Our sexuality as humans has a struggling history when we attempt to integrate into our “developed” culture. Pornography, derived from the Greek words for “harlot” and “image” has had an even more difficult journey through time. I’ve read “The Other Hollywood” by Legs McNeil. That historical piece documents some light-hearted and some horrific events in the development of the adult industry throughout the 60s/70s/80s. Films such as “Naked Ambition” and “After Porn Ends” try to capture the human side of the business, showing people behind the scenes when they aren’t performing on film. What I’m trying to say is that there is an entire universe in adult entertainment. I’ve not spent much time looking through everything, but I am more than aware that there is a lot to be investigated should you choose to take this up as a learning project.

 

What caught my eye when I first saw “The Tijuana Bibles” sitting on the shelf at Fantagraphics Books in Seattle was how much content the small coffee table book held. This hard cover, revolting-looking yet funny book was heavy when I first picked it up. That’s the perfect word for The Tijuana Bibles too…heavy. This collection of newspaper-style, 8-panel pornographic parody clips restored from their original 1920s and 1930s publications evoked every reaction except for sexual excitement when I read it. This stuff hits you right in the childhood with explicit situations involving Winston Churchill, Dagwood, Little Orphan Annie, Flash Gordon, and Popeye the Sailor Man. That’s just a TINY fraction of what happens. In here sleeps hundreds of pages of scenarios and nasty images that will render you unable to read the Sunday Funnies without feeling wrong. It is so hard to believe that these came from the 20s and 30s. The sexual encounters that these characters get involved in are unfathomable when you think of the social norms that we are told of in those days.

 

Iconoclastic sexual situations aside, the introduction by contributing writer RC Harvey pitches an intriguing argument on how pornography should be viewed with less scrutiny on a cultural level. Of course, Harvey teaches us on the history of these “eight-pagers” as they were popularly referred to, but he also delves into the subconscious relief behind the hilarity and fantasy that these pages provided to their readers. In particular, it stands out to me when he states:

 

“Laughter breeds acceptance. Few human enterprises are as fraught with tension as a sexual encounter, and while laughing during sex is usually counterproductive, laughter about sex is relaxing: it relieves us from the strain of pretense that we are immune from the imperfections that undermine performance in bed, or, alternately that we are somehow above the fray, unconcerned because we are uninterested in sex or sexual performance.”

 

Another element that makes this collection unique is the overall portrayal of the way men and women are sketched out. The men typically take a “cartoony” element to their rendering. Big goofy noses, potbellies, ridiculously pronounced chins and one-take/disproportionately large or small…um…members. The women, however, are drawn precisely. More realistically and less cartoony in the faces, of course often maintaining a physical form that’s as anatomically absurd as a Barbie doll. Not all of the strips are drawn in this fashion, but most of them are. In this sense, many of us who read it will still view it as something comical. For others, and for its time, this may have been what turned it into more of an erotic experience. Again, I highly doubt that this will get your gourd going since we’re living in an age of sexually suggestive, airbrushed product marketing and commonplace borderline pornography. It’s just interesting when you look at the place and time that these came from.

 

So when was the first time that you saw a dirty magazine? Did someone show it to you in school? Did you find some Playboys in a shoebox in your dad’s closet? Or are you young enough that you accidentally stumbled across something on the internet? Well, The Tijuana Bibles are no Playboy Magazine. This isn’t your dad’s porn, this isn’t your grand pappy’s porn. This is some no-boundary, no holds-barred collection of your favorite figures in cartoon/comic/political history doing things that you never thought possible with their you-know-whats. Not for the faint of heart.

 

 

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Ando Ehlers | 
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