A few Halloweens ago, my daughter and her friends returned from trick-or-treating with their usual haul of candy and, as they put it, some “weird little books.” I perked immediately. Someone in the neighborhood was giving out Chick Tracts in lieu of candy. While the kids were disappointed initially, soon they understood why I was excited to see these incredibly off-the-wall, often offensive, tone-deaf comics that attempted to convert the reader to a life of Christ by telling them how they’ve already been laying down with the Devil.
Chick Tracts first became famous in my social circle after they published “Dark Dungeons.” You may have heard of this particular comic without even realizing it – it promoted the idea that Dungeons and Dragons was a game connected with Satan, and that the game head (called “the dungeon master”) had undue influence over the stupid and impressionable teenagers who played it. Parents – obviously less cool parents than you or me – were convinced that there was a Satanic plot afoot to recruit teenagers using 20-sided dice and Doritos. In “Dark Dungeons,” one teenager commits suicide after her character was killed off. Another finds that her “mage” character was just training to become a real life witch! Also, the Pope is somehow implicated along the line. Anyone who had ever met any gamers knew that this Chick guy had no idea what he was talking about – everyone who played the game in his comic was a girl! There’s never more than one girl per gaming group. That’s, like, the rules of feminism.
Chick Tracts follow a very simple mix-and-match script. They hate gays/feminism/the Pope/Catholics/evolution because it’s against god/a satanic plot. There are only two resolutions. You are either for Jesus (but not Catholic) or you’re for the Devil (and probably also a Catholic). You will now not to be shocked to discover the organization that publishes these fine pieces of literature pushes a fundamentalist religious line (hence, all the Catholic hate). Due to the nature of some of the tracts, the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the parent company, Chick Publishing, as a hate group.
Modeled after Tijuana bibles (though one assumes Jack Chick would deny this), each tract follows the same model. They’re approximately 20 pages long, printed on newsprint, with similar simplistic black and white illustrations. The last page or so is always a plea to find Jesus – at least, their approved version of him. The comics first appeared some time in the mid-’60s, put out as a “labor of love” by Jack Chick himself. The organization claims that Chick writes every comic himself, though there is some controversy over whether or not Chick is still alive. He has given only one interview since 1974 and would be approximately 88 years old today. Considering the rapid pace of tract production, that’s an impressive feat for an octogenarian.
Because of the anti-occult, pro-Jesus sentiment of many of the comics, Chick Tracts are popular Halloween treats among religious organizations and individuals. It’s not just my down the street neighbor who orders tracts in bulk and tries to save the souls of little pagans out collecting candy on October 31st. A lone gentleman was giving them out in front of Sam’s Club one weekend. I’ve found them in coffee shops and stuck in books at the public library. They’re readily available at many churches. In 2011, a Baptist church in Ohio came under fire from its own congregants for handing out the tract “Mean Momma” to children, as the congregation found the comic hateful and un-Christian.
If you have not experienced the Chick Tract phenomena personally, they do make a rotating selection of their comics available online, including out-of-print titles like “Dark Dungeon,” which, honestly, I probably should get printed on a T-shirt or something. And even better, for my friends of color, Chick Publishing has kindly “adapted” some of their titles for black audiences. Lucky you!
A version of this article first appeared in our 2012 Halloween series.