The Moviegoer, Walker Percy’s first and most widely acclaimed novel, was published 50 years ago, in 1961. In addition to the various references to movies and movie stars scattered throughout the book, there is a curious reference to a pornographic cartoon called “Tillie and Mac.” It’s one of those references the reader can pass over without too much consideration, but I was curious about whether there was a literal source and so did a bit of Googling.
Come to find out, there is in fact a source for the reference. First of all, there was the newspaper comic strip, Tillie the Toiler, which ran from 1921 to 1959, and which Percy was probably aware of as he worked on The Moviegoer in the late ’50s. More interestingly, and more to the point for the reference in The Moviegoer, there were also pornographic riffs on the comic strip which appeared in the form of “Tijuana bible” mini-comic books. Tijuana bibles, according to an article in Wikipedia, depicted “explicit sexual escapades usually featuring well known cartoon characters, political figures, or movie stars, invariably used without permission.”
In Percy’s novel, the pornographic “Tillie and Mac” characters are initially mentioned by Kate, protagonist Binx Bolling’s troubled beloved. Later, they figure in one of Binx’s interior monologues addressed to movie actor Rory Calhoun:
What a sickness it is, Rory, this latter-day post-Christian sex. To be pagan it would be one thing, an easement taken easily in a rosy old pagan world; to be Christian it would be another thing, fornication forbidden and not even to be thought of in the new life, and I can see that it need not be thought of if there were such a life. But to be neither pagan nor Christian but this: oh this is a sickness, Rory. For it to be longed after and dreamed of the first twenty years of one’s life, not practiced but not quite prohibited; simply longed after, longed after as a fruit not really forbidden but mock-forbidden and therefore secretly prized, prized first last and always by the cult of the naughty nice wherein everyone is nicer than Christians and naughtier than pagans, wherein there are dreamed not one but two American dreams: of Ozzie and Harriet, nicer-than-Christian folks, and of Tillie and Mac and belly to back.
Cross reference this with Percy’s later musings on porn — Sutter’s use of it in The Last Gentleman, the vaginal console in Love in the Ruins, the surveillance footage in Lancelot, the unmentionable things described in The Thanatos Syndrome, the “Promiscuous Self” section of Lost in the Cosmos — cross reference all of that with Matthew Lickona’s ongoing “Today in Porn” series and you’ve got yourself a timely (or timeless) topic for your Percy conference paper.