Tijuana Bibles

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Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

A friend of mine who is a purveyor of gourmet vinyl slipped me under the counter some primo examples of an even more moribund and obscure medium: the Tijuana Bible. For those who do not know, these holy relics of the Western world’s twin religions of pornography and cartoons are “clandestinely produced and distributed small booklets that chronicled the explicit sexual adventures of America’s beloved comic-strip characters, celebrities, and folk heroes. The standard format consisted of eight poorly printed 4″-wide by 3″-high black (or blue) and white pages with one panel per page and covers on a heavier colored stock. There were occasional deviant sizes and formats, most notably a number of especially rare epic-length sixteen-page and even thirty-two-page pamphlets.” Although the heyday of the Bibles was the Great Depression and they were produced and distributed within the United States, not Mexico, it seems right to me to fantasize that these crudely produced booklets were passed around the Bounty Bar by ex-GI’s bored with their more scholarly pursuits. Or even better, read by good ole boys liquored up on corn hooch while lounging on moonlit porches in South Texas.  

That is to say, Tijuana Bibles strike me as quintessentially Burroughsian. I am reminded of what remains for me the most important words Burroughs ever wrote: “That’s the sex that passes the censor, squeezes through between the bureaus, because there is always a space between, in popular songs and Grade B movies, given away the basic American rottenness, spurting out like breaking boils, throwing out gobs of that un-D.T. to fall anywhere and grow into some degenerate cancerous life-form, reproducing a hideous random image.” The typical eight-pager is a form of the Burroughsian routine. The Moon Mullins-Popeye comic produced below captures the anarchy and violence of A.J.’s Annual Party. What is the Talking Asshole routine but a scatological and pornographic sermon? A subject worthy of the malignant Mr. Dyslexic — yes, the authors of these Bibles are also largely unknown — if he took on the role of fire and brimstone preacher.  

From the fringes of print culture grew Burroughs’ underground comix adaptations like those of Malcolm Mc Neill. S. Clay Wilson and Robert Crumb both attended church so to speak. Tijuana Bibles would disappear by the late-1950s at precisely the time men’s magazines and mimeo publications exploded. Magazines such as Nugget, Playboy and Rogue as well as C: A Journal of Poetry and Fuck You, a magazine of the arts, all owe a debt to these earlier alternative, underground publications.

The Bibles provided here run the gamut from the typical to the unusual. Popeye and Mae West were two stock figures of the medium. Popeye approaches the status of a smutty saint given his promiscuous ubiquity. Both are represented below; West alongside Lou Gehrig. Although cartoon characters (Moon Mullins, Dick Tracy, and Donald Duck), Hollywood stars (Clara Bow, Rita Hayworth, Greta Garbo) and Depression-era public enemies No. 1 (Bonnie Parker, John Dillinger) were commonplace, baseball players were not regularly featured. That said the West-Gehrig fuckfest has become an infamous scene in the Tijuana canon.  

Burroughs’ work is infused with the popular and underground culture of the pre-WWII era. Tijuana Bibles are a perfect example of the intermingling of those two cultures. Take a peek.

Tijuana Bibles

Joe Dimaggio Tijuana Bible

Joe Dimaggio Tijuana Bible


Lou Gehrig Tijuana Bible

Lou Gehrig Tijuana Bible
Download complete bible


Moon Mullins and Popeye Tijuana Bible

Moon Mullins and Popeye Tijuana Bible
Download complete bible


Smilin Jack Tijuana Bible

Smilin’ Jack Tijuana Bible


Wash Tubbs and Easy Tijuana Bible

Wash Tubbs and Easy Tijuana Bible
Download complete bible


Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 18 October 2014.

3 thoughts on “Tijuana Bibles

  1. Nice one, Jed. I like to think there is an influence in Time and in the My Own Mag version of Dutch Schultz from the porno Soho Typescripts which had the same typed and mimeo’d look and often with cheap black/white photos glued in.
    But I doubt it… the look comes from the technology trying to achieve a higher quality and the design is a direct magazine format copy.
    I wish I could see the images here but the site or my ISP can’t seem to redirect me to the Images in B-Bunker.

  2. A wee typo here:

    …in popular songs and Grade B movies, given away the basic American rottenness, …

    Should be:

    “That’s the sex that passes the censor, squeezes through between the bureaus, because there is always a space between, in popular songs and Grade B movies, giving away the basic American rottenness…”

  3. Gary: I just read your interview from way, way back and posted a comment about Burroughs and his drug experiments…. can you get in touch with me about this, please? I have a publication coming out soon and what you have to say means I’ll probably have to re-write a chapter !!
    Jim
    you can contact me via
    http://www.aloesbooks.co.uk

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