"This one is great!" Andy Moursund says as he pulls out another of his posters.
It's a cartoon that shows Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, each depicted as an octopus, fleeing in terror as a Japanese soldier slices off their legs with a sword.
"It's a Japanese sushi bar!" Moursund says, laughing.
Actually, it's a Japanese propaganda cartoon from World War II that Moursund has blown up into a poster. He makes a lot of posters these days. Using a computer, he scans them from his strange collection of antique oddities -- old ads, cartoons, postcards, book covers and lurid tabloid front pages -- and he sells them at the Georgetown Book Shop, his used-book emporium in downtown Bethesda.
Taken together, Moursund's bizarre posters constitute an alternative American history, an unofficial Museum of Stuff That's Way Too Weird for the Smithsonian.
He reaches down and pulls another poster out of a bin. At first glance, it looks like a beautiful full-color drawing of the Statue of Liberty. But at second glance, you notice that Lady Liberty is Chinese. And she's holding an opium pipe. And she's standing on a human skull. And the beams of light emanating from her head read "Filth" and "Immorality" and "Ruin to White Labor." It's an anti-immigration cartoon from an 1881 issue of the Wasp, the San Francisco literary magazine edited by Ambrose Bierce.
"I love these old immigration images," says Moursund, 59, "because they show that people used to say the same things about the old immigrant groups that they're saying now about the new immigrant groups."
The phone rings and Moursund answers it: "Georgetown Book Shop." He listens for a minute, then takes out a pen and writes something on the back of his left hand, which serves as his notebook and is already covered with phone numbers and messages. This is not unusual. His wife, Fallon, swears that the only time she's seen his left hand devoid of notes was their wedding day in 1990.
Moursund hangs up the phone and continues pulling his favorite posters out of the bins in the front of his store.
"Welcome to Greenville, Texas," says one. It's a blowup of a 1940s postcard that shows the main drag of scenic Greenville, where roadsters with running boards are parked under a welcome sign proclaiming the city's proud motto: The Blackest Land . . . The Whitest People."
"I BREAK STRIKES!" screams another poster. It's the cover of a 1935 book subtitled "The Techniques of Pearl L. Bergoff." Apparently, those techniques were pretty straightforward: A photo on the cover shows a goon whacking a striker with a baseball bat.
"HITLER IS RIGHT!" This poster is a blowup of the cover of a 1940 book that is, Moursund says, a 452-page rant against Jewish bankers, black rapists and the Treaty of Versailles.
"I Googled the author," Moursund says, smiling mischievously. "He published one other book, a picture book of Germany. It was published in 1949 -- in Buenos Aires." He bursts out laughing.
Moursund has an odd sense of humor -- "it's kind of a black humor," says his wife -- and it's reflected in his choice of images for the posters. They're all a tad off-kilter. This is kitsch with a twist. One poster is an ad for a 1934 Fourth of July picnic -- but it's a picnic sponsored by the Communist Party. Another poster is an ad for a 1939 "Pro-American Rally" in Madison Square Garden -- but it's sponsored by American Nazis. "Onward Christian Soldiers," says one poster -- but the name of that beloved old hymn is written atop a photo of a 1925 Ku Klux Klan march in Washington.
Moursund finds this weird stuff when he is out scouting for old books. Sometimes an image just cries out to become a poster.
"I just look at them and there's the Wow! factor," he says, smiling. "The real kick I get is to see people flip through these and say, 'What the hell?' That's the reaction I'm going for."
These posters aren't for everybody: You have to share Moursund's sense of humor to appreciate them. But between the bookstore and its Web site -- georgetownbookshop.com -- Moursund has sold nearly 5,000 posters, at $25 unframed or $40 framed.
Which raises the question: Who buys this stuff?
Teachers buy many of them for use their classrooms, which pleases Moursund. The rest go to folks who just take a fancy to an image.
"The first person who bought this," Moursund says, holding the Klan's "Christian Soldiers" poster, "was a black man who is the former president of Fisk University."
That's Walter Leonard, 74, retired after a distinguished career at Harvard and Fisk, and now living in Chevy Chase.
"Why did I buy it?" Leonard says. He laughs, then gets serious. "I have been a collector of art and historical memorabilia, particularly memorabilia that depicts both sides of American life -- its promise and its reality. Often the promise and the reality get confused. We have to see to it that the reality is placed before America like a mirror."
Is the poster hanging in his house?
"Not yet," he says. But he plans to hang it in his library or maybe his sitting room, someplace where his wife won't encounter it too often. "In the interests of domestic tranquillity," he explains, "I try to keep these things out of my wife's way."
Back in the bookstore, Moursund pulls out another poster. It's a photo of a rundown storefront in a nondescript brick building. The sign above the door reads: "Helen's Place New & Used Clothing for Men, Women, Children and Transvestite."
"I took that picture in Knoxville," he says. "It was the spring of 1975."
That was particularly odd period in Moursund's odd life. In those days, he and a girlfriend earned their living traveling to campuses across America, showing campy old TV programs, complete with the original advertisements, to inebriated college kids at midnight screenings. The show ended with the Mickey Mouse Club singing, "Now it's time to say goodbye," then a quick cut to Richard Nixon saying, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." In the Watergate era, that clever juxtaposition frequently inspired patrons to throw beer bottles at the screen.
"At midnight shows in the '70s, you just assumed that everybody was drunk or stoned or both," he says. "We sometimes spent hours cleaning up the beer bottles."
The son of a Norwegian immigrant, Moursund grew up in Washington and graduated from Wilson High School in 1962. He studied at Duke University but dropped out for a year to work as a SNCC volunteer in the civil rights movement. On July 12, 1963, Moursund's picture appeared on the front page of the New York Times -- he was shown lying on a sidewalk in Cambridge, Md., after being beaten by white bigots for trying to desegregate a restaurant called the Dizzyland.
"They kicked the hell out of us and dumped us on the sidewalk," he recalls.
After he finally graduated in 1967, Moursund drove a cab in Washington, then worked as an assistant to maverick journalist I.F. Stone, all the while spending his nights pursuing his life's great passion -- pool hustling.
In 1979 he began working as a used-book buyer for a local store. In 1984, he founded his own bookshop, first in Georgetown, then in Bethesda. Two years ago he started making and selling his posters.
Smiling, Moursund pulls out the first poster he ever made. It's the cover of a communist children's book, "Teachings of Marx for Girls and Boys," with photos of Marx, Lenin and Stalin. It was published in the '30s, he says, by an Episcopal bishop from Kansas who became a communist nicknamed the Red Bishop.
Moursund finds the cover hilarious. "There's something so sublime about that," he says, laughing.
The message of his posters, he says, is that American history is far more varied than most people realize. "The more you see, the more you realize how complex America is," he says. Then he smiles. "Of course, sometimes the complexity is just the average of the nuts on both sides."
He pulls out another poster. It's the cover of a magazine called Japan Times Weekly with a photo of Japanese fighter planes zooming through the clouds. The date is Dec. 18, 1941.
"That's about a week after Pearl Harbor," Moursund says. "And I love the understated headline."
The headline, printed in small, subdued type, is this: "Weak Links in American Navy."
"It's great!" Moursund says, then he bursts out laughing.