Eight Pager Comics or Tijuana Bibles
Eight-pager comics, also known as Tijuana bibles, bluesies, jo-jo books, gray-backs, and two-by-fours, were pornographic comic books that were very popular in the United States during the 1930’s. Most men on that generation were exposed to eight-pager comics at one time or another. Created as 8-panel comic strips in a wallet size 3 by 4 inch format, printed on heavy colored stock, and running eight pages long, the subjects ranged from well-known comic strip characters, popular movie stars, to prominent political figures and often contained ethnic stereotypes.
Tijuana Bible Origins
The Tijuana Bible name came from fictitious Mexican addresses often given as the place of publication although it is not clear where they were created. Many felt they were created in the back rooms of New York city comic book stores. Some believed they were created and distributed by the Mob and there seems to be some evidence that this may be true. Will Eisner (creator of the masked crime fighter, Spirit), was working in a New York City printing shop where he recalls being solicited to draw Tijuana Bibles for $3.00 per page. He noted that the man soliciting his services was straight out of the Mob and exclaimed exclusive distribution rights for all of Brooklyn. Eisner politely turned down the offer.
Eight pagers could be purchased in cigar stores, barber shops, or burlesque houses and were shared at schools, back-room card games, as well as on the battleground during wars. Buying one would set you back 50 cents to five bucks depending on the quality and content. These million dollar businesses ran during the height of the Great Depression.
What were Eight-Pagers?
Most Tijuana Bibles were obscene parodies of popular newspaper comic strips of the day and chronicled their explicit sexual adventures. Some featured the sexual escapades of popular film stars such as Laurel and Hardy, Mae West, The Marx Brothers, and Clark Gable and influenced the “Hollywood Babylon” aura that was perpetuated during the 1930’s. Others focused on world leaders such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin.
They were illegal at the time and authorities often seized shipments before they could be distributed. In November 1942, New York City Police and the FBI raided a eight-pager warehouse in the South Bronx. They reportedly seized 8 million Tijuana Bibles and learned that 7 tons of material had already gone out the door and were sitting at regional distribution centers in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. At the 1939 World’s Fair, employees sold the pornographic booklets under the counter at some of the rides. They were tailed by the police to a Brooklyn Navy Yard where 350,000 copies and several printing plates were confiscated. Still, they retained their popularity.
Who wrote them?
The Tijuana Bible artists typically authored their work anonymously or used fictitious pen names such as Mr. Prolific (who experts believe may have created up to 30% of the existing Eight-Pagers), Mr. Dyslexic, Blackjack, Square Knob, and Artist No. 4. Some, such as Wesley Morse, author of the Bazooka Joe series of comics, went on the create legitimate work. Many simply retold popular “dirty jokes” that were making the rounds in popular culture. Often they were redrawn and copied for decades with the later copies being nearly illegible.
Authors attempted to expand eight-pagers from eight to sixteen, twenty four, and even thirty two page epics but with the decline of censorship in the 1950’s, and the emergence of legitimate magazines such as Playboy in 1955, the popularity of eight-pagers quickly declined.