One of the small pleasures of my teenage years was stumbling across the little religious tract comics created by Jack Chick. I still remember my first exposure to them, when I found one while waiting in a dentist's office as a child. I was too young to really understand the ham-fisted and simple story, but liked the crude art, and especially the cartoon Devils that were revealed at the end. I still remember having the six-year-old equivalent of a "WTF" moment. I didn't yet realize that there were pushy people in the world who believed some pretty weird stuff, and wanted others to believe that weird stuff, too.
However, a decade or so later, I'd encountered plenty of those folks — humorless adults who believed listening to rock music could condemn a person to hell, if he hadn't already reserved himself a hot spot in the Lake of Fire by playing Dungeons and Dragons, or watching horror films. It seemed like almost everything I enjoyed doing would put me on the express escalator to an eternity of torment by the Devil and his minions. It was during those years, as a teen in the '80s, that Jack Chick's comics re-entered my life. I'd find them tucked in copies of The Satanic Bible at bookstores, or get handed one by some blank-eyed zealot protesting outside a heavy metal concert.
But rather than get angry at the presumption that my soul needed saving, I'd eagerly accept those tracts, because I'd begun to collect them. They were so bad they were "good" in many cases — black and white morality tales so simple and often stupidly offensive that it was almost impossible not to crack a smile while thinking, "Do they actually believe this shit"?
I'm sure the folks distributing those things thought, "Hey, we're doing the "Lord's work," but outside of the characters in the comics themselves, I'm also sure that few if any people ever converted to fundamentalism because they read a Chick Tract. If anything, those comics were probably responsible for turning people off religion. In the spirit of a dangerous '80s-style "Satanic panic," let's look at a few of the more awfully entertaining Chick tracts.
6. Doom Town
This condemnation of homosexuality combines offensively bad art portraying gay stereotypes with a cheerful retelling of the Sodom and Gomorrah tale, tying everything together. There's even a terrible panel where gay protesters threaten to infect the nation's blood supply with AIDS, so it's pretty clear from the start that "Doom Town's" story isn't one of inclusiveness or tolerance. And the people who handed this tract out probably thought they were the good guys...
My personal favorite of the Chick collection, "Angels?" tells the story of a crappy Christian Rock band made less crappy when they sign with a new agent, named "Lew Siffer," who promises to get them laid and make them rich. Since it's obvious from the get-go that Lew is really the Devil, it's no surprise that fame comes with a steep price in "Angels," and that price is AIDS, overdoses and damnation. The beauty of this tract is that the story is probably pretty close to what some of the folks handing them out really thought rock music was all about. Now, I've been in quite a few bands, and I've yet to be asked to sign a contract in blood. I feel cheated somehow.
4. The Trick
Like Angels? is to rock music, "The Trick" is to Halloween. Meaning, in the Chick universe, it's a devil-filled holiday of black magic and blood sacrifice. Chick published quite a few different anti-Halloween tracts, and some of the others are pretty awesome too, but "The Trick" is in a terrible and unintentionally hilarious class of its own. For the record, how many times have we heard about a case of Satanic murders happening on Halloween where the story turned out to be true? Oh, that's right, pretty much never.
As far as I can tell from "Bewitched," this tract attempts to tie reruns of the old television show into a plot Satan hatches in his swanky office boardroom in Hell, and somehow that diabolic plan involves the sale of ouija boards, drugs and a One World Government. It also concerns a teenage hippie named Ashley and her praying grandmother. After Ashley has "a massive heart attack from an LSD flashback" and is on the verge of death, her grandma's prayers are answered when the girl accepts JC into her heart right before dying. And that's considered a happy ending by Jack Chick standards. Yay?
2. Dark Dungeons
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Of COURSE, there was a Chick tract about the dangers of D&D-style role-playing games. And basically, in the world view of Jack Chick, Dungeons and Dragons was just a personality-molding primer on the occult, preparing players to dive headfirst into a real Satanic coven. Before she knows it, young Debbie is casting mind-control spells on her father, and her friend Marcie kills herself after her game character dies. I must've missed the game sessions where we learned how to cast real spells; all my role-playing game buddies did was eat pizza and Cheetos. Chumps.
1. The Poor Little Witch
Mandy can't get her act straight, and no one at her school likes her, until she meets a friendly teacher named Mrs. White who takes an interest in her. Soon Mandy is learning black magic, cursing her enemies at school, hanging out with a demonic minion named "Bruth" and chilling with her new Satanist buddies at gatherings where they sacrifice babies. You know, typical awkward coming-of-age stuff. Once again, if this is what some religious people actually believe happens in real life, then that's far scarier to me than the imaginary Devils that Jack Chick seems to think are hanging around.