Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I picked up three "Tijuana Bibles" (8-page erotic comics from the 1930s-1950s) at a flea market recently and I thought my process of researching them was worth documenting.
Tijuana Bibles were illegal to sell in most states, there's no publication information or artist signatures in the booklets, and they were widely pirated and reprinted. So dating them is a bit of an art form.
TBs were distributed more like drugs than like paperbacks. To buy them you had to know a guy who had a connection. We he needed a restock, he had to contact his source and usually drive to pick up new stock personally (since sending "obscene" materials through the mails and across state lines was--and sometimes IS--a serious offense). The source usually had one or two in-house artists who drew the material (generally parodies of movie stars, comic characters or headline makers) or else would shamelessly reprint TBs acquired from another source.
Knowing this I looked at my three newly acquired TBs. All are bound in the same manner--a one-piece folded cover with a single staple in the middle; are on similar paper stock; and show the same level of age toning, so they're all likely from the same source/publisher from around the same time. They're also likely first printings or from the original art. I determined this by the vivid, high contrast reproduction. Later printings can appear faded or difficult to read because of detail loss (which has sometimes been filled-in or redrawn by a second, less-skilled hand).
Two of the bibles are generic gags and feature unrecognizable characters but the third is a parody of the Casey Ruggles strip by Warren Tufts with started in 1949 and ran until 1955. So we can safely put the bibles somewhere in the 1950-52 range (TB publishers were quick to find new material to parody so I'm putting these in the early years of the Casey Ruggles strip's run). Were the Ruggles bible not part of the lot, I might attempt to date these by the gag contents...or the folk popularity of French hair dressers and cunnilingus, but that would be trickier.
Lastly I believe all of the bibles were drawn by the same unknown artist. This is due to the identical cross-hatching/shading technique in each of the bibles, the similarity of the figures and the joke contents (which all seem fairly progressive for the medium--showing a woman coming out on top--and are actually funny and well-told).
Here are the bibles in question (NOT WORK SAFE repeat NOT WORK SAFE): Andrie's Beauty Shoppee, These High City Prices, Casey Ruggles
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