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(From Achewood -- click on the thumbnail for full sized condiment of SIN!)

Look, everyone knows I like Achewood. Well, anyone who's read this thing for a while and remembers that I like Achewood knows I like Achewood. Really, if we take the sum total of humanity and express all of this as a percentage, no one actually knows I like Achewood. Comparatively. Jesus, people, it's just an introduction.

Regardless, here we have Achewood... and here we have Jack Chick. And here we have Téodor -- a character who is essentially incapable of being successful at anything -- drawing his own tracts.

You remember the Penny Arcade defense -- when something isn't for you? If this comic were any more for me, it would have to be served with tea that was made by a superhero.

[And does he have VESTMENTS?! From The Chaplain by Jack Chick.]

(From Jack Chick's The Chaplain. Click to get it in the throat.)

I'm not sure what to make of this one. Either Jack Chick is subtly returning to form, or he's backed himself so completely into a corner that he's rapid-cycling through his stock tropes more than usual.

I'm half inclined to vote the former, if only because of the art. It's not just the expressive, eloquent schnozzes. (Ignore the remarkably offensive first panel here, and look carefully at the rest; these noses tell you everything you want to know about the American characters.) The Chaplain contains the best digital shading we've seen so far in a Chick tract. Before now, only The Wall had been even remotely passable. The Susyverse-styled Dirty Diamond hit a particular nadir. It's therefore all the more remarkable to me that the good hits with Chick's own lineart instead of Fred Carter's, since Chick stuck with plain old hatching up through the end of 2005. There are still traces of the old in the lineart, too; have a close look at the uniforms.

But I'm less certain about the writing. The characterization's much stronger than Chick's other own-art tracts this year, but also slightly stranger. This is less of a Chick tract than a caricature of one, down to the panel out of This Was Your Life!. Doofy soldier Benny is running through the tough-guy unchurched checklists here. Anger, boredom, Momlessness regret, outré notion of Christ, selective obtuseness... how do you pin it all on Preacher? Benny's been reading up. The titular chaplain is so far into the Corrupt Clergyman role that he has to be pushed into the action halfway through. Preacher's enthusiasm for the gospel is so close to the surface that it gets tapped for entertainment during slow moments. Lethal explosions are practically tied to page count. If Jack Chick isn't poking fun at himself here, he should be -- this falls down as a tract on its own, but it's fine self-parody that doesn't slip needlessly into metahumour.

In fact, The Chaplain is much more effective if you also read Four Angels?, a reworking and reissue of the much older Four Brothers. This one plays with the Corrupt Clergymen model in greater detail, although slightly less coherently than The Chaplain. (Watch for the Schuller vestments, by the way. Nice touch.)

Four Angels has nothing like those noses, though. Those are amazing noses. Never have noses been so effectively deployed for evangelism-by-comic.

[This never ends well. From The Devil's Night.]Illustrations from the Li'l Susy tract series by Jack Chick. Websnark entry number 1000 considers the plight of schoolteacher Ms. Henn, introduced in Apes, Lies, and Ms. Henn. She's a horribly underutilized character, an adversary with great potential, and it's a shame that we don't see more of her. It's hard not to sympathize with her, too -- would you want a child like Susy, the anti-Bobby, in your class?

Poor Ms. Henn. From her very first day, she had trouble with Susy Barnes.

Ms. Henn works in a public school. She hasn't been in this particular job very long; she was hired as maternity cover for the semester. Mostly, she likes it here, though. She enjoys organizing special events for the class, like speakers from the community and Halloween costume contests. learn, and grow, and embrace new ideas. She wants them to have the best possible education they can.

But the kids are going home from school scared, and shaken, and saying upsetting things to their parents. "Well, my friend Susy told me..."

How does a little girl end up that way? It just makes Ms. Henn sick to think about it.

Of course, Susy's bright and charismatic, but she's a very troubled little girl. Why, her father died last year, and her mother died in childbirth; the only person she has left in the world is her grandfather. The way her file tells it, she didn't even have a chance to grieve properly; she showed up at school barely a week later, a little too cheerful, telling everyone about her new daddy in Heaven.

[Susy Barnes is no fan of sin. From Li'l Susy.]Conversion under duress? It's as though Susy sees a completely different world.

Obviously, Susy's personal faith keeps her going, keeps her from breaking completely; it's good that she can draw strength from that. But the way her grandfather's raising her, she's learning to impose her faith on others at every available opportunity. And she's developing a terrible worldview in the process, too.

It frightens Ms. Henn. It really does. It's not that Susy's religious; it's that she's cruel. And militant.

It'd be another thing altogether if it was even just good-natured sharing, but Susy's incredibly overbearing and manipulative. She zeroes in on her most vulnerable classmates, like little Cathy, whose father ran out on the family. She'll say the most vicious and hateful things about other people's beliefs or practices to get underneath their skin. My friend Susy told me that Pagans sacrifice cute kitties and little girls. And that's not even the worst of it. What must her grandfather be teaching her? She's building up a little following of students, and they're starting to trust her with just about everything that goes wrong.

[Liar! From Apes, Lies...]That just won't do. It just leaves those poor kids open to getting their heads messed with, and there's not a blessed thing that Ms. Henn can do about it.

Ms. Henn doesn't know how to manage Susy at all. Mr. Barnes is awfully clever, and teaches his little girl how to weasel around the school's authority instead of properly respecting it. A little bit of it is Ms. Henn's fault, in a way, and she knows it -- she lost her temper on that first day, when Susy called her a liar in front of the whole class -- but Mr. Barnes took his granddaughter's side, and that didn't help things at all. (She probably told him horrible things about her.) He made sure Susy only spoke to her little group off of school grounds, where Ms. Henn couldn't do anything at all about the nasty things Susy would say or do. He sent Susy to school in a Santa costume today, for goodness' sakes! Just so that she wouldn't be participating in a fun holiday like Halloween!

(Ms. Henn wonders if Susy even knows where Santa comes from. Probably not yet. Mr. Barnes will probably tell her about druidic sacrifices sometime next month.)

Really, it'd be much easier for everyone if Mr. Barnes would just homeschool little Susy, as was suggested at the parent-teacher conference. Why, Susy's so convinced that there are demons everywhere, Ms. Henn's not convinced that Susy isn't hallucinating them now. There's no getting through to that little girl while she's so unbalanced, and it's getting harder and harder for her to keep control of the class. [Off school grounds! From Birds and the Bees.] The other parents are complaining horribly about it, but she can't do anything to stop Susy outside of class. She had to spend weeks apologizing to Larry and Charles for Frankie's horrible outburst, and she just knows that had nothing to do with Frankie's home environment.

If the children turn up to school tomorrow with those wretched little hate literature tracts in their Halloween candy, Ms. Henn just doesn't know what she's going to do about it. Perhaps she ought to see about getting Susy referred to the school counselor.

This just isn't going to end well. Ms. Henn might have to go drinking.

Just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving


[From Jack Chick's 'The Missing Day'.]
(From this season's Jack Chick tract, "The Missing Day". Click for dysfunctional family gathering.)

In recent years, Chick has relied entirely too heavily upon the lone voice of ostensible reason in a crowd of nonsensical sin. This is not to say that both of these haven't been devices from the get-go, but these days it's really getting phoned in. Maybe Bob Williams ate all the distinguishing characteristics, only to lose them when he went to convert Sparklypoo House away from witchcraft.

Uncle Mort's a bit of a confusing choice for the hero-preacher, though. He's supposedly rich, not a quality generally associated with Chickverse Christians who are still alive at the end of the tract. Worse, the family forgets all about this the second he starts telling the Thanksgiving story with a strongly evangelistic bent. It only gets brought up as a way to point out the matriarch's desire for his cash -- there's no way we can actually have Beloved Uncle Mort just be Beloved Uncle Mort here -- but it's an odd message. Even Scrooge went batshit charitable in the Chickverse. This guy's just, as they say, loaded. That's all. Which begs the question of why he's hanging around with these degenerates to begin with.

(This is the second tract in a row where we've gotten pointless extra detail, too. In the disjointed, otherwise unremarkable "What's Wrong With This?", a prankster kid and a grumpy old man clash to no useful end whatsoever. What? Was that supposed to be emblematic of the fundamental corruption of man? Bring back Little Bobby. Seriously.)

Chick's usually been quite good at comedy sin, too, but his heart just isn't in this hilarious family tableau. "My blood sugar's low" just doesn't rate with rallying the one-world heathen witch drunkard troops to chase down a passing Christian and "give him the business!" It's a nice touch to have all the parties cancelled "on account of fire," and it's good to have the jolly fat demons back again, but it's all been done. He's floundering. Even the drug references and homosexual demon are half-arsed. Maybe he really does need to stick to writing behind the scenes at this stage; he just doesn't seem happy anymore.

The most alarming thing about this Thanksgiving Chick tract: does this mean we're not going to get a Halloween tract this year? I guess there really is no following up to delightful Li'l Susy's tales of human sacrifice, which is something of a shame.

We haven't really heard from Li'l Susy this year at all, come to think of it. Pity. Maybe Ms. Henn killed and ate her. That wouldn't be so bad.

[Racer DEEEEEEEE.] One of the problems with recent Chick tracts has been the artwork. As I've said before, Jack Chick's stroke and Fred Carter's prolonged absence have had a horrible knockon effect -- Chick's recovery, both as writer and artist, has been slow, while Carter's post-Light of the World output has been slapdash. Chick's experimentation with continuity bore out what Gabe and Tycho constantly joke about: some people just shouldn't play with that particular lighter. The few standalone tracts to come out of the Bob years and beyond had been pale shadows of the scintillatingly trashy past. Efforts at dense plotting fell flat. I began to worry.

I stopped worrying once I saw The Wall. This month's Chick/Carter collaboration, while still no Soul Story, finally gets back to what made the older tracts work: B-movie plotting, dialogue so painfully wrought that the prosletysing doesn't feel the least bit out of place, and an artfully understated Hell Toss that could have gone either way.

I want to believe that Chick stayed up late one night watching nothing but reruns of Speed Racer and The Dukes of Hazzard. It's not quite right somehow -- Carter can't decide whether he wants Mach GoGoGo or Hazzardish kineticism, so panels which should drip motion end up feeling a bit static. But the Nifty Cars rerun vibe is very, very strong indeed. I wish I still had my notes to hand as regards the cars themselves, though (it was pointed out to me by a Formula One fan that the cars, especially when crashing, simply don't work).

Fred Carter is clearly getting back into his element, incidentally, even if he's not doing much reference work for the actual racing elements. He's clearly been puzzling out digital shading, and it seems to be finally clicking for him. The earlier Kidnapped!, which tries desperately to hearken back to his early, lush tone style, falls over in a fit of blur and smear. Here, he's finally managing a compromise between spare line and subtle greys; he's got a ways to go before we start thinking Soul Story again, but the confidence is back. Now, if we can just get past the mouths again, we're set.

[Kim Lee, stereotype to the stars.] I'm not 100% certain Chick's confidence is back as regards antagonists, though. Kim Lee is a serviceably stereotypical sexpot, but she's not much of a motivation. She's very much defanged. One would be hard pressed to find evidence that Chick reacts to negative feedback, but Kim is very much the antithesis of other recent non-Christian devouts; we never find out just what it is she practices, she's not particularly vicious, and her ultimatum may well be more complex and considered than it appears at first glance. (Yes, at second glance, it's pretty hypocritical and ridiculous -- it's fair enough not to want an intolerant husband, but the Jesus/boingyboingy thing doesn't really work as phrased.) I can't decide if she's a subtle thorn or a minimally considered device. Either way, she works well as eye candy, and I do like that we're not getting OMG FOREIGN RELIGION IS EVIL in the usual forceful way.

Even so. Dude. Racecars, hot chicks and moonshine probably mean we're back on track.

They can give us Ms. Henn's Night Out now. Have I mentioned that I'd held out, expecting a new Li'l Susy this month? Rar.

Logo: Sleeping Snarky

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