More Historical Notes on Tijuana Bibles & Early Gay Comics
WARNING: The following content, though non-explicit, may be offensive to some.
Proceed with Caution.
Time once again to dig into the SpiderBaby Archives—specifically, the SpiderBaby Adult Comix Archives! Hey, as co-creator/editor/publisher/co-publisher of Taboo, you know my tastes were and are wide, deep, and adventurous.
And if you don’t by now—well, wake up!
While my preferences usually tend to the horrific, today I’m going to follow up on
- the popular “Myrant Blue: Panting Panels & Adult Antics: Vintage Comics Not For Kids” (May 25th post; click this link to visit/revisit)
- and the more recent June 4th “Smokers” post,
starting with the latter. Anthony Smith, longtime friend and best-known in discerning sf & comics circles as the author of the excellent sf comic series Alien Fire (1987, 1995), has been a book and art dealer for at least as long as I’ve known him (he doesn’t have an online store, but you can email Anthony directly at email@example.com to get on his mailing list; please note, Anthony does not offer or specialize in erotica; illustrated books, genre gems, and original comic and illustration art is his turf).
In the context of my original “Myrant Blue” post, Anthony offered us a peek at some unique tijuana bible art in his personal collection. Recapping:
“I’ve known of smokers since I was a kid though never had the pleasure of attending one. Typically, club or industry parties, all male, with a sexual slant, lots of food, drink, cigars, 8mm pornos, and party favors like 8-pagers. Like you I have found Tijuana Bibles reeking of smoke to be not-that-uncommon.
Attached a few files from my labyrinth of vintage oddities: original art created for a movie industry smoker circa late 30s — told but no evidence done in Dallas to promote Gone With The Wind to all the movie theatre owners, distributors, et al.
The art is on thin board and mirror reversed so when it was projected with an overhead projector it would read correctly. On the verso of the art glued to the board are actual hardcore French postcards. Oooh, mama!
Though my gathering is incomplete — was to begin with & from time to time I sell one or two — originally the strip parodies formed an actual sequence. Wish I had gotten them all to begin with if only to document.”
With Anthony‘s kind permission, I posted some of those “smoker” original cartoons. He subsequently sent me a few more, including a complete six-panel tijuana-bible-style sequential narrative so explicit I can only share a few panels of it with you.
As before, in all cases, the original art looked like this—in that, they were drawn and lettered in reverse:
For our purposes, I’ve flipped them all for ease of reading, showing the art in the manner it was meant to be projected, as a slide, on the big screen:
The complete six-panel tijuana bible narrative Anthony sent arrived entitled Dumb Dora—spinning off Chic Young‘s comic strip (1924-1935)—and it’s pretty typical tijuana bible material. I can only show you the first two panels complete, and trimmed-to-remove-erections third and fourth panels (I know, what a cheat & tease, but I do try to keep Myrant non-explicit and essentially PG-13 rated, for the most part):
Thanks again, Anthony! This is an aspect of tijuana bible history new to me, but once you sent it, it seemed an obvious extension of both the movie-slides form and tijuana bibles.
I also mentioned in the May “Myrant Blue” post there were gay-themed tijuana bibles, and a few folks contacted me directly about that.
Well, here you go: yes, there were gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transexual tijuana bibles, though as you might imagine, they were hardly offering progressive or “enlightened” content.
Lesbian tijuana bibles were few and far between, and weren’t really lesbian comics at all. However explicit the heat, they almost always served their presumed-straight target audience.
Note the “muff” joke. Ha. Ha. That’s as far as Jeanie and Doris go before they’re interrupted by Jeanie‘s boyfriend Streaky, who shows up indignant (“Say! What goes on here! Shame on you!”) and insisting on action—at which point it becomes a threesome, wearing out poor ol’ Streaky (“You girls will be the death of me!”).
Also consider How One Wife Made It Pay:
But there were exceptions to this formula. There were, of course, explicit Wonder Woman tijuana bibles:
For more on the above, see the definitive Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s by Bob Adelman (1997, Simon & Schuster Editions), from which the above images were scanned.
I’ve got a few tijuanas in the SpiderBaby Archives with lesbian action, prominent among them the Ella Cinders entry Running Wild (artist/year unknown). This was another tijuana takeoff of a comicstrip, namely Bill Conselman and Charles Plumb‘s long-lasting Ella Cinders (1925-1961):
Typical of the lesbian-action tijuana bibles, the woman-on-woman activity is derailed by the intrusion of a man, instantly shifting gears into two-gals-one-guy sex. In tijuana bibles, lesbian activity was most often considered foreplay, or a fall-back position (pun intended), when there just wasn’t a man around.
As promised, a bit more on the pre-1980s Gay Comix gay comix artifacts in the SpiderBaby Archives:
There were also male gay-themed tijuana bibles, as I mentioned. I’ve excavated a few to share today.
The most coveted and collectible, of course, feature Batman and Robin. I still wonder why Dr. Wertham never even mentioned the existence of these; he must have known they were in circulation.
- Since the publication of my recent book Teen Angels & New Mutants: Rick Veitch’s Brat Pack® and the Art, Karma, and Commerce of Killing Sidekicks (2011, Black Coat Press),
I have tracked down and purchased a number of vintage tijuana bibles featuring graphic gay sex between Batman and Robin.
These include Little Anna Mae in Comic Land, in which Anna Mae spied Batman and Robin having sex (Batman said, as Robin fellated him, “I wish the artist of this comic would create a Batgirl so we wouldn’t have to do this”), and Batman in It’s A Crime (sample page below), a late bible (post-1961?) in which Batgirl interrupted and joined Batman and Robin going at it—and the Joker interrupted the threesome’s climax!
I hasten to add that Robin wasn’t always shown engaged in (or victimized by, depending on the tijuana bible in hand) gay sex with Batman. Consider Kathy (Batwoman) Kane in “The Boy Wonder,” in which Robin savored explicit straight sex with Batwoman. Robin is, in fact, openly admired and desired by a woman (Batwoman) in this particular bible, which is highly unusual for both mainstream and tijuana bible comics of the era:
Note: I have cropped these two pages (above and below) to excise the sexually explicit portions of the images.
FYI, Anna Mae in Comic Land and Kathy (Batwoman) Kane in “The Boy Wonder” were reprinted complete in The Tijuana Bibles: America’s Forgotten Comic Strips, edited by Michael Dowers (2008, Eros Comix/Fantagraphics Books, Inc.), pp. 243–247, 253–269; I highly recommend the Dowers book.
Other than the superhero bibles, most male gay sex in the tijuana bibles I’ve found or seen reprinted involved movie stars—specifically, those male stars whose good looks, dapper manner, and/or gossip mills prompted speculation over their bisexuality or homosexuality.
One artist in particular drew a lot of these movie star tijuana bibles, whose name remains unknown. Here’s a trio of his/her covers:
Not surprisingly, this artist took on the Cary Grant rumor mill in one infamous bible:
Actually, the Cary Grant bible refuted rumors of his sexuality with boisterous straight sex. This particular artist saved his/her most explicit gay stereotypes and antics for Warner Bros. contract star James Cagney:
Cagney and Pat O’Brien are shown going at it; the gay blade action swings into a threesome when William Powell shows up:
One infamous political celebrity tijuana bible that has eluded me, but is reprinted in its entirety in Adelman‘s excellent Tijuana Bibles volume (cited above), exploits the notorious Chamber/Hiss scandal, depicting Alger Hiss engaged in gay sex with Whittaker Chambers, and a subsequent sexual encounter between Hiss and a woman prompted Chambers to betray his lover (a “Hissy fit”?). Chambers had “outed” Hiss as a Communist before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and subsequently testified against State Department official Hiss in two trials (1948-50) that culminated in Hiss being convicted of perjury and espionage. Chambers admitted to being both a homosexual and a Communist during the 1930s, claiming to have given up both in 1938 when he embraced Christianity.
Thus, it’s fair to guess that the Hiss/Chambers tijuana bible most likely dated from 1949 or afterward, reflecting both the anti-Communist hysteria and homophobia of that era.
The Chambers/Hiss tijuana bible was entitled Chambers and Hiss in Betrayed, and it was reprinted complete in Adelman‘s Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies, 1930s–1950s, pg. 125 (excerpted, below; these are the only two non-explicit images).
Art Spiegelman cited this infamous bible in his introduction to Adelman‘s book. Crediting the anonymous artwork to “one of the post-World War II artists (from the decadent later period of the genre) ‘Mr. Dyslexic’…,” Spiegelman noted, “His virulent, know-nothing anti-Communism, and his visualization of rumors about Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss‘s homosexual affair are significant primary sources for understanding America’s zeitgeist at mid-century…” (see page 7–8 of the book’s introduction).
Finally, this tijuana bible riffing on Carl Ed‘s popular newspaper comicstrip Harold Teen (1919-1959)—originally titled The Love Life of Harold Teen, and thus a constant tijuana bible wellspring—proposed gay sex as a way to earn quick money for straight sex. This was a form of teen male self-prostitution that may have been more prevalent during the Depression than folks care to contemplate.
I’ve again had to trim key panels for online use, but you’ll get the idea. This bible also sports a bit of ethnic stereotyping and—surprise!—three-color printing. The trim is off on the copy in my archives, but this is the best scan I could manage:
…and after the explicit fellatio/sodomy panels between Harold and Nick, the pay-off:
Harold complains in the final panel, making love with his sweetie on the couch, “Yeah! My poor hump is so busted from working so hard—and how!” It’s a work-a-day world in the tijuana bible universe.
Gay comics for gay readers were another subterranean market altogether.
Commenting on my May 25th Myrant post, former CCS Schulz Library librarian and current Visiting Curator at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University, the amazing Caitlin McGurk, brought our attention to the pioneer work of “Blade” in the 1940s. Caitlin wrote, “I mentioned this guy Neel Bate to you, who wrote under the name “Blade”. He was circulating his gay comic called The Barn as early as 1948! Just dug up a site with more info on him AND some of the drawings, if you’re interested… Click over to the “biography” tab for more of the history on him.”
- Here’s the link Caitlin provided, to The Leslie-Lohman Museum,
- here’s their page on Neel Bate aka “Blade” aka Carlyle Kneeland Bate, or Carl Neeland (November 29, 1916-June 27, 1989),
- Jim Eigo‘s September 27, 2004 interview with four men who knew Neel Bate—Charles Leslie, Fritz Lohman, Charles Vozzi, and Robert W. Richards—from The Archive #14 (Autumn 2005),
- and the same issue’s archived article, “To Do It Well is Like Compulsion”: The Art and Life of Blade (Neel Bate),” also by Jim Eigo.
Bate/Blade was Canada-born; Neel‘s family settled in the rural Seattle area shortly after, and his earliest comics creations began circulating in the 1940s, some time after his move to Hollywood in 1936.
I can’t show much of his work for two reasons: (a) I don’t have any original printings in the collection; (b) the few reprints I have are too explicit in their imagery to share here at Myrant; and (c) I still don’t know much about this cartoonist or his body of work. The Leslie-Lohman Museum offers a great introduction to this artist and his work, and the largest single collection of his art (“…the largest collection of work by the artist Neel Bate known to exist anywhere. It numbers 244 drawings and paintings…”). They offer one reprint collection of his comics and art, The Barn 1948 and More Dirty Pictures (1980, Stompers and the Leslie/Lohman Gallery), which you can order for $15 plus shipping (“plus $5 S/H (unless otherwise noted) to LLM, 26 Wooster Street, New York, NY 10013.We do NOT accept credit cards. Please pay by cash, check or money order. Make checks payable to LLM.”).
What I have seen, while beautifully drawn, isn’t really narrative in nature—I’ve never seen a sequential comic narrative by Blade, just single pencil portraits of aroused men accompanied by a block of text on the facing page. Was that his singular format? I don’t know. I’d welcome further info/links from those in the know.
Blade, “Glory Story,” circa 1948; this is only the top half of this particular Blade illustration, I had to crop it for this post. The facing page text is a lengthy bit of verse.
Along with Tom of Finland, in terms of gay comics, it seems like “A. Jay” still holds a key place of honor.
“A. Jay” was the nom de plume of Allen J. Shapiro, art editor of the gay leather magazine Drummer, who also put his cartooning skills to work creating posters, ads, and illustration work for Bay area bathhouses in the 1960s and 1970s.
A few folks emailed to ask if there’s a “best” collection of the Harry Chess comix. The first was The Uncensored Adventures of Harry Chess 0068 7/8: That Man from A.U.N.T.I.E. (1966; again, if anyone has a copy they’re willing to sell or part with, it would be a great addition to the CCS Schulz Library), which I’ve seen ads for in vintage straight men’s magazines, but never found.
The one I tracked down and saved for the Archives is Freaky Funnies Presents A. Jay’s Harry Chess Volume 1 (1980, Le Salon Graphics, San Francisco; cover art below slightly trimmed for online posting); highest recommendation, and here’s why:
The inside cover introduction makes it clear this was a fully authorized collection, shot from the original art. This is the one to track down, if you’re interested:
“A. Jay“‘s cartooning had evolved considerably with the later adventures of Harry Chess. Compare this first page from a 1966 installment with a sampler of some of the less explicit panels from the 1970s strips:
Above: Harry Chess, a page from one of the earliest episodes, circa 1966; scanned from Tiger No. 2 (1966, DSI Sales, Minneapolis, Minnesota), but originally published in Drum. Below: strips from “The Official, Authorized, Unexpurgated Version of Harry Chess and His Adventures (Volume 1),” from the continuity entitled “The Drums of Bang Kock Wong!,” circa the 1970s.
I also mentioned the Meatmen reprint collections, which it turned out I do have a single copy of in the collection—namely, Meatmen: An Anthology of Gay Male Comics, Volume 1 (1986, G.S. Press/Leyland Publications)—which I’d stored in the long white boxes with my friend Howard Cruse‘s comix. It goes onto the book shelves now.
More on that collection next week—and for the rest of this week, we’ll shift gears completely.
See you on Wednesday with something appropriate for everyone…
All artwork ©respective creators their year of original publication and ©2012 their respective creators, all rights reserved; images are posted for archival and educational purposes only, and in some cases excerpted/censored for online use, as noted. I apologize for taking this precaution.