Back in 1960, Los Angeles artist and Christian fundamentalist hardliner Jack T. Chick had a life-changing idea. Taking his inspiration from Chinese communist propaganda pamphlets, he published the very first of his many so-called “Chick tracts.” These were pocket-size religious comic books that could be easily mass-produced and distributed at little cost. To Chick, this was an innovative and entertaining way of evangelizing to the public and spreading his own, deeply felt values about his faith. Others have accused Chick of using his tracts to foster prejudice against Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, freemasonry, and other ideologies and organizations. Either way, the idea caught on. By Chick’s own calculations, he has sold three-quarters of a billion tracts over the last half century. In many areas of the country, Chick’s books are still commonly disseminated everywhere from bus stations to public restrooms. A YouTuber who has dubbed himself ComicStripCritic devoted a recent episode of his web series, the Punchline, to Chick tracts. What he found beneath their innocuous covers was often shocking.
Some of the tracts are inoffensive enough, and the host actually praises Chick’s portrayal of God as a physical being with a blank face. In addition to being theologically sound, “It looks cool.” And yes, there are Chick titles like The Empty Tomb and A Love Story that serve as simple, comprehensible Christian stories told in comics form. “They’re barely passable,” the critic maintains with faint enthusiasm. Even at his most positive, however, Chick is wildly unrealistic about the time and effort necessary to convert someone to Christianity.
And then there are titles like Holy Joe, a seething exposé of the supposedly widespread godlessness in the military. This tract, like many others, showcases Chick’s mistrust of psychologists and other practitioners of science and medicine. They’re all in league with the Horned One, he insists. But that’s nothing compared to Chick’s views on religions other than his own, particularly Catholicism. The cartoonist is a hardcore conspiracy theorist with some truly out-there ideas about the origins and power structure of the Catholic church, which supposedly owes its origins and allegiance to Satan himself. And he’s not a fan of those demonic Harry Potter books either. In the end, the critic is forced to conclude that Chick is completely divorced from reality and that the tracts are the worst comics he’s ever seen.