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Monday, July 24, 2006

Somebody loves me, but it ain't Jack Chick.

Longtime readers of this blog will recall my peculiar fondness for cartoonist Jack Chick. For those who don't know, Chick is a radical fundamentalist protestant who draws the eponymously-named "Chick Tracts." These tracts are short comic books that teach religious lessons with all the subtlety and grace of thermonuclear weaponry. Now, while I generally think that the messages of these tracts are, at best, absurd and, at worst, hateful and corrupting, I am still strangely fascinated by them. I have spent a considerable period of time reading them online and have even developed some favorite recurring characters.

Which characters are my favorites? Well, there's Li'l Susy, who is about twelve years and a tub of pig's blood away from murdering her entire senior prom. Then there's Staggeringly Insensitive Man who uses the attempted suicide of a friend's son to castigate him for witchcraft. There's the Worst Doctor Ever, who doesn't understand microbiology, has peculiar views on social policy, and has no problem with victim blaming. And of course, who could forget the famous Elfstar Debbie who escaped from the "bondage" of Dungeons & Dragons. So, as you can see, there's a lot to enjoy in the work of Jack Chick.

Recently, however, I've noticed something new on Chick's site- he is, apparently, now making a serious effort to speak to African Americans through his new "Black Tract" series. He describes this initiative thusly:

Christian workers have been telling us for some time that their work among blacks would be much more effective if they had Chick tracts where the characters in the story were black. Black people on the street are more receptive to black characters than Caucasian.

Pastor Jerry Thornton, who pastors a black church in Southern California tried some of the tracts in his ministry before they were officially released. He says, "The black tracts were especially useful to tell the people of color that they are special enough for Chick Publications to make a special edition of the tract line just for them. They often feel neglected and marginalized and appreciate the special attention when it is given."

So, hey, good news for African Americans, right? Well, maybe not so much. So far, the "Black Tract series" doesn't involve new tracts so much as just going back and coloring in the characters in a darker shade. This, itself, might not be so bad except that in some cases already bad tracts become a little... questionable.

An example of one such tract (parts of it anyway) is included below, along with my narration. For those who are curious, it's based on this original tract. Please read along and enjoy this fine example of "reaching out" to the African American community.

Our story opens deep in Louisiana where, apparently, a timewarp has transported Uncle Tom's Cabin into the modern era.

Inside a drunken man with no neck commands a small child suffering from some sort of terrible disorder that expands his eyesockets to go out into the raging storm. The poor child does so. Notice the gratuitous butt-crack in the rightmost panel. I guess even fundamentalists like a little T&A in their entertainment.

Standing in the rain, begging from strangers, our disfigured hero cuts an impressive figure- the type that would give a child welfare worker a heartattack. Nevertheless, the people of this city largely ignore the little child.

On returning to his home with a pittance so meager that it effectively defies comprehension and simple logic, the drunken no-neck becomes enraged.

And pursues our hero, waving a huge club not unlike that used by Captain Caveman. When no-neck captures the boy, he proceeds to beat him while, apparently, staring into some sort of spotlight.

No-neck then unceremoniously casts his sole source of income out into the storm.

Where he is promptly either struck by lightning, or by poor drawing. Either way, it looks like God isn't so fond of our protaganist.

The little-wretch-that-could then crawls back into town- because, you know, that worked out so well last time- and is ignored by everyone despite being a child in obvious distress. Perhaps his unnaturally large eye sockets are simply too much for the average passer-by?

Our protaganist crawls through a crowd of pedestrians, skirts angry dogs and cats, and finds shelter in a large coffin-like box- which is fortunate, given what's coming up in a few panels.

Moments later, a pamphlet indicating that he is "loved" flutters up. Doubtless our little wretch has somehow learned to read, despite his "unconventional" upbringing. He feels reassured by this message.

And then promptly dies, only to be borne up into heaven by a dark-skinned angel.


So what's my deal here? Only this- the original tract was absurd and stupid but, at least, didn't perpetuate much in the way of stereotypes. This new "black version," however seems to do a great disservice to African Americans by depicting them as lazy, abusive drunks who don't care about their own families. Call me crazy, but I don't know that this really speaks to black problems. Granted, there are some other tracts that give a more favorable view of African Americans, but they do so at the expense of Arabs. Oh, and while postulating a organized conspiracy among Muslims.

If you want to proselytize African Americans, I'm not gonna stop you- you are, after all, free in this country to make an ass of yourself in whatever manner you see fit. But can you please at least recognize the real problems faced by minority groups, rather than simply caricatures of them?

And for that matter, is it really necessary to pitch a "religion of love"* with hate and fear?

* Quotation marks included because, honestly, I've been skeptical for a long time that Christianity is a religion of love. That, however, is a subject for another post.


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