This nostalgic, somewhat loving study of the wonderful, wild and outrageous world of the all but forgotten erotic comics was conceived during the intensive research for the author's series on sex and censorship in the United States. These "eight pagers," as they were so often called, flourished for a brief, golden era in the 1930s and then quickly faded from the scene of American erotica. During the height of their popularity, the eight pagers were conceived in dark attics, published in dingy garages on unnamed alleys and distributed from the hip-pockets of vendors across the nation. Yet they accounted for a multimillion-dollar business in the tight economy of the Great Depression.
Small collections of eight pagers exist in various parts of the country today, and when the author began his study of American erotica some years ago it took almost two years to bring together what is perhaps the most complete representation of erotic comics in existence. As time went by, this became more of a challenge and a hobby than a true research program. For who in the world would be truly interested in this antique, out-of-date form of Americana? In the preparation of the third work in my series on censorship, Sex and Censorship in the Visual Arts, however, a sampling of the eight pagers was included as a representative form of erotic portrayal during the Depression years.
And when that two-volume study was published, letters began pouring in concerning the eight pagers. While this was pleasant, it was not particularly surprising. For a majority of us in the "middle generation," from thirty to sixty, were at one time or another exposed to the eight pager. And for a variety of reasons this often touches a tender spot in our memory. It takes us back to the days of our youth. The world was in a hell of a mess, but we were too young and carefree to be involved.
The world was smaller, both from the personal view and the standpoint of communication and transportation. We didn't live under the threat of The Bomb, and if anyone wanted to start a war, just let them, we'd lick them and teach them a lesson! The threat of annihilation was at the doorstep for many, not from The Bomb but from starvation and the economic impossibilities of the Depression.
Things were clear and less sophisticated in those days. There were heroes and villains, but the anti-hero was still in the future. The Establishment in and of itself was a hero in the thirties, and the villains were those who speculated their way to the top and then wrought disaster to millions as their paper empires collapsed around them.
But a change was in progress. Bankers and business magnates turned from heroes to villains overnight, and it quickly became apparent that the Establishment itself was responsible for the suffering of millions. The system that had made America great and powerful had almost destroyed it overnight, and that system had to be changed. But human beings never take to change readily. Change is often resisted, almost always traumatically and sometimes even violently. There are many reasons for this, but the prime consideration is a fear of the unknown.
Often in periods of change the public attitude is softened and prepared through humor. Comedians begin making fun of the evils and weaknesses in a society, and gradually the society begins to recognize these factors for what they are.
A part of this syndrome, yet opposed to the methods employed by the comedians, is the role of the satirist. He sits on the sidelines, or even behind the scenes, and takes vicious stabs at the very foundations of society. His task is to ridicule and no target is too sacred for his thrust. His tool is exaggeration, yet the basis for his satire is reality. His work is outrageous by nature, yet with the passage of time it generally becomes less outrageous and more accepted.
The eight pagers, and all erotic comics, were satire in every sense of the word. They were vicious jabs at the Establishment in a period when Al Capone and John Dillinger were heroes, when the FBI and Herbert Hoover were villains, when a bootlegger was a businessman and a police officer was looked upon as a collector of graft. This was, incidentally, the beginning of the disintegration of the Establishment and the seed for the anti-Establishment ethic we hear so much about today.
It would be incorrect, however, to say that the erotic comics were responsible for this movement and change in the social ethic. The eight pagers simply reflected the changing times in America. This is true of all forms of the visual arts, and particularly true in the case of erotic comics in relation to radically changing sexual behavior patterns, mores and morals.
In all, there were approximately seven hundred and twelve different eight-page erotic comics created, published and distributed in the United States during the thirties, forties and early fifties. This does not include the hundreds of slightly changed copies of the originals.
Amazing as it may seem, there were apparently only twelve artists involved in the creation of the vast majority of this work. And one artist, referred to as "Square Knob" and "Baby Face" by the experts, seems to be responsible for the almost incredible creation of better than one third of the existing eight pagers. Considering his volume, the author has named him "Mr. Prolific-King of the Comics" and the second volume in this series is dedicated entirely to the work of this artist.
Of the seven hundred and twelve known eight pagers, only some six hundred remain in existence today. The others have disappeared or are simply not available even to the most ardent researcher. Over a two-year period the author managed to collect in excess of five hundred of the existing eight-page comics. In order to present the vast majority of these, this study has been compiled in four volumes. The present book deals with the inception of the eight pager and the early years from 1930 through the golden era in the mid-thirties. Volume II, as I have mentioned, is devoted entirely to the amazing "Mr. Prolific-King of the Comics." Volume III introduces three incredible women who chose the 1939 World's Fair as a background for what were perhaps the best eight pagers ever produced, and takes us through an interesting but unsuccessful attempt to expand the erotic comics from eight to sixteen, twenty-four, and even thirty-two-page epics.
Many of the comics reproduced here for the first time are quite valuable on today's market, bringing as much as twenty-five dollars apiece from collectors. But even taken at their original sales price ranging from fifty cents to two dollars, the collection contained here would cost some four hundred and eighty-seven dollars!
Like many forms of Americana, the eight pager is on the verge of becoming extinct. A majority of the copies of the eight pagers which still exist are in such an abused or deteriorated state that they are virtually worthless. Good copies, especially those which can be reproduced, are very difficult to find, and each year less and less of them are available. Yet no objective, uncensored history of the United States during this period should omit the erotic comics that were so much a part of the American way of life. And certainly no history of erotica can overlook these important contributions to erotic portrayal.
This series, then, will serve as a permanent record of one particular art form .and one rather nostalgic passing era. These are the originals, not the copies. The art ranges from excellent to incredibly poor. The English is often illiterate and the non-sequiturs are delightful. The reader will correctly surmise that anyone with an ounce of talent could improve on these comics. In fact, it's been tried. But then they lose their flavor of delicious outrageousness. So these are reproduced here in their original form with no effort to improve, or even clean up, deterioration.
Not all of the eight pagers presented in this series are good, nor are they all bad. Many are repetitious, some are ridiculous and the majority are mediocre. But nestled among all the mediocrity are some true gems, classics which will make people laugh for as long as the human being retains his sense of humor.
And that, after all, was what the eight pager was all about-making people laugh. The themes are erotic, but in no way can an eight pager be looked upon as erotically stimulating. We deal here with the world of fantasy, fantasy based upon but far removed from reality. Represented here is the use of sex as a vehicle rather than an end unto itself, but that will be discussed later in the text. These comics are both satire and humor, a unique blending of fact and fantasy from an era gone by but not forgotten.
Donald H. Gilmore, Ph.D. January, 1971