October for many means that it is officially the spooky season. Halloween time. Boo-tober. Or whatever cringey pun-filled phrase the Crypt Keeper would deliver in between cackles. But for me as a child, October was “Harvest Time.” Instead of dancing skeletons and cut outs of jack o lanterns decorating the classroom, I had scarecrows (but only the kind that would scare corvids, not children), pumpkins (faceless, of course), and fall leaves (things I didn’t see in person until I was a teenager).
For someone who grew up in a city in a semi-tropical environment, the typical harvest imagery didn’t make much sense to me. Why did my school observe “harvest time” while everywhere else, including the local McDonald’s, celebrated Halloween? The answer was simple and obvious. It was the devil. Those Halloween-themed McNuggets indulged in witchery and the occult while the naked pumpkins in my school did not. My little Baptist school did everything its power to keep the demons at bay and that meant no mention of Halloween, lest the Morning Star himself come and lure you into the lake of fire.
Yet outside the gourd-themed hallways, I partook in the Halloween festivities, dressing up in whatever costume my parents lovingly made and trying my very best to get as many cavities as one night would allow. Yes, despite my school’s best efforts, I was exposed to tje ghouls and monsters that haunt little kids’ nightmares. However, it wasn’t the beasties of the secular world that struck a deep cold fear into my little heart. What frightened me could be found not under the bed but strewn about the school chapel’s pews: Jack Chick tracts.
JACK CHICK: THE COMICS
For the uninitiated, Jack Chick tracts are small rectangular comic books designed to terrify the reader into accepting Christ. Depending on what tract someone handed to you, you might read the story of a poor child who dies of starvation or the terminally ill girl who goes trick or treating and dies. It’s worth knowing that death is a recurring theme across all Chick tracts (we’re dealing with the afterlife, after all). Distributors such as local churches are particularly aggressive about passing these out during Satan’s holiday. The official Chick website (chick dot com was nabbed by the zealous Evangelical before the poultry industry could secure it) even has banners explaining how to best get these tracts into the baskets of unsuspecting trick or treaters.
What diseased mind could have dreamt up such a uniquely nefarious way to ruin Halloween?
JACK CHICK: THE MAN
Jack Chick was born in 1924 in Los Angeles. He wasn’t particularly religious growing up but converted to Christianity as a young man. After becoming born again, he wanted to share the good news with others but found talking to others about whether or not they were to face total damnation a difficult task for someone who identified as an introvert. The solution to his timidity came when he learned that the CCP used small comic books to evangelize to Chinese citizens about the good news of communism. And with that, Jack Chick began publishing his infamous witnessing tracts for the criminally shy. The initial pieces were fully created by Jack but as his publication company grew, he hired other artists to bring his visions to life. As of 2015, Chick Publications have made over 250 comics, available in over 100 languages.
It was through my school that I came across Jack Chick. Like most children, I liked picture books with fun drawings. I also really enjoyed Bible tales, so stories about Noah’s Ark that could fit into my pocket were right up my alley. Unfortunately, instead of getting whimsical drawings of my favorite Bible heroes, I got this.
The real highlight of many of these comics is the high-quality artwork. The panels in some of them simply ooze emotion and dynamism. Not all were of this caliber. Others were geared at small children and made to look a bit more cartoonish.
Cartoonish or not, there are two things that all the comics artfully depict: the fires of hell and a faceless God. Genuinely, I’m not sure which scared me more: the flames consuming agonized sinners or a featureless figure accepting or denying people into Heaven. I assume Chick was attempting to create a version of God that would fill viewers with awe, but it mainly served to freak me out.
Stories could vary but the majority of those that I recall hit very similar beats: someone was doing something bad/close to someone doing something bad, a person tells them that Jesus is the way, the person immediately converts. The simple story structure is what made them effective evangelizing tools for churches (and the CCP, I suppose). There are a few comics that have stuck with me throughout the years, and I would like to present the most harrowing panels to you for this Halloween season.
JACK CHICK: THE BEST OF
In my humble opinion, this is the grimmest tract ever published by Chick. This shows the story of a little child who is beaten, driven out of her house into the rain, and finds refuge in a box. She reads a pamphlet titled Someone Loves You and subsequently meets a girl who runs off to find help. Too little, too late because the child succumbs to her malnourishment and dies in the box. She’s shown being carried to heaven, but the limp arm was so awful, it’s been etched into my brain for the last 20 years.
A Halloween favorite! This tells the story of Ashley Wilson, a teenager whose father was an “executive and an alcoholic” and who had taken “over 60 trips on LSD – mixed with speed!” Ashley does drugs, takes part in a séance, and then dies.
I wasn’t certain which panel to choose from the Titanic comic. Yes, Jack Chick did a special episode on the Titanic. It was between this and our main character, Chester’s floating dead body. I chose this because of the depiction of panic on Chester’s face. The slightly opened mouth, the bags under his eyes, the action lines around his head that portray him frantically looking from side to side for help. It’s unnerving.
This isn’t scary. I just wanted to put it in here because it’s a classic example of “bad things” being done by characters. It comes from This Was Your Life, the most popular and widely translated of all Chick comics. Essentially a man dies and is shown his entire life via slideshow before God and all His angels. If he wasn’t dead already, he would’ve surely died from embarrassment.
Another Halloween special. To put it simply, this one is confusing. It has something to do with a Halloween party, the devil putting a jack-o’-lantern on his head and killing people with a chainsaw. The story then goes into druids and how today’s teens love witchcraft.
This is the story of a dog who almost gets euthanized. Truly horrifying to me. I chose this one because the Chick site included it as a suggested tract for Halloween distribution. I feel this one is a cheap way to get at kids.
In this Halloween episode, three dorky teens visit a haunted house. Typically, in a story like this, the haunted house would turn out to be the devil’s lair, but it’s just a pretty rad theme park. The real story is that one of the kids gets hit by a car and dies.
I genuinely still hate this panel. It’s fucking terrifying to me.
In The Little Princess, a little girl wants to go trick or treating before she dies. The way the girl is drawn just feels…not great.
Dark Dungeons! This one become a meme of sorts. Dungeons and Dragons was a big hit in the 70s, 80s, and even into the early 90s. I personally recall listening to audio dramas that took aim at the evils of RPGs and their ability to make you a magician. As a person who plays classic JRPGs, the only magical capability they’ve granted me is an increased tolerance for nonsensical plots and overwrought dialogue.
JACK CHICK: THE END
Jack Chick died in 2016 at the ripe old age of 92. The company still produces comics, but sadly the artwork is far more questionable. This is a shame since the drawings were a genuinely fascinating element of these tracts. I could go on about Chick but there’s a great deal of terrible things he espoused that made their way into the comics and so much more that could be said (by much smarter people), so I’d prefer to leave it at “he died.” Much like how many of his comics ended.
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