If you’re surprised that I’m including Chick Tracts in my reviews of webcomics, I’ve got news for you: Jack T. Chick is one of the original webcomickers.
I talk a lot about the “early days” of webcomics, but in truth, the 2000-ish era wasn’t “early” at all. But the true early days are kind of difficult to talk about, because we have to talk about the early days of the web itself, and very little from this period survives today. The history of internet culture wasn’t really being studied and catalogued like it is today, and first-hand accounts of the period are hard to come by. Even the Wayback Machine can only take us back to 1996. In 1996, chick.com was already there (for reference, the web was created in 1991). I couldn’t find hard dates for when Chick bought that url, but one way or the other, these comics have been online for a long ass time.
Chick Tracts are so called because they were originally created to be pamphlets handed out as part of fundamentalists’ evangelizing efforts, or “witnessing”. In the 70s, Chick wanted to be able to get that sweet, sweet “impressionable child” demographic, so he started making tracts that would appeal to children: comics. Chick’s work makes for a hilarious meme, but when you think about a kid with still-developing critical thinking skills being handed one of these while they’re trick-or-treating, it seems a lot less funny.
(Then again, when I was a kid, I would’ve just been pissed that some asshole gave me something that wasn’t candy.)
Maybe kids deserve more credit, though – even a child could probably see through the blatant bullshit presented as fact in these comics. In fact, Chick’s ideology is so baldfaced in these that it’s hard to imagine anyone being taken in by them. He scorns all forms of religion besides his own, including Christianity. He makes up things (or relies on ideas invented by other fundamentalists) about queer people, trans people, witches, Freemasons, uh, D&D players? You get the idea. He even makes statements about Satan as if they were historically documented facts. Being a good person isn’t enough. Living by the Bible isn’t even enough for this guy! You gotta subscribe to his exact idea of what sins are AND accept Jesus. It’s a bit baffling how this kind of fundamentalism can even survive at all, without the barest modicum of human empathy or fact-checking.
And that’s probably the funniest thing about Chick. His ideology is so disastrously out of touch, yet so completely earnest and self-assured, that you can’t help but laugh at him. He’s quixotic without being sympathetic, a perfect target for mockery. And have you seen some of these panels?? There’s no need to parody Chick’s work; it’s a parody of itself.
So what have we learned? What is it even possible to learn from someone so detached from reality, so immune to criticism, so fucking evil? “Don’t be like this guy”? I guess that’s a good start. But given the disconcerting prevalence of fundamentalist Christian institutions in the United States and their predilection for making queer and trans people, uh, die, understanding the way that they really think and the things that they actually believe about us can be of the utmost importance. And while it might not seem like a threat to take seriously, I do think that kids should be protected from this sort of shit, because evangelists take a shotgun approach to these things; they don’t care if most people slam the door in their faces, they’re just looking for those one or two people desperate, sad, ignorant, or young enough to be taken in by it.
So I guess that might be why we love to laugh at Chick Tracts: the alternative is admitting how terrifying they really are. Wow, this review ended up in a really dark place.
The verdict: I HIGHLY recommend reading these with a snarky friend, and not thinking too hard about the implications of their existence.