Chick Tracts Aren't Meant to Convert Anyone

By | Monday, November 27, 2023 2 comments
Last week, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday, someone left a clear plastic baggie with a few paper items in it -- you can see them in the photo at the right here. It included a Chick Tract called "The Sissy?" and the accompanying religious texts suggests that whoever left it did so completely sincerely. This is the third Chick Tract I've encountered "in the wild" and the first one I've been expressly given. (The previous two were ones I found lying around.) Like every other Chick Tract, "The Sissy?" is very poorly written with tin-ear dialogue, and only adequate (at best) artwork. Although there is a space on the Tract for a group to put a stamp or sticker highlighting the name/address of their organization, this had neither so I can only presume it came from the same Church the last one I got was from. But whether or not it included an address is irrelevant because the Tract wasn't for me.

If you've ever read a Chick Tract (I won't link to it now but you can find digital copies of many of them on the Chick Publications website) you'll likely posed the question, "How the hell is this going to convert anybody?!?"

Answer: "It's not. It's not supposed to."

To read the history on the Chick website, his initial tract was inspired by wanting to bring the word of Jesus to "a group of teenagers who appeared aimless and lost." There's no mention of them doing anything sinful -- or anything in particular at all for that matter. The most critical description they have on the site is: "a group of teens hanging out on a curb." Not smoking, not drinking, not stealing or vandalizing anything, not hurting anybody... at worst, you could maybe say they were loitering but Chick was driving at the time so he couldn't have stayed around long enough to even witness that. That's not a group of people who inspire someone to try to "save" them. That is a group of people who, if you don't share their values, inspire you to close yourself off from other people.

The stereotypical condemnation that comes from this is the classic, "These kids today..!" Often said with ire if not outright anger. And while the person may yell briefly at "these kids today" about their hair or clothes or music or whatever, the next thing they do is try to shut them out. To shut out everybody remotely like them. They close their social circles tighter so that it includes fewer and fewer people who disagree with them. That's what Jack Chick did, and he took it to extremes.

That's what the Chick Tracts are actually for: they're a self-selection test for letting people in. No one reads these and says, "Oh, I was totally wrong about [whatever the topic of that particular Tract is] -- I should find Jesus and be saved!" But there are people who read these and say, "FINALLY! Someone who tells it like it is!" The Tracts are used as a passkey of sorts to find other like-minded people. You need to have fully bought in to Chick's particular brand of bat-shit crazy fundamentalism before you've seen a single Chick Tract in order for them to hold any meaning.

Which means that they don't have to make sense. In point of fact, it's better if they don't. If someone reads through the nonsense and still buys into it, you've got someone who's essentially brainwashed into following you without even trying! Chick Tracts come across to most people as, at best, kitsch that was put together by people too incompetent and too ignorant to know they're amateurs. Whether or not Jack Chick knew how talented he wasn't is irrelevant, though, because he stumbled onto a format where consistent garbage was rewarded more than progress or growth.

I'm explaining all this because I think a lot of comics criticism comes from the wrong lens. There are plenty of comics out there that might not meet whatever your criteria are for "good" comics, but if they have a different set of goals than what you're thinking, maybe they're doing precisely what they're supposed to do. That's not to say you can't or shouldn't criticize it from your own perspective, but just acknowledge that it is still just your perspective and how you're approaching the work is as important as what's in the work itself!
Newer Post Older Post Home


Billy Hogan said...

I always found Chick tracts to be much creepier than any EC Comics horror comic book.

That's because they are!