Dixie Duggan in "The Salesman" (1935)

Who among us, in this vast, hilarious, confusing world of comic books, could cast the first stone and claim that we’ve not wondered about -- or even been so bold as to Google -- our favorite characters doing the deed? With entire websites dedicated to fan art, an increasing acceptance of kinks and sexual predilections, and an infinite number of search engine possibilities available to anyone with some questions, no one’s going to blame you for being curious. If you’re feeling self conscious about your desires, however, have no fear -- because comic nerds, funny book readers, and perverts alike have been seeking out (and finding!) those self same things for nearly a century, thanks to the magic that is the Tijuana Bibles.

A product of the Great Depression, these infamous “eight-pagers” -- also known as Jo-Jo books, bluesies, gray backs, Tillie and Mac books, and later simply “dirty little comics” -- were miniature underground comic books, either printed on cheap paper or drawn in a rudimentary cartooning style, that ostensibly aimed to put the Dick in your Dick Tracy and the Wood in your Dagwood. The most used and most iconic term for these releases -- the aforementioned “Tijuana Bibles”, -- originated in Baja, California, where many readers bought into the unfounded belief that the nasty, horny little things could only have been smuggled in from just over the Mexican border in Tijuana, a place that, for many perverts of the turn of the century, symbolized booze, lust, and the cheapest thrills money could buy. (This was, of course, a product of extreme racism of the time... but more on that later!)

Tijuana Bible covers

The subjects of these comics were a horse of the different color, however, with the most popular (and most successful) ones featuring delightfully lewd parodies of beloved cartoon characters, movie stars, superheroes, and even politicians. The stories themselves often swung between being driven solely by humor, putting direct focus on the filthy fornication between otherwise very wholesome characters, and sometimes a smattering of both — like, perhaps, the anatomical workings of Donald Duck being able to give a blowjob with a duck bill. But I digress.

Archie in "Good Ol' Betty"

Despite an incredible number of surprisingly talented artists whose ability to capture cartoon likeness were, arguably to this day, unmatched, most of the artists, writers, and even publishers of Tijuana Bibles are largely unknown. Though some creators such as Wesley Morse (later an artist for Bazooka Joe) were known to have contributed to this particular filth trade before World War II, many of the Bibles’ creators instead chose to use cheeky names such as “Iva Whopper”, “Whotta Kavity”, “Rub Matocas”, “U. Groan & I. Grunt,” possibly because, who wouldn’t want a dirty picture drawn by Rub Matocas? The primary reason for these admittedly enjoyable pseudonyms, thought, was that these miniature feats of smutty publishing were one gateway into a world of explicitness that was otherwise heavily policed at the time — enough so that sales of the dirty booklets could land salespeople, let alone the responsible artists, straight into a jail cell.

One of the first known arrests for the sale of Tijuana Bibles occurred in mid-’20s Terre Haute, Indiana, where it was discovered that a high school student’s locker had been turned into a hotbed cache of the dirty cartoons which — after some investigation — came from the upstanding local newspaper editor, Charles Jewett, and his son Jackson…who was a printer for Jewett Printing Company.

“Jewett was arrested following an investigation by authorities of the origin of a book of indecent pictures in which popular comic strip characters figure," local newspaper Logansport Morning Press reported on June 9th, 1926. “The arrests grew out of an investigation, which had been quietly going on for three or four weeks, following the finding that several Wiley high school boys were in possession of an obscene publication based on a current strip in the Sunday papers. Further inquiry led to a search of the printing offices conducted by Jackson Jewett, under the name of the Jewett Printing Company, where a number of zinc etchings, from which the strips were printed, together with a quantity of booklets, bound and ready for distribution, were seized. It was said at the time that the elder Jewett had taken the contract for printing the strips and had attended to their distribution."

Some artists, however, took these arrests and raids to be something of a joke, eagerly grasping the opportunity to poke fun at them within the comics themselves. Some of the main culprits of these jokes were, fittingly, the most prolific figures of the Tijuana Bibles history: Mr. Prolific and Elmer Zilch, a play on the name used for the mascot of humor magazine Ballyhoo, who were said to have been creatively responsible for hundreds of the Tijuana Bibles.

Blondie Tijuana Bible

With police raids becoming more frequent throughout the 1930s, thanks to organizations such as New York’s Society for the Suppression of Vice, Boston’s Watch and Ward Society, and other ad hoc coalitions formed formed by Reverends across the country with the intent of destroying pornography industries, Prolific and Zilch pointed out the absurdity of these vigilance groups for exactly what they were — one-sided and ridiculous. Thankfully, pointing that out also involved the creation of eight-pagers such as Mr Prolific’s Betty Boop in “Improvising”, where the so-called “guardian of public morals,” hilariously named Smuthound, apprehends Betty Boop mid-coitus with a lifeguard on a beach.

Betty Boop in "Improvising" (1935)

This example in particular serves as a reminder of the power of pop culture in the era. Though the content may have been something deemed questionable -- and, bluntly, might still be to some even now -- the pushback of puritanical views of sex, drugs, and foul language through the lens of widely popular and wholesome characters and celebrity influencers provided a outlet for those trapped in an otherwise repressed, and regressive, society. With some of the more popular strips involving characters like Popeye, Mickey Mouse, Blondie, Archie Andrews, and Dick Tracy, as well as real celebrities like Clark Gable, Mae West, Jean Harlo, Joe Lewis, these taboo comics, in an admittedly funny sort of way, act as a hilariously fun touchstone for where mass culture was at the time when it came to newspaper strips and popular cartooning.

For obvious reasons, the downside to the Bibles reflecting contemporary culture was the blatant racism and bigotry considered humorous at the time. Though none of these images are included in this piece, the ethnic stereotypes — particularly those regarding Black men and Asian women — were unfortunately part of the zeitgeist of the era, and appeared repeatedly throughout the Bibles. While most comics strayed away from such topics -- as, ironically, they were considered more taboo than, say, Little Orphan Annie getting plowed -- the prevalence of bigoted cartooning also acts as a reflection of the actual sordid part of this pop culture era, and offer a sobering rebuke to the progressive, sex positive attitude of the Bibles as a whole.

The Navy Goes Down for Old Glory

More than anything else though, the Tijuana Bibles act has a tremendous museum of influences throughout period pop culture, as filtered through some incredibly skilled cartooning for the era -- enough so as to have clearly influenced later, more widely-accepted, artists such as Fritz the Cat’s Robert Crumb and other more mainstream acceptable talents. No, not everyone is going to want to look back at these comics with glee, because, well, they might still manage to hold that air of disgust for the mainstream even now. For those who have grown — through puberty and adulthood — around ships, fic archives and forums, and art collectives, however, the history of the Tijuana Bible might be just the thing to offer a good laugh, and some important historical context: the knowledge that, for the better part of an entire century, all we’ve been wanting to do is see stars and cartoons getting busy.

Tijuana Bibles arrest headline, The Poughkeepsie Eagle-News, February 17, 1930

Snow White and the 7 Dwarves

Flash Gordon in "On A Lark"

Dagwood in "All in a Day's Work"

He Didn't Speak French

He Didn't Speak French (cont.)

Superboy in "Big Bet"

John Dillinger in "A Hasty Exit"

*Joe Palooka in "The Losing Fight"

Smokey

CHLOE MAVEAL is the Culture Editor for NeoText and a freelance journalism bot based in the Pacific Northwest who specializes in British comics, pop culture history, fandom culture, and queer stories in media. Her work has been featured all over the internet with bylines in Polygon, Publishers Weekly, Comics Beat, Shelfdust, and many others. You can find Chloe on Twitter at @PunkRokMomJeans.