Going to Hell, One Chick Tract at a Time

Surely you remember Jack Chick, the comic book guy who took the world by storm in the seventies and eighties? The one who wrote tracts and books about religion, scared the hell out of little kids, and denigrated people from just about every demographic other than his own? I’m not sure what Jack’s demographic would be, actually: maybe kooky, mean, angry, hypertensive, fundamentalist dudes who can’t write a decent story to save their lives?

What a long-lasting effect those Chick tracts had on me. I still remember when I was about seven and lucky enough to come across a copy of what’s arguably his best-known tract, This Was Your Life, conveniently featured next to a public toilet stall at a county fair.

I’ve often wondered, by the way, if there’s any significance to the fact that these little advertisements of terror are usually found on or around toilets. Maybe the people who distribute them want to catch heathens at their most vulnerable, in which case I guess they’re onto something.

This Was Your Life is about a guy who dies in the middle of a life of debauchery (fun) and is treated to a public viewing of all the naughty (fun) things he’s done. If it sounds silly, that’s because it is. It’s also terrifying. Imagine the horror of a seven-year-old kid who’s discovered from a tract that he’s probably going to end up in hell, but only after he’s been forced to join everyone in a pre-damnation screening of a film of his entire life. No matter where you are when you get news like that, it’s going to leave a mark.

And if that kid ever got around to mentioning his concerns to an adult, that person’s response was likely to be, “Well, of course you’re not going to hell, pookie, as long as you’re saved.” The problem with this was that, according to Jack, the difficulty of salvation made it something few of us were likely to attain. And to be honest, the God he portrayed wasn’t someone you’d want to hang with, much less have airing your dirty laundry in front of the entire universe.

Later in life, around my sophomore year in high school, I remember some of my classmates ganging up on a Catholic kid after reading one of Chick’s anti-papal comics, Alberto. I can only imagine the treatment my gay friends received from zealous folks hopped up on the Chick tract The Gay Blade. Jack had his pet causes, but he was only too happy to tell all of us we were bound for hell: smokers, drinkers, rock music listeners, Catholics, protestants, gay people, watchers of television.

Old Jack died in 2016, but let me assure you his mission is still in play. Recently, I was interested to find that he has a kindred spirit out there: Evangelist Tim Todd, President and Executive Director of Revival Fires International and the Designer and Publisher of The Truth for Youth, or the TTFY.  (You know how folks love a good acronym, even when it’s not actually an acronym, just an awkward and unpronounceable abbreviation.)

According to the TTFY website, one of the purposes of the organization is to “prevent truth decay,” and it accomplishes this through a series of “Hot Comics” that deal with the truth about subjects like “Pornography (Parental Controls), Homosexuality (Born that Way!), Rock Music (Wasted Words: The Truth About Secular Music), Evolution (Somebody’s Monkey), and Safe Sex (Passes and Plays).” I’ll go ahead and stop you there, before you entertain the thought that TTFY might be advocating safe sex. Nope. Abstinence only, people! That’s the way to do it. Or to not do it.

Also in the TTFY catalog is a little project called Hairy Polarity and the Sinister Sorcery Satire. Sound familiar? It should. But if I could give Evangelist Todd a tiny bit of advice, I’d say if you need to tell someone that what you’re presenting is satire, you’ve sort of missed the entire point.

But you know what? It’s a good thing we have folks like Jack Chick and Tim Todd out there sharing their bizarre worldviews. They’re fun to laugh at, for one thing, though much of that laughter may be defensive, but there’s more. Aside from the damage the message might do to kids’ fragile little minds–which is a concern, of course–these documents are artifacts of our society.

If you’ve never seen a Chick tract, you’re a fortunate and probably more mentally healthy person than I am. But now that you’re an adult, you owe it to yourself to check them out. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History even featured some of them in an exhibit on American pop culture. Whether you think them repulsive, pedantic, heretical, or just plain badly drawn and written, they represent a sizable slice of our culture. Sort of like with Mein Kampf and Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it’s not only significant that someone writes and publishes these things, but it’s equally notable that people buy, read, and perhaps even base their lives upon them.

And maybe in five hundred or a thousand years from now, if one of Jack Chick’s tracts or comics has survived (and come on, you know it will) one person will be able to show it to another one and say: “No, seriously. People actually believed this stuff.”