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SEPTEMBER 22, 1997:  TIJUANA BIBLES: When Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton and other Bay Area misfits first started producing "underground" comics in the '60s, they were taken as highly innovative in their use of frank sexual themes. However, some 10 to 15 years before their explicit, often offensive cartoons, another genre of pornographics was dying out. From the early '30s through the mid-'50s (until conservative values and enforced innocence made them too difficult and unprofitable), tiny "Tijuana Bibles," roughly the size and shape of hipster-favored Jack Chick religious pamphlets, were sold in schoolyards, back lots and other locales fabled for sleazy commerce.

These comic books were not political or personal or revelatory in the way of the later Undergrounds; they were just your basic stroke books. But there's something oddly humorous about them that makes them worth a look today. Usually, famous political, show-business or comic-strip characters were depicted in flagrante delicto, and if a mid-century American wanted to see Alger Hiss or Little Abner getting his rocks off, the Tijuana Bibles were the only place to go.

Simon & Schuster has released a collection of these antique obscenities, showing them in all their diversity. While most of the writing in these strips is at the level of William Faulkner's drunken screenplays ("Rita come appon this seene and deciedes she must have some of this lovely prick"), some exhibit a political sensibility well-tuned to the mid-century world's threat of totalitarianism--though we're hardly suggesting anyone read these things for ethico-political content. They also have a tendency to fail miserably in the art, with images that make Cathy Guisewiete look, well, not competent, but....

While only a few of the strips are well drawn (some by the artist who later went on to illustrate the "Bazooka Joe" comics wrapped around bubblegum), there's nonetheless something oddly enjoyable about seeing a grade-school level drawing of Mickey getting boned up the butt by Donald, who says "I'm going to put a duck egg in ye!"

The introduction, by comic book apologist and New Yorker comics editor Art Speigelman, is an amusing and sarcastic look at the history of this lost medium, with some interesting reflections on the genre, noting that, "Though there are bound to be those who will loudly declaim that the Tijuana Bibles demean women, I think it important to note that they demean everyone...it's what cartoons do best."


SCALAPINO READS: The UA Poetry Center has the best program going for those who enjoy their written words prodded into action by the voices of the authors themselves. The Center kicks off its fall reading series at 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 24, with visiting author Leslie Scalapino (The Front Matter, Dead Souls, Green and Black: Selected Writings, and The Return of Painting, The Pearl, and Orion/A Trilogy). The NEA Fellow and American Book Award-winner is considered one of the most accomplished, innovative writers in America. The free reading meets in the UA Modern Languages Building auditorium, and will consist of recent works of poetry and prose. An informal reception follows. Call 621-7760 for information.


GREAT RECEPTION: Regular Weekly contributor and pop-culture editor for Amazon.com, James DiGiovanna, can now be heard every other Thursday at 3 a.m. on Sydney-based ABC radio. (That's Australian Broadcast Company, world travelers.) That is, he can be heard if you happen to be in Australia. Electromagnetic waves being what they are on this inflexible planet, you can't tune in from the Old Pueblo. But we hear his debut interview on the September 11 Lisa Hampshire Show went over big, covering the important cultural leitmotifs of Princess Di's decomposition, electronic pets, Arizona's UFO-chic, and the marketing complexities of merchandising Disney's impending Anastasia (such as the severed finger of Czar Nicholas). We anxiously await the taped version of the program, coming soon (give it a month or so) to local Radio Limbo, 103.3-FM.


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