 'You Nazi Man,'" that is more Grand Guignol than pornography. This bible opens with a screed alleging that Hitler "embraces the disgusting and revolting rites of homosexualism, a vicious example of the lengths to which a diseased mind can go," and concludes with Hitler castrating the hero in front of his lover and then making a tasty meal of his severed cock.

Tijuana bibles made a brief re-entry into politics during the 2008 presidential election. At the Democratic National Convention in Denver, artist Ethan Persoff distributed copies of what was supposedly a long-lost 1934 Tijuana bible: "The Adventures of Fuller Bush Man & John McCain in 'Obliging Lady,'" a parody of one of Mr. Prolific's entries in his 10-book series "Adventures of a Fuller Brush Man." Persoff's attention to the stylistic tics of art, dialogue, and plot from the original bibles was nothing less than meticulous, although the art and grammar in his version were far superior. Persoff's satire also goes after the Democrats, showing parody versions of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Lieberman in the background, watching as Bush and McCain fuck carelessly in the open. Pelosi is consumed by dudgeon at their immorality but doesn't interfere; Lieberman, playing a cop summoned by Pelosi, just grins with lecherous glee. Persoff's political vision is more developed than his predecessors, but the same can't be said for the sex; watching Bush and McCain get it on is likely to send your libido into deep hibernation no matter what your political persuasion.

The Tijuana bibles limped on through the 1950s, struggling to compete with television and the new sexuality represented by Playboy, then finally gave up the ghost sometime in the early 1960s. The sexual revolution was too much for them; they were artifacts of the covert and unspoken, and when you could buy sex in full color at the corner newsstand, their power faded, but not without a legacy. The ribald, anarchic weirdness of Harvey Kurtzman's Mad Magazine and later, the undergrounds created by R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, Trina Robbins, and others clearly took some of their spirit and style (and even some of their illicit distribution methods) from the old 8-pagers. Surrounded by instantaneously accessible entertainment and information about sex, it's sometimes hard to imagine what was so appealing about these things to our grandparents and great-grandparents. In an era when films wouldn't show even married couples together in bed, the bibles' one virtue was remorseless honesty about their audiences' desires and fears about sex.

More Resources and Reading:

  • The Tijuana Bibles. America's Forgotten Comic Strips: Collects volumes 1-4 of Fantagraphic Books' paperback series into one 500-page volume. The comics are presented without commentary, but the collection has a witty and knowledgeable preface by R.C. Harvey on the history and social relevance of the Tijuana Bibles. A second volume is tentatively scheduled for next year.
  • Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s: Bob Adelman and Richard Merkin's 1997 collection includes the essay by Spiegelman quoted above, and is arguably the most accesssible and thorough collection available, with an excellent mix of graphics and commentary. It's less expensive than the Fantagraphics collection, but not as available. If buying it from a local bookstore, you may need to have it special ordered. Spiegelman's introduction can also be found online at Salon.
  • Bob Adelman and Richard Merkin interviewed on Charlie Rose: Five-minute video Adelman and Merkin talking about editing the book.
  • TijuanaBibles.org: Quinn, the owner of this site, has scanned in 80 different bibles for your viewing pleasure. Most of them, unfortunately, are low quality, and many of them seem to have come from the days when the Tijuana bibles were dying out. Nevertheless, it's a good place to start out exploring.
  • TijuanaBible.org: Only one letter off, but a very different site. More professional than Quinn's site, with historical essays and bibles for sale. However, not as many bibles available for viewing.
  • Susie Bright on TJ Bibles: Bright reviews the Adelman & Merkin book in this essay on Salon.
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Chris Hall
March 27th, 2009
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Chris Hall is a perverted nerd who has been known to administer severe spankings to writers who confuse "its" and "it's." He keeps one foot in San Francisco and one in Brooklyn and his mind...