My dearest Readers,
Every month, I delight in the possibility that you might walk away from this blog tickled and astounded by the underbelly of the past. And you had best believe I intend to tickle and astound. Tijuana Bibles. Have you heard of them? If you have, YOU are one bad ass underbelly historian and I'd like to shake your dirty little hand because this is one history that is as muddled and fascinating as it gets. I was fortunate enough to get an up close look at these suckers at none other than the Museum of Sex itself. I've heard of them prior to visiting the museum, but never actually got to see them in person, so it really was a treat and one I'm sharing with you.
So...Tijuana Bibles. They weren't REALLY bibles. As you might have guessed given that it is getting its own post on my blog. The origin of the name itself is actually unknown. Some say it was a jab on the vices of Border Mexican towns and others say it was used merely to throw off the authorities. Either way, these Tijuana Bibles have quite the naughty history. Tijuana bibles were also called jo-jo books, fuck books (which best describes them), blusies, gray-backs, and eight pagers, to name a few. I should probably note that these were American in origin.
So what were they? It was a creative form of incredibly artistic pornography. They were explicit, hand drawn CARTOON booklets stapled together in a convenient "pocket" size. They made their debut in the 1920's but really exploded in the Depression Era of the 1930's when cartoonists were looking to make a living just like everyone else. Though they altogether petered off in popularity by the 50's, these dirty little booklets consisted of cartoons that created "a story" involving sex. They were sold in school yards (they are cartoons, after all!!), tobacco shops (under the counter), back alleys (with the booze) and out of the trunks of cars (with the booze). They were collected like baseball cards and traded and shared (and shared and shared).
What made these popular? They were without any doubt funny as freakin hell (humor during the depression went a looooong way) and more importantly, featured popular comic strip cartoons, celebrities of the era, and politicians in every dang sexual position known to man and woman (and animal). You get to page through Minnie and Mickey Mouse's adventures of having rowdy rodent sex. Or Clark Gable using his ears to make a woman scream. Or my favorite (below), Donald Duck in all his cocky glory. Puts his character in a whole new light, doesn't it?
I bet you always dreamed about seeing Popeye....well...pop an eye. And believe me, he does. Right along with us!
Ever wonder where Dick Tracy got his name? Oh, yeah, he EARNS his name in these suckers. As for good old Dagwood? Well...he's just got wood. And Snow White? She DOES all seven drawfs in style. Setting aside the dirty details, the drawings in and of themselves were actually done with a quality that made these even more popular.
Now despite its popularity, all of the booklets themselves were drawn and printed anonymously due to all the indecency laws in the united states (which weren't lifted until the 1960's). Shipments were occasionally seized by authorities but with no source and no names, it was very difficult for them to press charges against anyone. Fascinatingly enough, the cartoonists behind the Tijuana Bibles have never stepped forth with their names, even long after bans were lifted and to this day, identification of the creators are done based off of the styling of the cartoon itself.
Wesley Morse, the creator of Bazooka Joe (yes, the bubble gum cartoons!), was believed to have been one of many cartoonists who drew anonymously during a time when there was no work. Not much more is known.
In the end, what is utterly fascinating about the depression era itself was the people's desperate need for escapism given the hardships. That need is what created the booming film industry. And that need is what created this titillating form of pornography that took tongue and cheek to a whole new level known as Tijuana Bibles. So now that you know all about Tijuana Bibles, I suggest you keep your eyes open. Because who knows? Maybe your grandma or your grandpa have some of these puppies stashed up in the attic somewhere. Or better yet, maybe your grandma and your grandpa are STILL paging through these suckers, chuckling and tickling each other under the covers as they make use of it. All I do know is that the good old days were exactly that...good. Gotta love history.
Until next time,
Much love to you,