By Chris Cummins
The only path to heaven is to renounce your sins and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. If you do anything else—listen to music, play games, drink, or enjoy a joint—you're going to hell faster than you can say "eternal damnation." Or so sayeth the Chick tracts. Created by cartoonist Jack Chick, these evangelical mini-comics have helped save the souls of sinners for over 40 years. Often taking the form of cautionary tales, the tracts have come under fire for denouncing opposing religious viewpoints and speaking out against the “evils” of everything from homosexuality (evil) to the works of J.K. Rowling (just as evil).
Yet despite their extreme approach, they’ve managed to gather a devoted following amongst Bible thumpers and heathens alike thanks to their cartoony visual style, their premise that virtually anything can and will lead you to hell, that even if you believe in Jesus regular life can be hilariously cruel, and being absolutely bat-shit insane. Featuring plenty of jaw-dropping moments, here’s a look at the 10 most memorable tracts that Chick Publications has to offer.
10) The Sissy?
Aimed at truckers (a notoriously godless bunch), The Sissy? follows no-nonsense good ol’ boys Duke and Billy Joe as they get a crash course in fundamentalism after a massive fellow driver overhears them calling Jesus a sissy. After nearly crapping their jeans, the road hogs get a lesson about what a swell guy the King of Kings was when heir new pal teaches them how a non-Christian lifestyle is a one-way ticket to hell.
Complete with a reference to The Six-Million Dollar Man, this tract from 1978 is a trip back in time to an era when the CB radio was king and real men spent their time on the open road—or having vaguely homoerotic lunches with a stranger who looks like Liberace.
9) Somebody Loves Me/Hard Times
Often, Chick Publications will adapt pre-existing tracts for African-American audiences, leaving the story unchanged but altering the race of the main characters from white to black. Thus we have Somebody Loves Me and Hard Times, a depressing story of neglect and child abuse that will leave you moping around for the rest of your Sunday as you try to complete your Daily List before deadline. Or maybe not. Moving on…
After somehow escaping from her violence-prone father, a young girl (at least, I think it’s a girl, the artwork seems confused as to what the kid‘s gender is) flees from her house to face the miserable world alone. Falling asleep in an alley, she discovers a pamphlet emblazoned with the message “SOMEBODY LOVES YOU.” Unsure as to what this means, the girl asks a mysterious stranger who tells her that Jesus is the one doing the loving before she leaves to get help. Well, the bitch never comes back and the adorable little moppet drops dead. In the end, our Dickensian hero is flown to heaven in the arms of an angel.
There are a few things about this story that are particularly troubling. Along with the aforementioned sexual ambiguity of our main character comes the fact that she lives an utterly horrible life before dying in the street. I know the point is that she will be taken care of in heaven and whatnot, but couldn’t we get this kid a My Little Pony or something before she had to shuffle off this mortal coil? And the stranger, is she a social worker or just some crazed zealot? Given how she lets the tyke die in the street while she is supposedly getting help, I’m voting for the latter.
8) Fairy Tales?
When two parents let their son Harry grow up without telling him that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are fake, he goes nuts and kills a schoolmate when he finally learns the truth, as all children do when faced with this situation, in Fairy Tales. He goes on to strangle a cellmate, and after his eventual release juvenile hall he takes part in a series of murders that place him alongside of Osama Bin Laden (who has a cameo in the story) on the FBI’s wanted list. Placed on death row, Harry is visited by a former pal from juvie who attempts to get him to repent his sins and accept Christ into his heart. Shortly after refusing, he is executed and sent to hell. So there you have it, a happy ending for everyone. Oh wait. Shit.
Rock and roll is literally the devil’s music in Angels? Tired of being failures, the members of the Christian rock band The Green Angels decide to sell out when an agent named Lou Siffer (foreshadowing!) approaches them. Being complete morons, they ignore the fact that he is the devil and eager to get them to renounce their beliefs and sell him their souls. After they do, things get really strange, leading to some of the guys getting AIDS, overdosing, and, unbelievably enough, becoming vampires. Eventually, the remaining Green Angel realizes the error of ways and learns to love Jesus, but you’ll be laughing/crying at the world’s insanity too hard by then to care.
FYI: According to this tract, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Kiss, Black Sabbath, Motley Crue and other musical acts are all part of Satan’s plan to corrupt minds and bring hell to Earth. Suddenly the ongoing popularity of American Idol makes sense.
6) Somebody Goofed
Winning the award for the best cover of any tract, Somebody Goofed examines how a well-meaning teen pays the ultimate price after he is befriended by a no-good greaser who encourages him to ignore salvation and play chicken with an oncoming train. You can guess how that turned out. In a twist that would have made Rod Serling proud, it is revealed that the story’s thug is in fact Satan himself, who clearly is bored out of his mind.
It is a known fact that if you love Jesus, you are rewarded with basic depth perception.
5) Happy Hour
I’m always interested in hearing tales about what Weird NJ magazine calls “old man bars,” local watering holes whose inhabitants are nearly always lovable alcoholics a la Andy Capp. Located in strip malls or on rundown corners, these buildings are nothing short of paradise for the oilers slowly drinking themselves to death inside. Set against such a backdrop of despair, the Happy Hour tract charts the sad life of a drinker named Jerry who is constantly getting sloshed at such awesomely named joints as The Bottoms Up Club, Diablo’s Den and The Cork. During a cash search at his house to fuel his passion for booze, he gets into an argument with his wife which results in her suffering a fatal heart attack. Afterwards, his unrealistically understanding daughter manages to pull him from the clutches of the local happy tap and into the arms of God. It just goes to show that in the skewed morality universe of Chick comics, even drunks who are indirectly responsible for the death of their spouses can find redemption after being born again. Now, who needs a drink?
4) Trust Me!
It’s a tale as old as time itself: an innocent high schooler falls in with the wrong crowd and quickly gets involved with drugs. During an attempt to sell some junk, he falls victim to a vice squad sting and is sentenced to a lengthy jail term. While doing his time, he is anally raped by a fellow inmate who infects him with AIDS.
As he prepares to die, he embraces the promise of eternal bliss in heaven. Oh, how often such heartwarming stories are told. One of the more graphic Chick tracts, Trust Me! is a doozy that somehow appeals to both anti-drug advocates and Oz fans.
Jack Chick hates Halloween almost as much as he loves exclamation points. Many of his tracts are dedicated to drawing attention to the evils of October 31st and those heathens who choose to celebrate it. According to these themed pamphlets, Halloween is a day full of witchcraft, animal sacrifice and other dark deeds perpetuated by those who wish to commit acts worthy of Lucifer himself. As a result, these publications tend to go apeshit with their preachiness. Boo! is no exception. Taking place in Salem, Massachusetts, this story shows how Old Scratch takes the form of a pumpkin-headed murderer to wipe out fun-loving teens each Halloween. It goes on to analyze the holiday’s origins and how it “opens the door to Satanism.”
The Chick company encourages parents to give out tracts for Halloween in an effort to spread their message. This is actually an excellent idea given the unintentional hilarity of tracts such as this, though I wonder how the company feels about these things becoming party favors at hipster Halloween shindigs.
2) First Bite
Another anti-Halloween entry, this is the most recently released tract from Chick Publications and the first that seems to acknowledge that people read these things for entertainment value as well as salvation.
Calling itself “funny, campy, over-the-top,” First Bite introduces you to a vampire named Igor who is converted to Christianity by an chirpy woman named Faith. Yes, that’s right, the power of Christ is so strong that it can transform vampires into good church-loving folks. There you have it. With any luck, next year’s Halloween tract will feature the Creature from the Black Lagoon rescuing Jesus from the cross or casting Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Wolf Man as the Three Wise Men in the Nativity story.
1) Dark Dungeons
As a young Tom Hanks learned in Mazes & Monsters, playing Dungeons & Dragons is an evil which ranks next having sex with underage corpses. Easily the most notorious (if not the most parodied) of all Chick tracts, Dark Dungeons is a masterpiece of misguided panic. While playing the titular Dark Dungeons role-playing game, a group of girls get so involved with the world of the supernatural that the role-playing game promotes that they become obsessed with witchcraft and casting real-life spells. But when one of the girls kills herself after her character dies in the game, young Debbie heeds the warnings of her preacher to save her soul by burning such “occult paraphernalia” as rock music and Dungeons & Dragons merchandise that she owns.
This is one out of touch little religious pamphlet, but it does raise some interesting questions. Other than that chick in Wet Hot American Summer, we all know girls don't even play Dungeons & Dragons. Plus, the girl on the left was clearly half-orc to begin with, and everyone knows orcs are evil. Still, there's no saving throw for your eternal soul, people!