Saturday, May 24, 2014

It's All About You!

Here's some Chick for a modern audience. While the last Chick Tract I reviewed, The Sissy, made reference to The Bionic Man, this tract is set very much in today's world. Or, at least, within the last ten years.

It's All About You is aimed at young people, or rather the impression Jack has of them. We meet Hannah, a self-absorbed whiner of a college student who isn't named until page 11. "Life is so unfair!" she tells her grandpa, who hangs around her college for some reason. "Nobody understands the 'inner me'." And "I didn't ask to be born, you know!" Based on these statements, Gramps deduces that she's "got it all figured out." Nevertheless, he warns her about two "someones" who have "seen things you'd rather people didn't know about," especially since "one of them has it in for you!" As you can imagine, this causes Hannah some alarm.

"He wants to steal the most valuable thing you've got," Gramps tells her.

"My iPod?" Hannah cries, demonstrating Jack Chick's deft hand at comedy while simultaneously dating this tract to the mid-2000s. If written today, it probably would have been an iPhone 5. Or a Tablet. Or a copy of The Five Demons You Meet In Hell.

Of course, Gramps is really talking about Hannah's soul. He tells her that "forces in the spirit world - angels and devils" are in "a war to see who gets" it. He lays the FEAR on nice and thick; "Satan means business" and will "do anything to destroy your soul," and "absolutely nothing is hidden from the eyes of God" because "everything you do, say or think is being recorded." Apparently God is in charge of the United States' Homeland Security! Our "sins just keep piling up" and "that blocks us from going to heaven."

Think Gramps is finished? Hell, no! He's just warming up. Among Satan's chief weapons are "STDs, drugs or booze," and "his rotten crowd" might even "make you binge and purge your meals." Huh? Where did that come from? Every now and then Jack Chick will throw in something totally random.

What are not so random are the pot-shots Jack takes at other religions. There's a picture of four "phoney 'holy men'" including an excellent caricature of the Dalai Lama and an okay rendering of former pope and pedophile-enabler/protector Ratzinger. "Religion pretends to be holy" while putting "their own followers into bondage." We see an image of a corrupt Catholic priest trying to con a grieving widow, and no bout of Chick religion-bashing would be complete without an image of a Muslim suicide bomber.

Now that Hannah has been sufficiently terrorized, Gramps tells her "the Good News" about Jesus "making the only way for us to get to heaven" by dying and shedding "His holy blood to wash away our sins." "But isn't that religion?" Hannah asks, reasonably enough, but Gramps assures her it is not. Hannah gets Saved, and says that "Jesus loves me and really understands me." And he won't steal her iPod, either!

In my review of The Sissy?, I mentioned that the character Duke was likely a stand-in for a certain type of person, namely big hairy tough guys who drive trucks. In It's All About You, Hannah would seem to be representing the youth of today - sullen, ungrateful, self-absorbed, and in dire need of Saving. As always, Jack Chick's tracts reveal more about himself than they do about God.

The art is up to Jack's usual standard. The only place where I felt his drawings were lacking were the depictions of Hannah's fingers in three 'close-up shots' (including the cover). They look more like the digits of an old crone, not a young lady. Also, from page 17 onward, Jack draws her face with more realistically-defined lips. Not sure what that's all about.

A regular feature in numerous Chick Tracts is the addition of cute, funny animals, almost always the same dog and cat. Jack will draw them into numerous panels, perhaps as a bit of levity or maybe just to fill in some empty space. They appear in 13 panels in It's All About You, while recurring deity Ol' Faceless only cameos in two.

The entire approach of It's All About You seems off-message to me, starting with that title. Jack presents Hannah as obnoxiously self-absorbed, but he does not criticize her for it. Rather, he indulges it. Hannah doesn't have to give up her self-centredness to become Saved (yes, she does say "sorry I sin and am so selfish," but talk is cheap). Like Duke in The Sissy, she is not encouraged to be a better person.

In the end, it's not all about you at all - it's about getting Saved, just like any other tract. And while this tract has only a moderate amount of offensive content (5 panels, including the previously mentioned suicide bomber and a dig at lesbians on Page 3), it should prove to be very insulting to its target audience.

And yet, isn't this true of all tracts? They all tell you that you're a sinner, and that you deserve to burn forever. They have to make you believe this, so they can sell you the Good News of Salvation. The insult, or at least the unfavourable judgment, is essential to the delivery of the Message.

But that's neither here nor there. It's All About You is a standard, unremarkable Chick tract that attempts to make ancient scripture relevant to today. It might have had a chance if another young character had preached to Hannah instead of her grandpa. Instead, we get an old guy trying to tell a young person how to live her life. Get off of Satan's lawn, whippersnapper, and onto Jesus' sidewalk! If it's one thing we know about the youth of today, it's their willingness to respect their elders and hang on their every word.

Good luck with that, Jack. You'll have an easier time stealing their iPods.

It's All About You!
Likely to Convert - 3
Artwork - 8
Ability to Hold Interest - 7
Unintentional Hilarity - 3
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 4

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Sissy?

Here's Jack Chick at his absolute finest! If you are ever asked for an example of Chick's work (not very likely, but go with it),show them this one.

This is the story of Duke, a trucker who's tough as nails... nails that've been pounded through steel! After stopping bullets. Yeah. He rides with his best buddy Billy Joe. You don't learn Billy Joe's name until the very last panel because he's not in any way important. They pull in to a truck stop and see the words "Jesus Saves" on the back of an 18-wheeler. "Only a gutless idiot would have that up there!" says Duke, "...cuz Jesus was a sissy!" No sooner are the words out of his mouth when the driver of that rig turns up. He's a full head taller than Duke (he calls him 'little fella') and built like a tank. If Duke's as tough as bulletproof nails pounded through steel, this guy is the hammer! "How's about you boys joining me for supper?" the hammer asks, his plate-sized hands on their shoulders offering them very little choice in the matter.

Once in the truck stop with food ordered, the Jesus giant (who never gets a name) asks Duke why he thinks "Jesus was a sissy?" This leads to a ridiculous argument over who would win in a fight - a man with God's power, or "some dude." "That wouldn't be a fair fight," Duke points out. "It'd be like fighting the Bionic Man... only worse!" Who remembers The Six Million Dollar Man? Heck, even the remake of The Bionic Woman is old these days!

Jesus Giant gives the full Jesus story, complete with the warning that Duke is going to Hell. As he talks, their waitress (Martha) listens in. She isn't very important to the story either (but more important than Billy Joe), but she gets a name, too! Poor giant dude! Anyway, Duke isn't happy with the giant's assessment of his afterlife allotment. "You mean I should stop boozing, swearing and cheating on my old woman, and start going to church and lead the good life?" he asks. "Nope!" Giant replies, and he goes on to tell Duke that stuff "wouldn't do you any good" because he'd "still be goin' to hell!"

I pause the review here to look at that last interaction. Giant's response is strange, in that it completely divorces the notion of Salvation from doing (or being) good. He might have said, "that ain't enough to Save you, Duke," but he doesn't. Not what Chick intended, perhaps. Or is it? Tracts keep reminding us how our good works won't get us into Heaven, because the Bible says they are as filthy rags or somesuch. Chick seems to take that to its logical conclusion: one's actions and one's character don't matter to God, only whether or not one is Saved.

I'll leave the implications of that notion for another post.

Giant Jesus Truck Dude keeps the pressure on, making sure two important things remain in the forefront of Duke's mind: "He'll send (all sinners including Duke) to the Lake of Fire, and you called him a sissy!" Duke, Billy Joe and even Martha believe everything the Giant says, and all three get Saved. The tract ends with Duke back in his rig, saying "that Jesus had more guts than any man that ever lived." His truck even sports a brand new "Jesus Saves" bumper sticker.

The artwork in The Sissy? is some of Jack's best. The characters are perfectly realized, none more so than Duke. He's the meanest-looking bruiser you could imagine, and Jack's attention to detail is extraordinary when you consider he drew each hair on Duke's arms, knuckles, chest and back by hand. Plus, his visual transition from mean tough guy to worried sinner is flawless and credible. The others are also painstakingly detailed, but they don't stand out the way Duke does. Even the obligatory image of Christ on the cross is tame by comparison!

Duke is, of course, an avatar for the people Chick hopes this tract will reach. It's also a clear image of how he sees them; swarthy, sweaty gorillas who would just as soon punch his lights out as look at him. This could be you, Jack seems to be saying. You're tough, you probably think those Jesus people're a bunch of wimps, but if I was as big and strong as my giant dude here... Ah, nothing like a good ol' revenge fantasy!

The Sissy? is, like I said, some of Jack Chick's finest work. Entertaining, expertly drawn, and not completely implausible, this tract might just make a few people into Believers. The arguments the Jesus Giant puts forth are, on the surface, clever. They don’t actually prove anything, of course; all they do is set Duke up for the next stage in his conversion. Sure do make Jesus Giant look smart, though.

Was Jesus a sissy? Who cares? As long as there are still people out there debating this crucial theological issue, there will be a need for tracts like this one. Keep ‘em coming, Jack!

The Sissy?
Likely to Convert - 4
Artwork - 10
Ability to Hold Interest - 7
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Friday, March 14, 2014

7 Last Words

A word before we begin: this one from Evangelical Tract Distributors purports to be about seven words, but it is really about seven full sentences. Each sentence is something Jesus is alleged to have said while on the cross, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John (but not Mark; maybe he had that day off).

So, seven last sentences, then. For a man suffering a truly horrible death, the Lord was quite chatty. Each sentence has extra meaning for us all, even if the tract author has to stretch things a bit to make the meaning work. "Woman, behold thy son..., behold thy mother." apparently means that Jesus "has His eye on the sparrow" which means he knows about "your smallest needs." Because it shows he cared about his mother. I think. Maybe she liked birds.

"I thirst." John 19:28 proves that he "was human as well as divine" and therefore "the suffering of His body" due to "the intense agony of thirst" was real.

"It is finished." John 19:30 means that it is finished. How about that?

I'd quote the other ones, but they are too long and I really don't care. Look them up yourself. I only care about whether or not this tract is convincing. After reading all seven statements that Jesus allegedly said while hanging on the cross, do I feel compelled to become a Christian? Or "is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?"

In a word, no. The tract does not provide me with enough information. Or (say it with me) proof.

"Millions have since heard these Words," the tract says, "but have passed by in unbelief." Yep, just like I'm doing now. And I imagine I'm in very good company. Or sinful company. Whichever words you are comfortable with.

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Apt words to describe the authors of this tract, I would say!

7 Last Words
Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 1
Ability to Hold Interest - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 2
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1