Libido: Reviews: Tijuana Bibles
Tijuana Bibles

By Jack Hafferkamp

How quickly we have forgotten, as a culture, about "tijuana bibles." Or "8-pagers," as they also were known. Small comic books -- actually 8-page booklets -- of obscene parodies of widely known entertainers and comic characters like Popeye and Dagwood. Millions of them circulated, nobody really knows how many, as they were produced and distributed outside the law; never accepted by polite society, but sometimes winked at by authorities.

In their time, the middle years of this century, millions of men and boys knew of them, read them, laughed at them and with them, and ejaculated to them. They were the wise-ass version of the Sunday funnies, in the days before television when Sunday funnies were at the height of their popularity.

But since tijuana bibles operated below the radar of the law and the mainstream media, they disappeared quickly from cultural consciousness when the Sexual Revolution hit. Today collectors are serious about them, but 8-pagers have all but vanished. They certainly don’t tend to show up in the nostalgia shops in my kinda town.

So Tijuana Bibles by Bob Adelman is a very welcome volume. Handsomely designed and printed it reproduces 100 of Adelman’s favorites from the 1000 he reviewed for this book. Many are puerile, to be sure, but together they are so much more, adding up to an alternate take on some favorite American studies topics -- celebrity and hypocrisy. And they are funny. And often very well drawn.

Adelman and his contributors thoughtfully provide insight into the history and range of styles and targets of the 8-pager’s creators, their vocabulary, and their demise. This volume is a delight, a real slice of disappearing Americana.

Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies, 1930s - 1950s by Bob Adelman with an introductory essay by Art Spiegelman, commentary by Richard Merkin and an essay by Madeleine Kripke. (Simon and Schuster, 1997 ISBN: 0-684-83461-8. $24).

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