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Chick Tracts, Monstrosity, and Pornography

By Anastasia Ulanowicz

On 19 March, 2014, social media sites and Internet news sources rippled with reports of the death of Fred Phelps, founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Under Phelps’s leadership, this unaffiliated Kansas church leapt from obscurity to international infamy through its acerbic condemnation of the LGBTQ community. According to Phelps—and, in turn, his small but nevertheless vocal flock—the United States’s diminishment of power on the global theatre is directly proportional to its increasing toleration of gay rights; consequently, according to the logic of Phelps’s fold, the U.S.’s only hope for regained international preeminence rests upon its quashing of the so-called “gay agenda.” Since 1991, Phelps’s church, united under the notorious slogan, “God Hates Fags,” has advanced this claim by picketing the funerals of public figures whom it blames for fostering discourses of sexual tolerance and therefore aiding and abetting the ostensible downfall of Western civilization. Its targets have included, among others, fallen members of the U.S. armed forces, LGBTQ icons such as Matthew Shepard, and even the beloved PBS children’s television host, Mister Rogers. In addition to advancing its vitriolic condemnation of homosexuality—identified as hate speech by such organizations as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center—Phelps’s church has also excoriated religious traditions such as Judaism, Islam, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Hinduism, and mainline Protestantism. Moreover, it has also identified the presidential administration of Barack Obama as a sign of the Anti-Christ.

Westboro’s concerns (if they might be called such) are uncannily similar to those demonstrated in a series of underground comics popularly referred to as “Chick Tracts.” Named after their creator, the Los Angeles-based artist Jack T. Chick, Chick Tracts are slim, three-by-five inch comic books that excoriate so-called evils—including, among others, homosexuality, Darwin’s theory of evolution, paganism, Roman Catholicism, and feminism—in order to promulgate a fundamentalist and eschatological version of Christianity. Translated into at least 70 languages and distributed by Chick’s devotees across the globe, these screeds could well be regarded as training manuals for religious extremist groups such as Westboro—and as such, they offer (literally) graphic insight into both the individual psychology of Christian fundamentalists as well as the larger cultural setting and traditions in which their beliefs were incubated.

Chick Tracts particularly place into relief the significance of monstrosity in contemporary American Christian fundamentalism. The monster, according to definitions offered by the Oxford English Dictionary, is not only a “mythical creature” that is “frequently of great size and ferocious appearance” but is also “something extraordinary and unnatural,” “malformed,” and “repulsive”; significantly, moreover, a monster can be defined through its exceptionalism as a “prodigy” or “marvel.” Certainly, Chick’s ouevre offers a case study of this definition. On the one hand, it is positively obsessed with depicting not only “mythical creatures” such as demons but also worldly ideologies and personae whose purportedly “unnatural” and “malformed” moral character it depicts through grotesque visual signifiers. On the other hand, Chick’s deployment of deft—even “prodigious”—hyperbolic illustrations offers an exaggerated (and arguably warped) interpretation of Christian theology that, as such, may be characterized as monstrous. Curiously, moreover, Chick’s affinity for excess and grotesquerie lends his work a surprising correspondence to pornography, which is mutually concerned with representation of ferocious appearance, the prodigious, the malformed, and, often, the repulsive. Indeed, Chick’s preoccupation with both the monstrous and the pornographic becomes especially evident when one considers the correspondences between Chick Tracts and so-called “Tijuana Bibles,” a loose series of pornographic underground comics that enjoyed particular popularity in the early twentieth century—perhaps not uncoincidentally, during the period of Chick’s adolescence. Ultimately, then, a study of Chick Tracts—as well as a comparative analysis of Chick’s issues and pornographic comics such as Tijuana Bibles—places into relief both the excess and the sadomasochistic pleasure that informs religious fundamentalism and its role in the American cultural imagination.

Chick Tracts: Production and Visual Rhetoric

Although Chick Tracts are underground comics frequently pursued by collectors and aficionados, they are likely familiar to anyone who has spent a sufficient amount of time in public spaces such as bus or train stations, laundromats, taxicabs, and soup-kitchens. Indeed, unlike other independently-published comics, which tend to circulate within specific communities, these booklets are widely distributed—both by Chick’s California-based publishing house and by churches and individuals who order and, in turn, scatter them—for the precise purpose of reaching the maximum amount of readers. The impulse behind the tracts’ broad circulation is immediately observable in their content: each comic is explicitly intended to reach individual members of the spiritually unwashed masses in order to win their immortal souls. Although the themes of the individual issues vary—some, for example, condemn vices such as alcoholism and Dungeons & Dragons role-play, whereas others advance conspiracy theories regarding the Illuminati and the Jesuits—each tract concludes with a prayer for conversion to be recited by penitent audiences. Moreover, the back-page of each issue includes the same, standard four-point check-list that might guide readers in spiritually righteous behavior (e.g., “Be baptized, worship, fellowship [sic], and serve with other Christians in a church where Christ is preached and the Bible is the final authority”).

To be sure, Chick Tracts emerge from a rich American literary tradition of illustrated religious writing. As scholars such as Courtney Weilke-Mills have demonstrated, theologically-driven texts such as those promoted by the nineteenth-century American Sunday School movement were devoted to ensuring their reader’s spiritual fitness in both this world and the next: created for sub-literate children and other “imaginary citizens,” these tracts not only acquainted audiences with biblical lessons in moral virtue but also attempted to instill in them an appreciation for civic and fiscal responsibility.1 Chick Tracts, however, bear a closer family resemblance to the still heavily disseminated The Watchtower, an illustrated magazine founded by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1879 with the express purpose of warning readers against the apocalyptic consequences of mortal sin. Like The Watchtower, Chick Tracts offer corresponding verbal and visual narratives that warn audiences against the perils of earthly sin in order to convince them of divine judgment in imminent end-times; in turn, both publications prompt their readers to subscribe to a credo that might safeguard their salvation. Unlike The Watchtower, however—or, for that matter, any number of similarly eschatological circulars produced by contemporary evangelical institutions—Chick Tracts do not require the direct mediation of their distributors. Whereas tracts published by, for example, Seventh Day Adventists, members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, or, indeed, Jehovah’s Witnesses are designed to be handed personally to readers by individual missionaries who might gloss the publications’ contents, Chick Tracts are intended to be anonymously scattered by their distributors.2 Certainly, this method of dissemination has provided this underground series with a particular allure, since it prompts collectors to engage in a constant scavenger hunt for new issues. More crucially, however, this mode of distribution demonstrates the level of faith that distributors have in the tracts’ messages. That is, their method of distribution suggests that they believe the comics’ narratives to be so self-evident, and so powerful, that the act of reading them alone is enough to inspire conversion. Indeed, these distributors’ confidence in the tracts’ immediately effective message corresponds to the evangelical Protestant belief that the Bible itself is intended to be read without institutional mediation.

If the anonymous distributors of Chick Tracts are so assured of the series’ evangelical potential, this may be in part because they subscribe to a culturally dominant view of comics. According to conventional wisdom, graphic narratives constitute a “simplistic” or otherwise “straight-forward” form that lacks literary nuance—not least because it supplements potentially obfuscating verbal narrative with ostensibly objective visual illustration. According to this view, comics possess the ability to indoctrinate audiences in ways that verbally-specific narratives may not, since their illustrations directly elucidate written content otherwise left open to interpretation. Indeed, this view of comics’ lack of mediation prompted Frederick Wertham to argue in his infamous diatribe, Seduction of the Innocent (1954) that children’s propensity toward sociopathic behavior is directly proportional to their exposure to comic book violence; ultimately, Wertham’s diatribe influenced the creation of the U.S. Comics Code, which enforced strict limitations on the verbal and visual content of comics.3 To a certain extent, the literalism and moralism that motivated Wertham and his ilk to call for censorship certainly affected Chick’s own fundamentalist perspective. Ironically, however, the very same anxieties regarding comics’ doctrinal potential may well have influenced the rise of Chick Tracts, which espouse views that are just as, if not more, conservative than those of Wertham. As Daniel Raeburn argues in his meticulously researched account of Chick Tracts, The Imp? (1998), the “creation myth” (16) surrounding this comics series involves, in part, the newly-baptized Jack Chick’s recognition that the most appropriate medium for his evangelical mission was the very same form that had so well served the “counterculture” he despised (18).4 In other words, Chick assumed that if the ostensibly unmediated form of comics could serve the purposes of his doctrinal enemies, it could serve his own objectives as well—and, what is more, it could reach precisely those spiritually imperiled audiences otherwise in the thrall of secular popular forms.

Initially, the tracts’ narratives appear simplistic, since each presents a moral quandary or social ill and ultimately concludes with the same formulaic solution to the problem: specifically, the individual’s acceptance of Christ as her/his personal savior. Often, the tracts feature everyman protagonists: working- or middle-class heroes whose moral dilemmas are meant to stand in for the reader’s own. In doing so, the tracts place into relief the reader’s decision either to submit to or reject a given issue’s message of salvation. For example, in one of Chick’s most memorable and widely-distributed tracts, The Sissy? (1978)5 a hirsute, chain-smoking truck driver named Duke—a veritable avatar for the intended working-class reader—makes fun of a fellow trucker’s “Jesus Saves” bumper sticker by proclaiming “Jesus was a sissy!” However, once the proud owner of the bumper sticker graciously invites the protagonist to a truck-stop supper and subsequently testifies to Christ’s almighty power, Duke experiences a sudden conversion: a full-page spread depicts the bewildered, profusely sweating driver, framed by a penumbra of diagonal lines, as he exclaims “I don’t have to go to hell!” in response to his interlocutor’s pious testimony (fig. 1).

Figure 1

In the final panel, the newly-redeemed Duke steers his rig—now decorated with the same bumper sticker he once derided—through a pastoral landscape. “Jesus had more guts than any man who ever lived,” he informs his driving buddy, “…and I love him for that!” The happy outcome of Duke’s story, then, serves as a lesson for yet-unconverted readers who might themselves have come across the tract in a truck-stop or other working-class space often targeted for the distribution of Chick’s message.

Other tracts, however, present the same theological lesson by warning readers of the consequences of resisting moments of conversion such as Duke’s. For instance, in another, equally popular, issue, This Was Your Life (1969), a smug, pipe-smoking gentleman suddenly dies and finds himself before the throne of an angry, faceless deity. In the panels that follow, an angel, commanded by God to review the events of the milquetoast protagonist’s life, offers a veritable slide-show of the man’s history of sin: it appears as though the tweedy hero is guilty of such grievous actions as telling dirty jokes and not paying attention in church. At the issue’s conclusion, the man’s tainted vita—and particularly his inability to repent and accept Christ during his earthly career—earns him a swift and categorical sentence of damnation from God himself. (fig. 2)

Figure 2

Although the outcome of This Was Your Life initially appears different from that of The Sissy?, it ultimately supports the same conclusion: no matter what an individual’s personal history might involve, his decision either to make or refrain from an explicit, verbal confirmation of Christ’s saving power will confirm his fate in the afterlife. The parallels between the two narratives are intensified by the verbal and visual markers employed in each. The statements offered by righteous characters in these and other tracts, for example, are meticulously annotated. For instance, when, in This Was Your Life, God orders the sniveling protagonist to “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels!” an asterisk that follows his statement directs the reader to its scriptural source, Matthew 25:41. Likewise, when, in The Sissy?, Duke’s fellow trucker informs him that Jesus’ “mission was to come to this planet to save your neck!” his statement is accompanied by a reference to Luke 19:20.6 These proof-texted footnotes serve not only to reinforce the ostensible objectivity of the righteous characters’ testimony, but also to distinguish the proverbial wheat from the chaff: after all, only the “saved” characters’ statements are in effect justified through footnotes, whereas “sinful” characters speak only for themselves. Moreover, the distinction between righteous and sinful (or not-yet-righteous) characters is further established through the tracts’ use of visual rhetoric. On the one hand, Chick’s sinful (anti-) heroes are often depicted through messy cross-hatching, swirling lines, and errant sweat beads that place into relief their morally chaotic state: Duke, for example, is rendered as a clammy mound of flesh sprouting prickly body hair. On the other hand, however, Chick’s blameless witnesses are defined by clean, angular lines: indeed, Duke’s interlocutor resembles a young John Wayne, and the absolute purity of the judging deity in This Was Your Life is signaled through his square jaw as well as by his absence of any other obtrusive facial features. In the final analysis, then, the tracts’ distinctions between busily-illustrated heathens and concisely-drawn heroes literalize their message of “coming clean” before Christ.

Chick Tracts and Monstrosity

Admittedly, issues such as The Sissy? and This Was Your Life appear to be relatively unremarkable: they promulgate more-or-less mainstream evangelical theology by featuring banal protagonists who either submit to or resist Christ’s saving power. However, the tracts’ cult appeal might be due not so much to their overall message of Christ’s salvific power as it is to their preoccupation with monstrosity. Indeed, much like the mainstream horror comics that Chick condemned, Chick Tracts are replete with monsters. Satan, for example, regularly appears in the tracts in the form of a squat, horned demon whose characteristic campy laugh—”HAW, HAW, HAW!”—paradoxically both undercuts and intensifies Chick’s depiction of evil (fig. 3—from The Long Trip [1994]).

Figure 3

Likewise, Satan’s devilish minions also make cameo appearances as representations of consummated temptation: for example, in It’s All About You (2009), Chick depicts a coed’s submission to her bulimic urges as literally spurred on by cackling demons (fig. 4).

Figure 4

Moreover, Chick’s oeuvre is replete with thuggish villains-gone-good—among them, the aforementioned Duke-the-trucker as well as a host of flat-headed former Satanists—who might be even more frightening than Chick’s cartoonish devils. For example, the hero of Gun Slinger (1997) is a masked and knife-wielding nineteenth-century mercenary named “Terrible Tom” who, despite his history of murder, wins entrance into heaven by virtue of his gallows-conversion. Likewise, the eponymous hero of Bad Bob (1983) is a leather-clad gang-biker who ultimately transcends his pre-ordained identity as a “little monster” to renounce his “rotten” past (fig. 5).

Figure 5

If characters such as “Terrible Tom” and “Bad Bob”—or even, for that matter, Duke-the-truck-driver—are particularly memorable Chick creations, this may in part be because they conjure demons otherwise repressed by a substantial demographic of middle-class tract collectors. That is, these figures, insofar as they represent a criminal underclass, call to attention the human by-products of late capitalism. Left to their own devices, these characters scrabble for a hard-won existence, either by resorting to lives of crime or by desperately subscribing to theologies such as Chick’s. In any case, these bedraggled, bloated, snarling figures—characterized by a visual excess which the illustrator spares their originally pure counterparts—represent individuals who have survived social circumstances that are unpalatable, if not monstrous, to bourgeois good taste. For this reason, Chick’s sympathetic representation of what could just as well be considered the human detritus created by (post-)modern conditions might initially prompt readers to celebrate him as something of a leftist hero. Indeed, as Raeburn points out, Chick’s vision of marginalized subjects abandoned by conventional faith in progress uncannily corresponds to postmodernist author Thomas Pynchon’s depiction of the “preterite,” or those “left behind by the forces of international capital; the immensely sympathetic mass of immigrant workers, winos, and ‘losers’ comparable in our microsoft age to the unwashed deemed beyond redemption and predestined to damnation by Calvinist theologians” (4).

Closer readings of Chick’s issues, however, effectively quash this hope: in the final analysis, Chick’s theology is not only categorically opposed to the prospects of liberation and revolution,7 but it also champions ultra-reactionary perspectives. Indeed, the logic that underpins most of Chick’s tracts is based not merely on intolerance but on unapologetic hatred of all religious perspectives, political viewpoints, or lived practices that in any way contradict their author’s narrow theology. Ultimately, then, these non-fundamentalist concepts, and the individuals who subscribe to them, are the greatest monsters of Chick’s oeuvre. As such, they are subjected to the most excessive and malicious—or in effect monstrous—representation.

In the aforementioned It’s All About You, for example, a world-wizened elder tells his narcissistic grand-daughter that demonic forces—including individuals who subscribe to Buddhism and Catholicism—are conspiring to render her a “spiritual zombie”; to intensify this point, the issue includes a frame in which a snarling, host-wielding cleric reminiscent of Pope Benedict XVI and a chuckling Buddhist monk who resembles the Dali Lama gaze malevolently at the reader. The statement here is clear: Catholics and non-Christians are devils in disguise who actively collect the souls of mortals such as the naïve grand-daughter. Certainly, this image is egregious and provoking; indeed, illustrations such as this one have motivated Catholic advocacy groups to launch counter-attacks on Chick and resolutely multicultural nations such as Canada to ban the distribution of Chick Tracts. However, a later frame in the same issue—in which hook-nosed first-century Jewish priests are assigned guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus—is even more disturbing, not least because it gives expression to the myth of blood-guilt that inspired countless pogroms and, ultimately, the Holocaust (fig. 6).

Figure 6

To be sure, It’s All About You is not the only Chick Tract to offer anti-Semitic imagery: for instance, in Where’s Rabbi Waxman? (1996), an otherwise upright Jewish leader is nevertheless damned because he rejects the divinity of Christ.8

Chick Tracts do not hesitate, moreover, to attack humanist sacred cows as well. For example, Big Daddy? (2002) disputes Darwin’s theory of evolution; The Gay Blade (1972) purports to expose the so-called gay agenda; and Global Warming (2012) insists that climate change is an elaborate hoax concocted by Al Gore and the Jesuits. In these tracts—whose arguable purpose involves as much the baiting of skeptical readers as it does the conversion of more tractable audiences—Chick personifies the worldly evils he condemns by deploying popularly-recognized and hyperbolized icons that he codes as intrinsically monstrous. His fleshy-cheeked renditions of the former Vice President and environmental activist Al Gore, for example, suggest the ostensible flabbiness of scientific evidence for global warming; likewise, the cartoonist’s renderings of bespectacled, wildly gesticulating, and vaguely Semitic-looking women constitute a visual short-hand for the purportedly hysterical claims of global feminism. What is immediately noticeable in each of these tracts is the clear glee that their creator takes in condemning the perspectives represented by each of these figures. After all, at the conclusion of each issue, Chick—appropriating the authorly position of God himself—swiftly and cheerfully dispatches them each to hell.

Of course, it is important to recognize that Chick’s depiction of his theological and ideological foes as monstrous is not at all original. To a certain extent, Chick’s exaggerated but nevertheless pointed depictions of his counterparts differ little from political cartoons—many of which are equally racist, sexist and arguably blasphemous—that are regularly published on the editorial pages of daily newspapers and featured within Internet sources such as The Huffington Post and The Drudge Report. Indeed, Chick Tracts exemplify what the former Nation editor Victor S. Navasky identifies as the constitutive feature of political cartoons: that is, caricature. The very etymology of the term, “caricature”—which, as Navasky points out, “derives from the Italian caricare, meaning ‘to load,’ as in a vessel or a weapon” (28)—implies the aggressive and uncompromising potential of purposefully exaggerated renditions of otherwise banal subjects. Caricature, according to Navasky, “distorts the original” referent, and in so doing, “uses humor to reveal the shortcomings of, and to occasionally humiliate, its subject” (xviii). When caricature is deployed in political cartoons, he continues, it has the capacity to place into relief the nuances of contemporary concerns that might otherwise be disregarded by casual news-readers. For example, Navasky devotes a substantial portion of his reflection on political cartoons to David Levine’s 1984 work, “Screwing the World”—in which a toothy, bespectacled rendition of Henry Kissenger happily mounts a supine female figure whose head is replaced with a globe—in order to explain how caricature draws on hyperbolic visual representation. According to Navasky, Levine’s representation of Kissenger’s toothy grin, as well as his rendering of the global figure’s tortured acquiescence, communicate in immediate and visceral terms the cartoonist’s belief that the former U.S. Secretary of State and later neo-conservative political advisor is “screwing the world”9 (fig. 7).

Figure 7

To be sure, Chick’s own grotesque depictions of his ideological bugaboos are not so far removed from the cartoons offered by Levine, specifically, and artists on various degrees of the political spectrum, more generally. Like political cartoonists such as Levine, whose vocation involves exaggerating features of public figures in order to place into relief the ideological claims they represent—and placing such figures into absurd scenarios in order to call attention to the ultimate absurdity of their respective claims—so too does Chick offer monstrous renditions of public figures and social stereotypes in order to lampoon the arguments and positions he believes to be morally deleterious. Moreover, not unlike many political cartoons, Chick Tracts can be conspicuously “unfair” (Nevasky xviii). Indeed, as Nevasky argues, political cartoons can just as well pander to the common denominators of racist, sexist, and classist stereotypes as they can explode them.10

If, however, there is a substantial difference between the grotesqueries offered in Chick’s on-going series and those featured in political cartoons, it may be qualified in degree. Put simply, Chick’s comics rely on an absolutist logic that most political cartoons ultimately eschew. On the one hand, Levine’s previously mentioned “Screwing the World” purposefully uses the iconic image of Henry Kissinger not so much to demonize the former Secretary of State himself but to skewer the U.S. imperialist interests that Kissinger represents: indeed, the American flag that drapes Kissinger’s thrusting rump suggests that the U.S.’s neo-imperialist project, and not merely Kissinger himself, is ultimately “screwing the world.” On the other hand, however, Chick Tracts posit a direct and unmediated relationship between the figures they lampoon and the positions they represent. For example, in such issues as Global Warming, Chick’s depiction of the heavy-jowled and arch-eyebrowed Al Gore is not simply a short-hand visual icon of a particular political or ideological position (fig. 8).

Figure 8

Rather, Chick maintains that Gore himself is evil incarnate: according to the logic of such issues as Global Warming, if global warming is a myth concocted by the devil, and if Gore actively promulgates such a myth, then it follows that Gore himself is an embodiment of the demonic. In turn, Chick’s graven image of Gore is meant to be read literally, rather than allegorically, as (most) political cartoons are intended. Such deliberate transgression of cartooning conventions might explain the tracts’ appeal to both pious readers and skeptical collectors, since it signals a tantalizing excess—or, in effect, a veritably visual monstrosity.

Indeed, the literalism, zealotry, and exaggeration that characterize Chick’s verbal and visual rhetoric—and that arguably render his series itself as monstrous as the grotesque figures contained within it—are ultimately expressions of a greater religious fundamentalist imagination that informs it. As scholars such as Karen Armstrong, Steve Bruce, and Martin E. Marty have suggested, religious fundamentalism is, in effect, the monstrous by-product of an increasingly modernist, pluralist, and secular age. That is, this variety of religious belief and practice nearly always achieves expression within communities who exist, or who imagine they exist, at the margins of modern society. Such collectives are either politically and/or economically dispossessed (often, as a result of imperialism and colonialism, the by-products of European Enlightenment) or believe that forces of urbanization and secularism threaten to overwhelm, if not destroy, their collective identities and long-held traditions (Bruce 14, Marty 18). Consequently, such imperiled communities self-isolate in order to defend against real or imagined dangers posed by those who subscribe to practices and beliefs different from their own; simultaneously, they launch counter-offensive attacks, often through symbolic acts of violence visited upon modern institutions such as women’s clinics or centers of international trade, “to clear space and keep enemies at a distance” (Marty 21). Such defensive and offensive responses to the effects of modernism are informed, moreover, by a studious resistance to “ambiguity and ambivalence” and thus a subservience to figures and doctrines of authority: for example, the letter (rather than the spirit) of biblical law, the teachings of the Roman Catholic Magisterium, or the precepts of Sharia (Marty 20-21).

Ultimately, then, fundamentalism is characterized by an absolutist imagination formed within marginalized pockets of society in violent reaction against larger impulses of modernization, globalization, and secularism. Thus, to cite the title of this edited collection, it is a veritable “monster in the margins.” Not only do expressions of fundamentalism emerge from the marginal spaces—or, to use a term from comics, “gutters”—left open by modern, Enlightenment narratives of history and progress, but they also serve as “monstrous”—or “exaggerated” and “prodigious”—ideological counter-narratives whose (often violent) lived practice continues to terrorize both mainstream believers and non-believers at once. Indeed, Chick’s ostensibly simple series—whose black-and-white line-drawings of latter-day angels and demons both figuratively and literally evoke the absolutist logic of the fundamentalist Christian theology to which he and his sympathizers subscribe—may just as well be read as a monster in and of itself.


Intriguingly, the distinguishing features of Chick tracts—their use of visual excess, their flouting of convention, and their attempt to literally scare the hell out of readers—also happen to be hallmarks of pornography. Initially, any comparison between fundamentalist Christian tracts and pornography would seem to be counterintuitive, if not oxymoronic—not least because, as Bruce argues, most (if not all) expressions of religious fundamentalism are motivated by intense anxiety about human sexuality. Nevertheless, a closer analysis of the generic distinctions of both pornographic works and fundamentalist texts such as Chick Tracts reveals uncanny correspondences between the two forms; significantly, such correspondences imply the category of the monstrous.

Ultimately, Chick’s series might be characterized as what feminist film critic Linda Williams identifies as the “body genre.” According to Williams, the body genre includes such various and otherwise distinct sub-genres as pornography, horror films, and women’s melodramas that involve “systems of excess” (3). Each of these forms, she argues, depends upon the pleasure that spectators derive from witnessing (predominately female) bodies in exquisite and ecstatic pain; indeed, Williams correlates physical pain and ecstasy by reminding her readers that the term “ecstatic” is derived from the compound ex-statis, or the sensation of standing outside of one’s own body, often as a result of excessive exertions placed upon that body. Thus, she argues, the narrative trajectory of (heterosexual) pornographic texts involves a series of physical contortions that ultimately climax in the female character’s achievement of painfully pleasurable orgasm. Likewise, Williams argues, horror narratives climax with the overtaking of the prone, vulnerable, and usually female body: for example, she cites Janet Leigh’s primal shower-scream in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) as a key example of the orgiastic narrative trajectory of horror films. Moreover, she maintains, women’s melodramas reach their peak when their protagonists collapse into tearful and shuddering hysteria: for instance, the ultimate “pay-off” involved in films such as Stella (1990) and Terms of Endearment (1983) involves the female protagonist’s passionate insistence that she has “sacrifice[d] herself for her daughter’s upward mobility” (5). In each of these forms, Williams maintains, the camera remains focused on the ways in which women’s bodies register both psychological and physical shock. Moreover, she continues, “body genres” do not only represent the body in ecstatic pain but also attempt to incite in the viewer the same sensations they depict; indeed, “the body of the spectator is caught up in an almost involuntary mimicry of the emotion or sensation of the body on the screen” (4). Thus, for example, works of pornography attempt to sexually stimulate viewers precisely through their depictions of arousal; horror films seek to make audiences jump or scream at moments of narrative tension; and women’s melodramas coax spectators to weep into three proverbial handkerchiefs. Body genres, therefore, depend profoundly upon mimesis: by offering excessive depictions of the body in psychological and/or physical ecstatic pain, they prompt audiences to imitate, often involuntarily, these same exertions.

To be sure, Chick Tracts might be considered under the rubric of the body genre, not least because their representations of both salvation and damnation depend upon visual depictions of the body in ecstasy. The climactic frame of The Sissy?, for example, signals its protagonist’s acceptance of Christ through a close-up shot of Duke as he sweats profusely and rolls his eyes heaven-ward. Likewise, the turning point in It’s All About You involves the wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression of a teenaged girl as she realizes that Satan “wants to steal the most valuable thing you’ve got” (here, this “valuable thing” is directly identified as the girl’s soul—although, according to the logic of both the horror film and the fundamentalist tract, it might also extend to her virginity). In these moments, as in others in Chick’s oeuvre, the body becomes the immediate locus for more abstract representations of jouissance—or painful pleasure—just as it does in the sub-genres that Williams identifies. Moreover, the ultimate objective of Chick’s series, much like that of the cinematic “body genres” that Williams analyzes, is to prompt in the reader the same sensations experienced by its fictional protagonists. Ultimately, as I have argued above, the heroes of The Sissy? and It’s All About You are avatars for members of specific demographics—working class men and college-aged women, respectively—whom Chick’s series deliberately targets. As such, these characters model the affective responses to the salvific message that the comics series promulgates; indeed, the “check-list” placed on the end-pages of each of Chick’s issues prompts the reader to evaluate the degree to which she has internalized and performed the enraptured experience modeled by each representative hero. In the final analysis, then, Chick Tracts are as devoted to producing visceral, mimetic responses to their graphic representations as the other examples of “body genres”—including pornography—that Williams discusses.

The mimetic impulses produced by body genres, Williams continues, depend upon an economy of “perversion.” Perversions, she maintains, are “usually defined as sexual excesses, specifically as excesses which are deflected away from ‘proper’ end goals onto substitute goals or objects—fetishes instead of genitals, looking instead of touching, etc—which seem excessive or gratuitous” (6) In this way, pornographic works celebrate the monstrous: they feature bodies that are characterized not only by “great size and ferocious appearance” but also by the “extraordinary and unnatural.” To be sure, what makes pornographic films and photographs so tantalizing—so as it were monstrously marvelous—is that the foot-long penises, gravity-defying double-D breasts, sculpted labia, and rosebud-pink anuses featured within them are as unnatural and statistically improbable as the narratives of matter-of-fact seduction they illustrate. Pornographic texts that fetishize non-normative bodies and practices—for example, those that feature models and actors with excessive body mass or hair, or those that involve scatology or diapered costume play—similarly amplify and thus render uncanny otherwise banal bodies and biological functions. Even those pornographic texts—for example, the magazine Perfect Ten—that feature relatively “normal” (that is, surgically unmodified) bodies nevertheless demonstrate a certain monstrosity: their close-up shots of breasts, genitals, and feet magnify and thus distort body parts otherwise hidden from view. Pornography thus depends upon an economy of hyperbole, excess, and protracted stimulation and, as such, it involves the manipulation or “malformation” of otherwise quotidian perception and experience.

Here again one might observe the parallels between the visual rhetoric employed by both pornographic works and the discrete scenarios illustrated by Chick’s fundamentalist tracts. As Raeburn argues, Chick’s issues are especially preoccupied with magnifying the dynamics of otherwise banal circumstances and exchanges in such a way that calls attention to the erotic economy that informs them; in turn, he implies, the comics subtly superimpose supernatural desires over quotidian, carnal ones. For example, Raeburn invites readers to “consider the following scenarios” from various Chick Tracts as examples of the series’ sublimation of conventional pornographic narratives of magnified and illicit desire:

One: a naïve, lonely high school girl is invited to spend the night by her young female teacher. Lonely girl arrives that night and finds a pillow party of young women in pajamas and bathrobes anxiously awaiting her arrival. Zoom to a woman sitting with one leg draped over the back of her chair and one foot on the floor. “Hey Mandy,” she smiles. “Want to learn some really neat things?” Two: a masked burglar penetrates a dwelling but is welcomed by an unusually friendly occupant. The two hug and the scene ends with the burglar crying, “I want it! I want it” and dropping to his hands and knees to the floor. Three: a fiery Italian nurse slips unnoticed into an intensive care ward: she holds a sharp instrument against the surprised patient’s neck to hush him and tells him that she has been ordered to love him. (7).

As Raeburn’s pointed summaries suggest, Chick’s scenarios tend to follow the conventional plot-lines of pornographic films and magazine narratives: an unsuspecting hero or heroine engages in a quotidian activity only to discover that the normative social codes that structured it have collapsed and that, to paraphrase Dostoyevsky, everything is now permitted. Of course, in Chick’s universe, these moments of enthrallment involve spiritual rather than sexual encounters and moments of revelation. For example, in The Poor Little Witch (1987)—the first Chick Tract to which Raeburn alludes in the above passage—the naïve Mandy is not lured into a lesbian orgy but rather tempted to join a coven (although admittedly, in Chick’s worldview, group sex and pagan activity are practically interchangeable). Likewise, in The Thief (1993) the eponymous protagonist demands that the Christian homeowner who has caught him offer him spiritual rather than physical satisfaction. Even so, Chick’s comics depend on the same economy of escalating tension, as well as the same exaggerated visual cues (for example, a bathrobe-clad coed straddling a chair or a grown man groveling on a kitchen floor) that characterize contemporary pornographic fare. As Raeburn argues, scenarios such as these indicate that Chick Tracts are “spiritual porn, pure sadomasochistic fantasy with an emphasis on the rhetorical foreplay leading up to the inevitable seduction and submission to Jesus Christ” (7). Indeed, the tracts’ conversion scenes and damnation scenes alike depend upon images of the body in ecstasy: on the one hand, newly-minted Christians make throttled exclamations upon being saved, while, on the other hand, Chick’s condemned characters writhe, sweat, scream, and otherwise revel in their bodily fluids. Moreover, just as pornographic films depend upon a “money shot” that documents tangible proof of final orgasm, so too do Chick Tracts: here, the reader is offered a “close-up of the humiliated but grateful sinner gasping, sobbing, and quaking with passion as the salty bodily fluid of tears coat his or her smooth, round cheeks” (7-8). Come to Jesus, indeed.

Chick Tracts and Tijuana Bibles

As Raeburn suggests, the most convincing case for Chick Tracts’ reliance on the pornographic imagination might be made through a comparative analysis of these comics and so-called Tijuana Bibles. Also known as “Eight-Pagers, Two-by-Fours, Gray-Backs, Bluesies, Jo-Jo Books, Tillie-and-Mac Books, Jiggs-and-Mac Books, or simply as Fuck Books,” Tijuana Bibles were four-by-three inch World War-era American comics that featured beloved heroes like Flash Gordon and Mutt and Jeff in scenarios not fit to print in the Sunday funnies (Spiegelman 6). As Art Spiegelman notes in his 1997 introduction to an anthology of Tijuana bibles, these pornographic underground comics “might have been called Tijuana Bibles as a gleefully sacrilegious pre-NAFTA slur against Mexicans, to throw G-men off the trail, or because the West Coast border towns were an important supplier of all sorts of sin” (6). In any case, these comics “probably weren’t published in Tijuana (or in Havana, Paris, or London, as some of their covers imply) and they obviously weren’t Bibles” (6). Rather, some of them were produced by mafia outfits; according to Jay A. Gertzman, for example, a few of these “bibles” can be traced to “underground locations that provided bootleggers with fake whiskey labels” (79). Others, however, may have been published by “Mom-and-Pop operations” that provided gainful employment to both aesthetic geniuses and sub-literate hacks (Spiegelman 6).

Whatever their various origins might have been, Tijuana Bibles shared the same general objective: they were gleefully committed to depicting otherwise wholesome characters in flagrante delicto. Many of them shamelessly, and illegally, ripped iconic comics figures from newspaper pages and reimagined them in the boudoir; thus, readers could witness Popeye and Dagwood Bumstead devour their wives with the same voraciousness these heroes otherwise devoted to cans of spinach and multi-layered sandwiches. Others placed Hollywood screen legends like Clark Gable and Rita Hayworth in scenes that would never imaginably pass the censorship of the Comstock Laws. Some “bibles,” moreover, offered wish-fulfilling fantasies to readers caught up in real historical events. For example, in She Saw the World’s Fair—And How!, a guide diligently services a nubile tourist even as he introduces her to the exhibits at the New York World’s Fair of 1939-1940. When the guide points out the German pavilion, his willing lover exclaims, “I wouldn’t let Hitler kiss my ass!”; in the same frame, however, she allows the tour conductor to enjoy the act she would otherwise withhold from the German dictator. In comics such as these, the pleasure derives from a transgression of boundaries demarcating public and private spaces and experiences (fig. 9).

Figure 9

Such pleasurable transgression is magnified, moreover, in Tijuana Bibles such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, in which Disney’s iconic rodent graciously allows his avian buddy to enjoy a tryst with his girlfriend, Minnie Mouse. Episodes such as this one represent a double transgression: not only do they blur the distinction between the animal and the human by endowing mice and ducks with human genitalia, but they also offer representations of illicit interspecies intercourse. Indeed, these issues of Tijuana Bibles place into relief the “perversions” that Williams identifies as the hallmark of body genres such as pornography. That is, they celebrate carnal instincts otherwise repressed by the Western Cartesian notion of the rational subject by expressly representing human sexual desires through anthropomorphic characters whose erotic adventures offer unsettling correspondences to those of humans (fig. 10).

Figure 10

On the surface, at least, Tijuana Bibles would seem to be diametrically opposed to Chick Tracts, not least because the “bibles” celebrate the profligate carnality that Chick Tracts later condemn. Nevertheless, there are uncanny parallels between these respective series that extend to their content, form, and mode of production. It is not insignificant, for example, that Chick Tracts are currently disseminated in the same sleight-of-hand fashion that Tijuana Bibles once were. Indeed, one is likely to find Chick Tracts in the same locations that early-century-Americans once discovered Tijuana Bibles: for example, in such public locations as bus-seats, laundromats, subway cars, and public telephone stalls. The parallels between these strategic placements of mid-twentieth-century Tijuana Bibles and late-twentieth-century/early twenty-first century Chick Tracts may not be wholly coincidental. After all, if, as I have stated above, Chick purposely designed his comics to complement—and compete with—comics that circulated during the mid-twentieth-century, it would not be outside the realm of possibility to posit that he also modeled his process circulation after the one achieved by anonymously-authored- and discretely-disseminated Tijuana Bibles. It may not be insignificant, for example, that Tijuana Bibles enjoyed their maximal circulation at precisely the time that Jack Chick was experiencing adolescence. Surely, it is possible that the teenaged Chick, who grew up during the hey-day of the bibles’ circulation, might have enjoyed the licentiousness depicted in these World War-era comics—so much so, in fact, that even after his eventual conversion to evangelical Christianity, he could still appreciate how their scattershot mode of circulation might reach the maximal amount of readers. Indeed, Chick could have drawn on his adolescent memories of the epiphanies afforded by tacitly-hidden pornographic texts in order to produce the element of surprise in his own evangelical brand.

Of course, this is mere speculation: in any case, Chick is such a notoriously private figure that there seems to be little hope in definitively identifying the sources of his creative vision. However, one could still make the case that, even if Chick did not personally consume Tijuana Bibles, he was nevertheless at least indirectly influenced by them. After all, as I have demonstrated above, the few interviews with Chick that do exist suggest that he was inspired to co-opt the pre-existing conventions of “evil” comics—American horror comics and Maoist comics certainly, but perhaps also Tijuana Bibles— toward his own evangelical purposes. Indeed, he chose a method of underground publication and anonymous circulation that was first practiced by disseminators of Tijuana Bibles. Moreover, the manic pace at which his narratives of spiritual transformation proceed resembles the swiftness with which the bibles’ wholesome characters converted, as it were, to hedonism. Finally, even if Chick considered underground comics such as Tijuana Bibles to be moral anathema, he may still have appreciated their didactic potential. As Spiegelman maintains, Tijuana Bibles were the “sex-education manuals of their time” insofar as they directed an entire generation of (pre-) adolescent boys to identify “what to put where, and how to move it once they put it there” (10). Likewise, Chick Tracts offer “how-to” instruction in spiritual, rather than sexual, mechanics.

The Sublimation and Disavowal of Erotic Pleasure

If Chick Tracts differ from Tijuana Bibles, however—or, for that matter, pornography more generally—it is in their strategic sublimation and disavowal of pleasure. Tijuana Bibles, Spiegelman insists, were “cheerfully” committed to pleasure: they delighted in subverting conventionally accepted texts, and the social mores that they upheld, with the intention of granting their readers at least a vicarious experience of such illicit pleasure. Although Spiegelman pointedly distinguishes the Bibles from more “truly outré,” “kinky,” “masochistic” and decidedly less “innocent” or “cheerful” expressions of pornography, it is nevertheless significant to note that all pornographic works are, by definition, unabashedly invested in the representation and transmission of pleasure. Indeed, as Williams argues, even those pornographic texts that depict the body in the greatest degrees of humiliation and pain promise the exquisite ecstasy, or jouissance, that such indignities ultimately involve. Moreover, and perhaps more crucially, pornography’s commitment to displaying the “truly outré” not only unsettles circumscribed, heteronormative discourses surrounding acceptable sexual practices but also unapologetically tests the limits of the audience’s experience of pleasure—and in turn, its internalized notions of “good taste.”

Certainly, as I have argued above, Chick Tracts involve an economy of libidinal pleasure, not least because, like Tijuana Bibles, they feature bumbling “everyman” protagonists who fumble their way to ecstasy. What distinguishes Chick Tracts from Tijuana Bibles or pornography more generally, however, is their ultimate disavowal of the very pleasure they evoke. This is especially evident in those issues that offer voyeuristic glimpses into the “lifestyles” they later condemn. In the aforementioned The Poor Little Witch, for example, readers are invited to follow the protagonist, Mandy, to a slumber party hosted by scantily clothed girls who take part in a Wiccan ceremony. Here, the tract allows the reader to experience vicariously both sexual promiscuity and pagan ritual—two indulgences that even the unconverted reader knows are antithetical to Christian belief and practice. However, no sooner does the issue offer this subversive pleasure than it revokes it. Mandy, the reader soon learns, has actually been victimized by a Satanist cult; in turn, as the text suggests, this fate could be equally be visited upon the reader if s/he chooses to participate in the same tempting activities as the unfortunate protagonist. At first glance, this narrative appears to demonstrate a certain “bait and switch” tactic employed by good spiritual salesmanship: that is, it offers one apparent good (the libidinal satisfaction involved in non-Christian practices) only to replace it with a more valuable one (the eternal salvation won by the renunciation of such profane pleasures). A closer reading of the narrative, however, may reveal its implicit sanctioning of the very pleasure it appears to proscribe. That is, it permits its reader to gaze upon forbidden acts precisely because doing so might eventually allow her to internalize the tract’s final message. Moreover, and perhaps more significantly, this issue—and others like it—give converted readers the license to view characters engaged in licentious behavior so they might reaffirm their righteous separation from them. In this way, then, Chick Tracts sanction the very illicit pleasure they claim to disavow.

Admittedly, only a very few of the tracts’ readers actually subscribe to the eschatological theology they profess, and thus only this slim minority participates in the psychological gymnastics involved in deriving pleasure from the issues’ depiction of forbidden practices. Nevertheless, a study of Chick’s strategic sublimation and disavowal of libidinal pleasure might place into relief the tactics employed by more mainstream and popularly-received artifacts of mass culture. For example, one might argue that Mel Gibson’s blockbuster film, The Passion of the Christ—a three-hour-long depiction of Jesus’ torture and crucifixion originally released on Ash Wednesday of 2004 and thus intended as a devotional aid—employs precisely those visual and narrative elements that characterize pornographic texts. Indeed, as Joshua Gunn argues, The Passion offers repetitive sequences of the tortured body in ecstasy that arouse not simply the viewer’s sympathy but also her visceral response to the exquisiteness of sacrificial pain; moreover, shots that focus on Christ’s spurting blood in effect constitute “money shots” that testify to the authenticity of the savior’s final orgasmic surrender to death (273). In turn, one might argue—counterintuitively, perhaps—that the film’s dependence on generic elements of pornography ultimately contributed to its tremendously positive reception by conservative Christians. That is, Gibson’s film allowed devout audiences to justify or otherwise rationalize any visceral pleasure they derived from it by claiming that The Passion‘s graphic scenes ultimately serve the greater purpose of enabling an intimate relationship with the Christian savior. In this way, then, Gibson’s film achieved on a large scale what Chick’s tracts can only do for a slim demographic: in other words, it sanctioned otherwise proscribed desires and pleasures precisely by sublimating them within a religiously authorized narrative.

Ultimately, the license to enjoyment granted by both Chick’s underground comics and the still-popular Passion has consequences that affect not only conservative Christians but also a general citizenry composed of both believers and non-believers alike. It is not insignificant, for example, that Gibson’s arguably pornographic film was ardently defended by the Catholic League—an organization that has otherwise devoted itself to decrying aesthetic works it deems pornographic (including Martin Scorcese’s own devotional film, The Last Temptation of Christ [1988]).11 Nor is it insignificant that erstwhile presidential candidate Rick Santorum—a conservative Catholic who once infamously compared homosexuality to bestiality and whose presidential platform involved the criminalization of Internet pornography—has recently invested in the film company that produced The Passion.12 As these examples make clear, the very religious and secular authorities who condemn not only pornography but also sexual practices that depart from heteronormative definitions of “healthy” (i.e., reproductive) sexuality have nevertheless offered unconditional support for a film that elicits the non-reproductive pleasures they would otherwise condemn. In turn, these examples demonstrate how The Passion‘s apologists—or for that matter, fundamentalist readers of Chick Tracts—defend the right to their own pleasure even as they deny similar pleasures to those they deem beyond the pale of proper citizenship13 and good taste. Indeed, they place into relief the implicit conviction that those who subscribe to a particular credo are not only entitled to erotic pleasures but are also at liberty to actively (and even legally) withhold them from ostensibly undeserving others. To be sure, texts such as The Passion and Chick Tracts do not admit to, or may not even be conscious of, the exclusionary logic on which they depend: in effect, such logic remains carefully hidden within their margins. And yet, it is precisely because these ostensibly innocent and “straight-forward” texts disavow their simultaneous sanctioning and withholding of pleasure—and, in turn, mirror and reaffirm such a disavowal within the public sphere—that they might be considered monstrous.


[1] In Imaginary Citizens: Child Readers and the Limits of American Independence, 1640-1868 (2013), Wielke-Mills accounts for the ways in which Sunday School tracts, although they were expressly produced to provide religious instruction, nonetheless educated young readers in more secular interpretations of value; in this way, she argues, these tracts envisioned their audience as “imaginary citizens” who “could not exercise civic rights but who […] were often invited to view themselves as citizens despite their limited political franchise” (4). Significantly, Wielke-Mills’s chapter on Sunday school tracts is preceded by a study of colonial-era religious texts given to children with the good faith that they might be especially receptive to the purportedly unmediated truths contained within them. Arguably, such a belief in the child’s (or child-like reader’s) susceptibility to direct witness motivates Chick’s own contemporary series of religious texts.

[2] Indeed, Chick lampoons door-to-door witness in his anti-Mormon tract, The Visitors (1984), in which a Bible-believing young woman ultimately persuades her gullible aunt of the ostensible chicanery practiced by Mormon missionary “visitors.”

[3] In the first chapter of Seduction of the Innocent, for example, Wertham provides case studies of juvenile delinquents he believes were originally good but who were ultimately directly “seduced” by “gory” and “semipornographic” comics. In this chapter, Wertham goes so far to equate superhero comics with Nietzsche’s figure of the “Overman” and in turn Nietzsche’s larger critique of Western historical narratives of civilization. (“How did Nietzsche get into the nursery?” Wertham quips). To be sure, Wertham is something of a bogeyman in comics studies, not least because his facile equivalence between comics and juvenile delinquency motivated a decades-long censorship of U.S. comics. Even so, a close reading of Wertham’s diatribe might redeem at least parts of his argument. After all, Wertham argues that instances of juvenile delinquency do not attest to some inborn moral malformation of the individual consciousness—as, for example, Puritan theological visions might posit—but are rather influenced by a larger socio-environmental context. Certainly, this is a (relatively) progressive statement. Moreover, Wertham makes a surprisingly bold (and arguably progressive) claim when he maintains that child abuse occurs not only in intimate, domestic contexts but also in public, institutional settings initially established to protect the child’s best interests. (“Cruelty to children,” he writes, “is not only what a drunken father does to his son, but what those in high estate, in courts and welfare organizations, do to straying youth” [8]). Wertham’s jeremiad, then, demonstrates tensions within the 1950’s U.S. political imagination—tensions that were played out over the terrain of comics.

[4] As Raeburn notes, Chick lore—like the Bible itself—is replete with various and conflicting origin stories. According to one, for example, Chick was inspired to complete his most famous tract, This Was Your Life (to be discussed below) when his prayer for a specific and abstruse biblical verse was suddenly and mysteriously answered (16). In another—which he documents in the promotional tract, Who, Me?—his decision to promulgate his message through the specific medium of comics was influenced by the success of comic book propaganda in Maoist China. According to Raeburn, Chick’s discovery of communist comics prompted him to rationalize that “if comics could win souls to the devil, they could win souls to Christ—and to capitalism” (3).

[5] Illustrated by Chick’s one known aesthetic collaborator, Fred Carter—whose characteristic deployment of “Filipino inking style” prompts Raeburn to celebrate him as a virtuoso (21).

[6] Not insignificantly, both of these passages are taken out of the context in which they appear in the original Gospels. For example, when, in Matthew 25:41, God states that the sinner should “depart from” him into an “eternal fire,” his statement is mediated by a specific speaker (here, Jesus) who warns against the spiritual consequences experienced by those who refuse to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, etc. In other words, the passage, in its entirety, only figuratively condemns those who do not practice corporal works of mercy. Significantly, Chick’s theology—which privileges outright statements of faith over such quotidian acts of mercy and justice celebrated in this larger passage—elides the greater context of the chapter in order to place into relief and literalize only its (initially figurative) statement of condemnation. Likewise, the following and apparently condemnatory passage from Luke occurs within a parable composed by Jesus: although the original text makes it clear that the parable should be read figuratively rather than literally, Chick’s text nevertheless demonstrates the latter mode of interpretation. Clearly, Chick has no interest in considering the historical context in which these statements were made, nor the specific forms of rhetoric that were informed by such contexts. Rather, he trusts that individual statements, once plucked from the passages that frame them, are unmediated and therefore might speak for themselves.

[7] For example, as Raeburn observes in the appendix to his article, Chick regards “liberation theology”—a leftist interpretation of Christian teaching especially popular in Central and South America—as the concoction of power-hungry Jesuits. According to Raeburn’s summary of Chick’s response to liberation theology, “Jesus Christ was a machine-gun carrying member of the Communist Party, […] man is basically good, and [… Jesus’s] salvation lies in overthrowing the capitalist system that has enslaved him in social, economic, and political chains” (51). Not surprisingly, this very same interpretation of liberation theology so condemned by Chick has attracted leftist scholars such as Terry Eagleton and Slavoj Zižek.

[8] As Raeburn notes, Chick, “like most ultimately anti-Semitic fundamentalists” has a “fearful respect of the Jewish people,” presumably because he identifies the current Jewish nation of Israel as the locus of Christ’s Second Coming (5). Indeed, Chick’s 1998 issue, Love the Jewish People, appears initially to reaffirm Zionist claims to Middle Eastern territories. However, it ultimately does so from a belief that “Israel’s Messiah” is none other than Christ himself—and in doing so, it subverts the credence of the very “Jewish People” on whose behalf it claims to speak.

[9] In the third chapter of his study of political cartoons, entitled “The Cartoon as Stimulus,” Navasky accounts for neuroscientific studies that claim that the visual/verbal rhetoric of political cartoons and/or caricatures simultaneously excite both the left and right regions of the brain; according to these studies, the visual stimuli offered by political cartoons have precise effects on the human brain. In this chapter, Navasky playfully remains open to these determining studies: he neither sanctions them nor denies them.

[10] To complicate this discussion, consider the case of the Danish newspaper, Jyllalands-Posten, which, on 30 September 2005 published twelve political cartoons which used the figure of Mohammed to critique historically-specific instances of Islamic terrorism. According to the cartoonists, as well as representatives of the periodical in which their texts were published, their depictions of Mohammed were merely figurative and allegorical; that is, they did not directly assail Mohammed himself but used his image in order to critique actions made in his name. However, according to many Islamic readers, the Danish cartoons immediately tarnished the image of the Prophet and thus constituted an act of blasphemy. Certainly, this controversy places into relief a larger conflict over textual representation and the relationship between the image and its disputed consubstantiality with its refererent.

[11] Scorcese’s film, based on Nikos Kazanstakis’ 1953 novel by the same title, imagines Christ’s final earthly temptation to involve his renunciation of the sacrificial cross for a banal domestic existence. Critics such as representatives of the Catholic League denounced Scorcese’s adaptation as blasphemous since it depicted Christ’s fantasy of connubial bliss with Mary Magdalene—even though the film, like the novel, presents this fantasy as a temptation that the Christian savior ultimately overcomes.

[12] According to an article published in Mother Jones in 2013, Santorum—who has been named the CEO of a Dallas-based “family friendly” film company—pitched a film on Islamic terrorism to one of The Passion‘s producers. Although the article does not make mention of this fact, it is well known that Santorum subscribes to a conservative version of Catholicism similar to that espoused by The Passion‘s director, Mel Gibson. The article does mention, however, that Santorum’s presidential platform involved the banning of Internet porn.

[13] For example, in The Queen of America Goes to Washington City (1997), Lauren Berlant accounts for the ways in which the New Right has redefined citizenship by restricting civic participation to the private sphere—for example, by privileging such “bedroom” issues as abortion, marriage, and pornography. In this way, she argues, the Right privileges certain citizens over others: for example, the child/fetus over the grown woman, the heterosexual over the queer subject, and the reproductive individual over those engaged in non-reproductive forms of sexuality. In turn, this logic involves the privileging of certain forms of pleasure and the denial of others.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Karen. The Battle for God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Berlant, Lauren. The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship. Durham: Duke UP, 1997.

Bruce, Steve. Fundamentalism. Malden, MA: Polity, 2000.

Chick, Jack. Bad Bob. 1983. 24 May, 2014.

—. Big Daddy? 2002. 24 May, 2014.

—. The Gay Blade. 1972. 24 May, 2014.

—. Global Warming. 2012. 24 May, 2014.

—. Gun Slinger. 1997. 24 May, 2014.

—. It’s All About You. 2009. 24 May, 2014.

—. Love the Jewish People. 1998. 24 May, 2014.

—. The Long Trip. 1994. 19 Oct, 2014.

—. The Poor Little Witch. 1987. 24 May, 2014.

—. The Sissy? 1978. 24 May, 2014.

—. The Thief. 1993. 24 May, 2014.

—. The Visitors. 1984. 24 May, 2014.

—. This Was Your Life. 1969. 24 May, 2014.

—. Where’s Rabbi Waxman? 1996. 24 May, 2014.

—. Who Me? 24 May, 2014.

Gertzman, Jay A. Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1999.

Gunn, Joshua. “Maranatha.” Quarterly Journal of Speech. 98:4 (2012). 359-385.

The Last Temptation of Christ. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Perf. Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey. Universal Pictures, 1988.

Luke 19:20. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha. Ed. Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford UP, 1973.

Marty, Martin E. The Glory and the Power: The Fundamentalist Challenge to the Modern World. Boston: Beacon, 1992.

Matthew 25:41. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha. Ed. Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford UP, 1973.

“Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.” Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s. Ed. Bob Adelman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. 41.

“Monster.” The Oxford English Dictionary. 3rd ed., 2002.

Navasky, Victor S. The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.

The Passion of the Christ. Dir. Mel Gibson. Perf. Jim Caviezel, Monica Belluci, Maia Morgenstern. Icon Productions, 2004.

Raeburn, Daniel K. The Imp? 1998.,_by_Daniel_Raeburn_files/Imp_JTC.pdf 23 Feb, 2015.

“She Saw the World’s Fair—And How!” Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s. Ed. Bob Adelman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. 69.

Spiegelman, Art. “Introduction: Those Dirty Little Comics.” Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s. Ed. Bob Adelman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. 5-10.

Suebsaeng, Asawin. “Rick Santorum Named CEO of a Christian Studio Film. Here’s What He Actually Knows About Movies.” Mother Jones. 25 June, 2013. 24 May, 2014.

Weilke-Mills, Courtney. Imaginary Citizens: Child Readers and the Limits of Independence, 1640-1868. Baltimore: the Johns Hopkins UP, 2013.

Wertham, Fredric. Seduction of the Innocent. New York: Rinehart and Co., 1954. Print.

Williams, Linda. “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess.” Film Quarterly 44:4 (1991) 2-13.

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