Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s

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9780684834610: Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s

Hidden in a corner among the great sacred texts of the world lies a series of exuberantly ribald underground comics known as the Tijuana Bibles. Iconoclastic, hilarious, and sexy, these anonymous little books, written from the 1930s through the 1950s, are revered among scholars and aficionados of American folk art, and devotees of comics as well as collectors of erotica. The primitive energy of their vigorous, often crude line, combined with their gonzo sensibilities, has given the Bibles a tremendous if largely unacknowledged influence on such talents as Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, and Lenny Bruce.

Comic strips in general were an American phenomenon, and at their zenith the Sunday funnies were as important as breakfast. But the anonymous creators of the Tijuana Bibles turned the saccharine tradition of the comics on its head, cheerfully savaging every sacred cow in the pasture in their pursuit of satire and sex. Political leaders, cartoon heroes, storybook legends, and American folk icons -- no one was safe from the glowering wit and smutty irreverence of these eight- and sixteen-page booklets, cranked out illicitly in basements and sold under counters across the country. From Donald Duck, Al Capone, and Greta Garbo to Lou Gehrig, Mahatama Gandhi, and the Fuller Brush Man, the pure and the impure were burlesqued with equal inspiration.

Aboveground for the first time, these subverive comic masterworks are presented here in all their brilliant and raunchy glory. Author Bob Adelman reviewed almost 1,000 of the Tijuana Bibles before selecting 100 of the most lively and important examples of the genre. The book opens with an introductory essay by Art Spiegelman, America's most famous comic artist and a man who proudly acknowledges the impact these rollicking and scandalous little booklets have had on his own work.

Paging through reproductions of the Bibles, the reader discovers that there is more to the Tijuana Bibles than good dirty fun. Indeed these tremendously entertaining comics also tell us fascinating things about American attitudes toward celebrity, about the hypocrisy of certain social and political values, and about the hypocrisy of certain social and political values, and about the ability of artists working outside the establishment of effectively tweak its sensibilities in a way few others can. For anyone who believes irreverence can be patriotic and sex can be just plain fun, Tijuana Bibles showcases American comic art at its untamed finest.

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Review:

When Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, and other Bay Area misfits first started producing "underground" comics in the '60s, they were considered to be highly innovative in their use of frank sexual themes. However, some 10 to 15 years before they commenced their explicit, often offensive cartoons, another genre of pornographic graphics was dying out, the so-called "Tijuana Bibles" (or sometimes "Cuban Bibles," "French Bibles," etc.). Simon & Schuster has released a collection of these antique obscenities that often featured famous political, show business, or cartoon figures having more fun than mainstream censors would have allowed. The introduction, by comic book apologist and New Yorker comics editor Art Spiegelman, is an amusing and sarcastic look at the history of this lost medium, with some interesting reflections on the genre, noting that "Though there are bound to be those who will loudly declaim that the Tijuana Bibles demean women, I think it important to note that they demean everyone ... it's what cartoons do best." While the reprinted comic strips are often amusing in being laughingly bad, the historical essays and asides by editor Bob Adelman provide fascinating historical context. A sociology of mid-century sexual mores and the love/hate relationship that Americans have with their celebrities is evinced by the combination of reprint and commentary.

About the Author:

Bob Adelman is an author, editor, teacher, book producer, and world-renowned photojournalist. His picture stories have frequently appeared in Life, the London Times Magazine, Stern, and the New York Times Magazine. In varying roles he has done more than forty books; the most recent are his Carver Country and Visions of Liberty. He vividly recalls his nervous excitement at first gaping at a Tijuana Bible. Nowadays he more maturely reads them for laughs and insights, but now and again their provocative powers become undeniable.

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