Tijuana bibles (also known as eight-pagers, bluesies, gray-backs, Jiggs-and-Maggie books, jo-jo books, Tillie-and-Mac books, and two-by-fours) were little pornographic comic books produced in the United States from the 1920s to the early 1960s. Their popularity peaked during the Great Depression era. The typical "bible" was an eight-panel comic strip in a wallet-size 2.5x4 inch format (approximately 7x10.5 cm) with black print on cheap white paper and running eight pages in length.
Illegal, clandestine, and anonymous, the artists, writers, and publishers of these booklets are generally unknown. The quality of the artwork varied widely. The subjects are explicit sexual escapades usually featuring well known newspaper comic strip characters, movie stars, and (rarely) political figures, invariably used without respect for either copyright or libel law and without permission. Tijuana bibles repeated without a trace of self-consciousness the ethnic stereotypes found in popular culture at the time, although one Tijuana bible ("You Nazi Man") concluded on a serious note with a brief message from the publisher pleading for greater tolerance in Germany for the Jews.
Most Tijuana bibles were obscene parodies of popular newspaper comic strips of the day, like "Blondie", "Barney Google", "Moon Mullins", "Popeye", "Tillie the Toiler", "Dick Tracy", "Little Orphan Annie", "Bringing Up Father", "Dixie Dugan", and "Mutt and Jeff". Others made use of characters based on popular movie stars and sports stars of the day, like Mae West and Joe Louis, sometimes with names thinly changed to (presumably) avoid libel. Before the war almost all the stories were humorous and frequently were cartoon versions of well-known dirty jokes that had been making the rounds for decades.
The most popular cartoon characters appearing in Tijuana bibles in the 1930s, judging by the number of their appearances, were Popeye and Blondie. The most popular celebrity character was Mae West. A popular character might appear in as many as 40 different eight-pagers drawn by ten different artists. An entire series of ten bibles drawn by Mr. Prolific was based on famous gangsters: Legs Diamond, Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly were featured. Another set of ten bibles drawn by Prolific featured radio stars like Joe Penner and Kate Smith, with each title being devoted to a different star. Blackjack drew a set of ten comics using characters from Snow White, with each of the seven dwarfs starring in his own title.
The ten book series format was dictated by the limitations of the printing equipment used to print the bibles, which made it convenient to print a set of ten titles at a time, side by side on a large sheet which was then cut into strips, collated, folded and stapled. Typically a new set of ten would be issued every couple of months, all drawn by the same artist, featuring ten different cartoon characters or celebrities.
Many bibles featured nameless stock characters like cab drivers, firemen, traveling salesmen (and farmer's daughters), icemen, maids, and the like. Very few original recurring characters were created expressly for the bibles: Mr. Prolific's "Fuller Brush Man" was one, starring in a series of ten episodic eight-page adventures. The only serialized stories sold in the eight-pager format were three tales by Blackjack, featuring his own characters Fifi, Maizie and Tessie, in ongoing stories which stretched through three or four installments each before concluding.
The term "Tijuana bibles" refers to the apocryphal belief that they were manufactured and smuggled across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. Many early bibles bore phony imprints of non-existent companies like "Tobasco Publishing Co." in Havana, London, or Paris; these imprints are universally regarded as false. The bibles were sold under the counter for a dollar or 50 cents in places where men congregated: barrooms, bowling alleys, garages, tobacco shops, barber shops and burlesque houses. One commentator reminisces:
I came of age during the war and served in the United States Navy, and I recall seeing them behind the counter at magazine stands and bus terminals, in penny arcades, and in dusty little second-hand bookshops. During their last years of production, the late 1950s and early 1960s, the little second-hand book and curio shops seem to have been their primary distribution outlets.
In some senses, Tijuana bibles were the first underground comix. They featured original material at a time when legitimate American comic books were still reprinting material from newspaper strips. After World War II, both the quality and the popularity of the Tijuana bible declined.
Comics artist and historian Art Spiegelman notes that records of prosecutions against publishers and artists for making Tijuana bibles do not seem to exist; the cartoonist added, however, that on occasion authorities seized shipments and people selling Tijuana bibles. According to Spiegelman, it's not clear whether mom and pop outfits or organized crime created the small salacious booklets. Old newspaper crime stories seem to indicate that most bibles were the product of a fairly small group of independent small businessmen with their own printing presses, invariably springing up again in a new location after a police raid shut them down. These businessmen manufactured a variety of pornographic products (including pornographic playing cards, gag greeting cards, and film reels) and created their own underground distribution routes around the United States. In the early days of Tijuana bibles they could be shipped in bulk around the country through commercial express offices. When access to commercial trucking was cut off in the mid-1930s the manufacturers began driving the products themselves to various points around the country, taking advantage of a loophole making it not a federal crime (at that time) to take pornography across state lines in a private vehicle. Clandestine distribution centers were located in a chain of large cities on an east-west axis from New York City to Kansas City, avoiding the South and New England which were regarded as dangerous places to be arrested for pornography. Business was always done on a strictly cash basis, with generous discounts for bulk purchases to the local distributors who then resold them to retail vendors. The local distributors were not members of organized crime syndicates but seedy small businessmen in an illegal black market business. A distributor's "territory" might be a large city or an entire state.
The total number of Tijuana bibles printed and sold in the heyday of the bibles in the 1930s was in the millions. But the number of new Tijuana bibles being produced took a nosedive at the beginning of World War II, and the industry never recovered. Police raids and the retirement of Doc Rankin, who was called up by the military at the beginning of the war, along with wartime shortages of paper and printing supplies, may have been factors in the decline of the Tijuana bibles at this time. Printing plates of older bibles were worn down through continued reprintings until they were nearly blank, and original plates lost in police raids had to be replaced with new plates crudely recut by hamfisted, untrained amateur engravers. The quality of Tijuana bibles available on the market suffered, and prices dropped as sales plummeted.
When the business was revived after the war the quality of new bibles was dismal. Both poorly drawn and badly printed, they were amateurish and puerile compared to the work of a decade before. Mr. Dyslexic, the leading artist of the postwar era, was possessed of an almost staggering lack of drawing talent matched only by his bad taste and ignorance of the English language. His best-known work, "Traveling Preacher", is a lengthy, labored-over retelling of a novel by Erskine Caldwell (Journeyman), whom Mr. Dyslexic then proceeded to acknowledge by making Caldwell himself the subject of another scabrous Tijuana bible ("Erskine Caldwell in Grandpa's Revenge").
Little is known about the anonymous artists who produced the Tijuana bibles. Wesley Morse (who later went on to draw Bazooka Joe) is believed to have drawn many of those appearing shortly before WWII, most notably several titles inspired by the 1939 World's Fair. A number of books have alleged that the freelance cartoonist Doc Rankin may have been the creator of numerous Tijuana bibles in the 1930s, although this remains unproven.
Collectors have assigned names to several anonymous artists with recognizable styles: "Mr. Prolific" (the creator of the "Adventures of a Fuller Brush Man" series, sometimes said to have been Rankin), "Mr. Dyslexic" (a clumsy, semi-literate artist who produced a number of titles in the postwar period, some with political content), "Blackjack", whose work featured large black areas and often resembled linoleum block prints, and "Artist No. 4" (also known as "Elmer Zilch"), an early and witty creator of the 1930s who rivaled Mr. Prolific in talent, popularity and productivity.
Commentators have claimed to discern the styles of from a dozen to twenty different artists who produced 10 or more bibles during their heyday, with the most productive artists, Mr. Prolific and Elmer Zilch, each drawing from 100 to 150 titles; followed by the output of Wesley Morse, Blackjack and Mr. Dyslexic who each produced about half that many. These five artists between them may have drawn half of all the Tijuana bibles ever done. Two anonymous artists in the 1950s each drew about 60 to 80 cheaply-produced titles that sold for a dime each to a clientele which allegedly consisted largely of high school boys, including titles like "Bellhop Kicks Dog" and a number of "Archie"-themed comics.
A few observers believe that Mr. Prolific and No. 4 were in fact the same artist working in two different styles to vary his output. The byline "Elmer Zilch" which appears on a number of early Tijuana bibles appears to have been the alias of Artist No. 4, although other artists may have employed it as well. The name "Elmer Zilch" referred to a fictional character who was the mascot of the humor magazine Ballyhoo.
Joe Shuster drew Tijuana-bible-like illustrations for a bondage-themed erotic work called Nights of Horror in the early 1950s; his male characters are strongly reminiscent of Superman and some of his female characters resemble Lois Lane.
The total number of distinct stories produced is unknown but has been estimated by Art Spiegelman to be between 700 and 1000. These were endlessly reprinted, redrawn, and pirated, with nearly illegible nth-generation copies circulating decades after the originals were first issued.
In addition to the eight-pagers there were also the more expensive "16-pagers", printed in a larger page size with more pages, and usually more carefully drawn and better printed. These were high-priced and less common than the 8-pagers but showcased the artists' best work.
Police seizures 
The scale on which Tijuana bibles were produced can be gauged from the large hauls announced in police seizures. In one November, 1942 raid by FBI agent P.E. Foxworth and his men on a New York City warehouse and a printing plant in the South Bronx, 8 million bibles were reported seized, and small time businessmen Jacob and David Brotman were arrested along with several associates.
According to the FBI four tons of material were ready to ship across the country and 7 tons had gone out recently and were being rounded up at regional distribution centers in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland/Akron, and Indianapolis. Jacob Brotman, identified as one of the main players in the Tijuana bible trade in Jay Gertzman's Bookleggers and Smuthounds, had earlier been arrested in a similar raid on a Lower East Side loft reported in the New York City papers in 1936, which produced a large haul of bibles, erotic fiction "readers", pornographic playing cards, and nude photos, along with printing, cutting and binding equipment.
During the 1939 World's Fair men selling pornographic booklets on the midway at the fair were trailed to a warehouse near the Brooklyn Navy Yard where David Brotman and an associate were arrested and a cache of 350,000 printed items and photos and 50,000 condoms were seized, along with printing plates. Collectors have estimated that in this period typically 50,000 copies would be produced of a single title, and distributed around the country by an underground network of colporteurs.
In New York City police raids on the business, which were carried out at intervals for decades, were usually at the instigation of John S. Sumner and the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, which during the years of its existence closely monitored the trade in pornography in the city.
Cultural references 
Early in the graphic novel Watchmen, the current Silk Spectre, Laurie Juspeczyk visits her mother, past Silk Spectre Sally Jupiter, and briefly reads a Tijuana bible featuring her. Sally finds it flattering and keeps it as a reminder of her past sex appeal, but Laurie finds the comic obscene. The same Tijuana bible is later given away as a gift, owing to its present nature as a collector's novelty item.
Will Eisner features Tijuana bibles in the first pages of his book The Dreamer, though nothing explicit is shown. His protagonist, Billy, a young artist out looking for work, is offered a job illustrating them by a printer and a mafioso. Shocked and incensed, he asks if they are legal. The vignette serves not only to focus conflict between the character's dream and reality, but also between legitimate and illicit comic production. Dejected, Billy says he will think it over. The theme is reminiscent of a real-life episode described by Eisner about his being asked by a shady Brooklyn businessman to draw for the publications at a rate of $3 a page, which was good money at the time.
In the semi-autobiographical Canadian novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959) by Mordecai Richler, the title character sells Tijuana bibles, some featuring Dick Tracy, to his high school classmates, after buying them in bulk from a newsstand vendor who assigns him a small part of the city as his sales territory. When he hears that the news vendor has been arrested he panics and destroys all the bibles.
In the novel Water for Elephants, the term "eight-pager" is mentioned in several different locations, one of these when Kinko the dwarf is caught by Jacob Jankowski masturbating while reading a Popeye the Sailor Tijuana bible.
The novel and film The Green Mile features a scene in which guard Percy Whitmore is caught reading a Tijuana bible with fictional character "Lotta Leadpipe", and is asked what his mother would think of such material.
A 1954 episode of Dragnet, "The Big Producer", had Sgt. Joe Friday breaking up a high school smut ring which includes a teenage boy (played by Martin Milner) selling eight-pagers out of his school locker.
See also 
- Spiegelman, A (1997-08-19). "Tijuana Bibles". Salon.com. Archived from the original on 2011-03-06. Retrieved 2009-02-24.
- Bright, S (1997-08-19). "Dogeared Style: Tijuana Bibles". Salon.com.
- Heer, J (2002). "Tijuana Bibles". St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture (Gale Group). Retrieved 2009-04-02.
- Hoffman, Frank A. (2002). "Humor in the Eight-Pagers". Sex and Humor: Selections from the Kinsey Institute. Indiana University Press. pp. 13–21.
- McGrath, George. "How Movie Stars Are Used in Obscene Booklet Racket," National Police Gazette, Oct. 1955. Retrieved Sept. 26, 2012.
- Juvenile Delinquency (Obscene and Pornographic Materials). Hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency of the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate. 84th Congress, 1st Session. May 24, 26, 31, June 9 and 18, 1955. Washington, DC: GPO, 1955.
- Spiegelman, Art. "Those Dirty Little Books" in Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies, ed. Bob Adelman, Simon & Schuster, 1997, p. 5-6.
- Yoe, Craig (2007). Clean Cartoonists' Dirty Drawings. San Francisco, CA: Last Gasp. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-86719-653-5.
- Gilmore, Donald H. Sex in Comics, Greenleaf Press, 1971.
- "Birth of the 8-Pager" by Donald H. Gilmore PhD., tijuanabible.org. Retrieved July 30, 2011.
- Yoe, Craig; Shuster, Joe; Lee, Stan (2009). Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-creator Joe Shuster. Abrams ComicArts. ISBN 978-0-8109-9634-2.
- Colton, D (2009-04-13). "'Superman' artist's bizarro world exposed". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-04-22.
- "5 Seized by FBI as Lewd Book Ring. Group That is Said to Have Sold Tons of Obscenity to Youths Reported Broken", New York Times, Nov. 24, 1942, p. 27. FBI assistant director and New York City bureau chief P.E. Foxworth, whose main responsibility at the time was conducting mass roundups of German-Americans suspected of Nazi sympathies, died two months later in the same South American plane crash that killed novelist Eric Knight.
- "Obscene Library Raided by Police. Patrol Wagons Busy All Day Removing Vicious Books from Huge Plant. 4 Held as Distributors. Printing Establishment Called One of Biggest in Country by John S. Sumner", New York Times, March 28, 1936, p. 3.
- Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 18, 1939; cited in Jay Gertzman, Bookleggers and Smuthounds.
- Eisner, Will, (1986). Pgs 5-6. The Dreamer ISBN 978-0-393-32808-0
Further reading 
- Adelman, Bob; et al. (1997). Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s. New York: Simon & Schuster Editions. ISBN 978-0-684-83461-0.