August 19, 2008
Eric: Man, now I hope the Téodor tracts show up on the Fanflow premium service
(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.
March 1, 2006
Wednesday: Tex Wilson only ever had nice things to say about Benny.
(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.
October 31, 2005
Wednesday: God Shot: Think about it from Ms. Henn's point of view.
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.
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.
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. 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.
September 8, 2005
Wednesday: Just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving
(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.
May 22, 2005
Wednesday: [w] A God Shot Interlude: Them Duke Boys
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.
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.
April 17, 2005
Wednesday: [w] Falling Out of Love with the God Shot III: I Know This Guy...
The thing with Bob Williams is, he knows everybody. Or, if he doesn't know them yet, he will. The hero of Jack Chick's Bible Series is just cool like that.
Some people are blessed with divine gifts. Prophesy. Tongues. Masses of flaming red hair draped over cleavage that a man would go to jail for. Bob? Bob has the gift of always being around when someone needs the savin'. (Or, occasionally, the
wrath of God tough lovin'. But mostly the savin', 'cause Bob's not willing that anyone should perish. Much.)
When you're on tour of the Holy Land and some guy blows up a bus down the road from you? Bob is there to explain to you why you need Jesus straight away. When your best friend died right in front of you and you're lying around a burn ward in agony? Bob's right there to tell you how much execution by fire sucks. When you're cussing up a storm to pass the time because you're twelve and you're badass? Bob's totally going to tell you who Jesus is. @*!!
Here's the thing with Bob: he's who every script evangelist wishes he could be. Placed at the right spot, at the right time, Bob will lead any man to Christ, or curse him to death in the process. (Not, you understand, with curses -- that's the job of the witches. Of the witch, precisely, but we'll get to Holly in a bit.) He has the power, and the skill, and the blessing. Also, he's a tool.
No. I mean that in the secular sense. Bob is such a tool.
You see, Bob Williams is a Mary Sue on a scale not seen since Chick and Carter's Crusaders universe comics. (Yep, that includes Alberto, even though Alberto Rivera himself is a completely different proposition... but I digress, and Eric's already touched on him.) Although Bob hasn't the Crusaders' campy charm, let alone their bullet-deflection or outing skills, he trumps them in many ways.
Many depressing, ill-rendered ways.
Continuity isn't particularly good for the standard Chick tract distribution model. The idea with Bob's series is that you pass the tracts to
your target someone that you will see on a regular basis, in order; when these were coming out, you were presumably intended to pass them along as and when you got them, or to pass the URLs along as they went online (more or less at the start of each month, sometimes accompanied by the restoration or featuring of a "classic" tract -- it's slower than most webcomics, but Chick does understand the power of regular updates.) No longer merely content to hook the collector through the usual distribution mechanism, Chick was looking to get people interested in the adventures of Bob, the community of people around him, and the cancerous evangelism of everyone he knew.
The problem is, Bob isn't actually very interesting.
He's not interesting as a character, for the same reason that few Sues are intriguing to those who aren't the writer, or the writer's intimates. Bob doesn't have much of a personality on his own; he's just alarmingly competent (for some derivation of "competent," anyhow) and well-connected. Those of God love him, and those not of God ... don't.
In fact, there are relatively few characters here who have any real sense of definition or power to them. Chick tracts are arguably not the greatest things to be asking for character development from, but older pieces were quite good at conveying a very bold, strong impression in a very few strokes. Yeah, we can chalk it up to Chick recovering slowly from the stroke, or being distracted by The Light of the World's near-completion, but the whole point is for us to be intrigued by this universe. This is meant to be a serial, told in snapshots; continuing characters should engage us.
I can only really call two individuals to mind, even after having read this series over about a couple dozen times since its completion, who stand out. That's pretty depressing. Even more depressing, only one of them recurs, and that's to get run over by a truck and fall into Hell with the other one.
Holly was never really a target of Bob's preaching, merely his smugness. She's a witch with a demon, and she likes it that way. Holly was probably intended to represent a contemporary neopagan, visible and proud. She ends up a harsh, vitriolic caricature. She makes some amount of sense, though; on his own and with the help of hat-talker William Schnoebelen, Chick has published a considerable amount of ridiculous antipagan literature. Not everyone who's going to respond to Schnoebelen or Chick about this sort of thing is utterly reasonable; I imagine Chick's gotten plenty of half-cocked mail about his quarter-cocked work over the years. Holly strikes me as the natural result of that cascade effect.
She's still ridiculous. She stands out because she actually gets to go off and have a grudge against Bob for a fashion, and doesn't immediately end up in Hell like most Chick-victims who reject or put off the salvation thing. When she does go, it's while driving sitcom-reject medium Gladys to a hotel so that she can get away from Bob. (Gladys is, incidentally, the other notable character. She's an egotist; she's a false prophetess. Woo. This is hell of depressing.) You'd think, after all that buildup, the Hell Toss would have been glorious, but we barely get a zig worth moving.
I've frequently heard Chick tracts and comics compared to bad pornography, and with good reason. You get broad characterizations (or archetypes, or even stereotypes), you get character interaction which hits fairly predictable points along an assigned/expected spectrum, and you get some version of the climactic outcome you were expecting when you went in. Some climaxes are, of course, better than others.
Either you get the God Shot or the Hell Toss. In the latter, the victim turns up in front of God's throne and gets found wanting, then gets pitched into the flames. In the former, we get orgasmic salvation and conversion: made new and clean, freed by her submission, the victim pretty much explodes with the Holy Spirit. Viscous tears of joy course down her face as she rises, slowly, from her knees. This is what you really want to see, right? Souls won to Christ. This is what you really want to have happen to you, or to others, right?
Not that many of us are passing pornography to people we're interested in in order to explain to them that we'd like them to... yeah, okay, the analogy just broke down. But you see my point.
The problem is, really, is not that it's porn. That sort of thing has its place in all kinds of storytelling. We watch He-Man, Sailor Moon, and other magical girl shows for the stock footage and the monster smiting. We read C-list shoujo manga to watch the plucky, plain heroine eventually land the appealing, but irritating rogue. We go to blockbusters for the explosions. That's fine. The problem is, here, this is workmanlike porn. This is shoddy porn; this is not particularly well-considered, poorly constructed, and -- though Chick might claim otherwise -- not desperately respectful or cognizant of its audience. It just gets the job done, and cynically so at that. This is why Soul Story was such a magnificent piece of work by comparison; it may have been exploitative and formulaic, but damned if it didn't try to make a connection, to appeal, and to work. It did the job out of love; this does the job out of goalmaking.
To be fair, the Bible Series does set the stage for further plot and continuity in Chick's tracts, particularly once Fred Carter was freed up from the film to draw them. Unfortunately, it backfired. In the next installment, we look at Officer Carter, Li'l Susy, and one of the most disappointingly potential-laden Chick antagonists yet written: Ms. Henn.
March 29, 2005
Eric: Because I'm in a bad mood... it's ON, Alberto!
I'm in a bad mood. The day job's conspiring to put me in a bad mood and Apple's "Pages" application has proven to be... well, let's just call it a disappointment, because someone would probably be upset if I called it a "misbegotten piece of shit that fails to meet the standard of Appleworks 5.0, much less modern Word Processors of any stripe." No way to change fonts except in a font panel that isn't even a part of the inspector my ASS... Jesus, this thing's better optimized to change the Kerning than the Font size, and who in God's name are they targeting this to? WHY IS THERE A DELAY IN TYPING? IT'S GOD DAMNED TIMES NEW ROMAN 12 POINT! THERE SHOULD BE NO RENDERING DELAY, YOU FUCKTARDS!
But I digress.
Needless to say, I'm in the perfect mood to discuss Alberto.
Let me say up front I'm not going to address the subject matter directly. That's Wednesday's bag, and she holds it well. I'm not going to discuss whether or not Alberto really was an officer of the Inquisition working for the Black Pope within Vatican City sent forth to destroy Protestant churches from within working alongside Catholic girls who use sex as a weapon to get time off in Purgatory. I don't have primary sources to work from, and Hell -- in a world where Kelly Clarkson still has a career, I'm willing to accept almost anything as being possible. If you're curious, go and read the thing. It's free. And it just might make you think.
If, that is, you can get past the execution. See, the execution? That's my bag.
Let's start with the art. I don't normally criticize art, but then I don't normally snark stuff that's been in continuous print as a comic book since 1979 and translated into multiple languages, either, so I feel it's probably acceptable, this time.
Which is more than I can say for this art. I can actually groove on the art in a number of Chick tracts, so it's not the material per se. In fact, Fred Carter (the artist in question) did some excellent work in several. Wed's posts on the subject highlights that. Here, though, Carter goes a bit nuts -- perhaps it's the inclusion of color. I don't know. The faces and poses of the figures range from the stiff to the grotesque, with linework that's heavy and distracting. A tremendous amount of work goes into each panel's background -- attempting to demonstrate a sense of accuracy. "We know what we're talking about." it seems to say. "Look at how carefully we show the costuming and office accouterments of a Catholic Priest." The problem is, it overwhelms the foreground -- especially since the figures look like statues with exaggerated expressions carved into them.
That's relatively minor, however. That's not what gets me staring at Alberto... and truly gets me rereading it again and again and again. No, for that, we need to look at... the text.
Here's the exact text of a caption we find on page 2:
Under the intense (heavy) teaching by *Jesuit Priests Alberto had completely changed.
Now, the asterisk led to a footnote underneath that read "*The sharpest group of Priests in the Roman Catholic Institution," which admittedly is a good description of the Jesuits. But let's look at this more closely.
Chick, in writing that caption, felt a need to define both "Jesuit" and "intense." Now, obviously Chick was hoping children would read this. Especially Catholic children. I mean, this is testimony. That's the actual point. And obviously he wanted to make it clear to younger readers what certain words mean.
But... he felt the need to define "Intense?"
Further, and I admit this is the English Major in me rearing its ugly, tweed-festooned head, but he mixed styleguides to do it. I was trained in MLA style, which means I typically put parenthetical comments and notes in parentheses as a part of the paragraph, be those supplemental notes or citation references. The Chicago Manual of Style Guide, on the other hand, advocates the use of footnotes for supplemental notes and citations (at least, for Humanities articles. Scientific articles or Internet-published works get other treatment).
Chick, in one caption, has used both styles of annotation at once. It's a madhouse. A MADHOUSE! I'm almost positive Jesus didn't tell him to do that!
The definition thing is what leaps out at you, though. Chick defines words like he's desperately afraid the reader is about to suffer a stroke, peppering the text with parenthetical asides and asterisks throughout. Some of them make sense -- Seminary, for example. A kid might not know what a Seminary is. However, far more difficult words and concepts don't get defined at all, and some astoundingly simple concepts do.
Here's a partial list of terms specifically defined in Alberto, along with their definition:
- Celibacy (a reverse definition, as they explain that Priests can't marry in the body of the text, and then footnote the single word 'celibacy'
- Celibacy (they actually footnote a definition of the word again on the next page, though this time at least the word is being defined, rather than the definition being footnoted with the term)
- Canon (another reverse definition)
- Stone (which apparently means a 'small pebble')
- Dominicans (defined as "monks in an order founded by a man named Dominic. Um... 'kay)
- Espionage (again)
- Sentiments (defined as 'feelings')
- One World Superchurch
- Unpardonable (defined as "one who can't be pardoned or forgiven")
- Documents (defined as 'papers and forms') Lake of Fire. (That's right. He felt the reader wouldn't recognize the Lake of Fire as Hell by the context. To his defense, I have been through New Jersey a number of times.)
And here's a partial list of terms that were not defined in Alberto.
- Extreme Unction
- Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur
- Charismatic Movement
So... Chick... felt he had to define "Protestant" but not "Evangelical" or "Pentacostal." He was willing to accept that the reader knew "Ecumenical," "Extreme Unction" and "Apostacy," but thought they might have trouble with "Intense," "Infiltrate" and "Stone."
The story is told as a retelling of Alberto Rivera's life and his duties as a destroyer of Protestant churches -- a simple recitation of events to a couple of Christians who are helping hide him from the Catholics who are trolling America, trying to kill him. Said Christian punctuate the story with phrases like "Heavy." ("That is heavy stuff, man!") Absent the definitions, it would just be a somewhat suspect story punctuated by oddly stiff and lifeless art from an artist who could clearly do better. With those definitions, however, it becomes something more. Drinking games could be founded around the way Jack Chick helpfully lets the reader know what documents are. By the time you get to the conversion checklist at the back (every Chick publication ends with the checklist for how to be saved. If you're not familiar with the process, you can find it here -- don't let it be said I was unwilling to let you hear the basic message) you've had a plethora of new ideas (concepts) to mull over (think about).
Is that on enough? Is it? Huh? Ball's in your court, Wednesday!
March 21, 2005
Wednesday: [weds] Falling Out of Love with the God Shot II (Interlude: Background)
(I'm afraid this isn't much about comics, but please bear with me. If I don't write some of this down, I feel like I'll be doing the rest of the Chick piece a disservice.)
I became interested in religion on a recreational basis at roughly the same point in my life I first became seriously involved with it. Once someone's made a good faith effort to throw demons out of your head, arguably unsuccessfully, it's really hard to take anything entirely seriously again.
"Recreational religion" is a difficult concept to convey. As I said, everyone has their comfort trash. There's a phenomenon -- and, really, we're all in the teapot here; we've seen the storms -- whereby it's desperately easy to take some insignificant thing very, very seriously when you get too close. On occasion, the most sensible way to cope with things is to do exactly the opposite: step away from the big dogs and laugh.
It has nothing to do with disrespect, except inasmuch as it's hard to respect stuff which is doing its best to exploit a state of indecision or inquisitiveness. There's meaning well, and then there's the service of agenda. "Unintentional metahumour," perhaps, if that wasn't such a bloody pretentious way of putting it, with a side order of what?!
Missionary zeal often has trouble making the transition to popular media, which is part of what can make it so entertaining. Or so disastrous. The most unsettling material, for my money, is the stuff where you realize, no, the person really has gone off the edge. They are deadly earnest, they are incredibly serious, and they cannot grasp why you have completely lost your shit. You must know this laugh: it's ever so slightly nervous. You put up your own field of lunacy so that you can pass through theirs intact.
It's not always the stuff you can check for glorious internal consistency, either. I always seem to bring up the same examples, which is frustrating; it feels rather like concentrating on poorly executed Christianity, not poorly executed religion. (There's just such a wealth of material. I'd love to hear about stuff from other faiths which pulls this sort of thing off; I know from neopaganism, but I fall short in other respects. Anyhow.)
That said, American rapture cinema is so representative of the condition, whether or not one's taking up the campy pulp of the seventies (the feel of which was captured perfectly by Chick and Carter in The Last Generation) or the glossy, overproduced-yet-cheap shite from the past ten or so years (Omega Code, Left Behind/Tribulation Force, that sort of thing). On the one hand: what?! On the other hand: and you're playing this straight while you what?! I figure this must have been the reaction everyone but Hal Warren had to Manos: The Hands of Fate when it came out. (The viewing experience is, I assure you, not dissimilar; there are, for example, only so many ways you can depict Torgo's little altar to Ba'al, let alone your demonic harem. Especially without the MST3K track. "Beat! Beat!" indeed... but I digress.)
The old Spire comics do a fantastic job with this as well. I don't know how common this was for a lot of people growing up -- I'm told the answer is "quite" for certain pockets of North America -- but there does come a point where, after you've gone through all of the used bookstores in town, you really have just run out of Archie. The next step is dangerous: you wander, innocently, into your local purveyor of Precious berloody Moments and find the stuff which just isn't canonical.. Weatherbee bussing everyone out of the school district to pray? Reggie the swell, swell guy? Veronica unsexed? A vibrant Big Ethel?!
And that way lies madness. Madness and adaptations of Nicky Cruz's street punk phase. Madness and Hansi. The common threads are this bafflingly earnest bombast, the sense that someone has had what seemed to them a fantastic idea spun out long past its logical conclusion, and the creepily dawning concept that your soul's relative value has just diminished by dint of coming into contact with their goals.
(Also, Big Ethel. I mean, what?!)
There are really only two directions in which one can go with trainwreck material along these lines: really pulpy, awful dreck (there's a classic of deliverance ministry, Pigs in the Parlor, which works for this; Salem Kirban's elliptical perspective hops are great here, too, and there's an apostolic TV show coming out of San Francisco which is killer) or stylish, slick delivery that just somehow misses the mark (like the Spire comics, any of the Hal Lindsey/Johanna Michaelsen antioccultism materials, Bob Larson at his peak...).
Part of the point is recognizing, without actually acknowledging or submitting to, the innate power of the work. This actually makes the materials very difficult to effectively satirize. The Landover Baptists of this world, and sometimes even the Lark Newses, ultimately fail by flaunting the power instead of flirting with it. Beat the same drum too hard, too often, and the rhythm gets lost. This is also where The Wittenburg Door has been known to fall down in recent years, although they still pull some admirable turns.
This is also what makes the middle ground so very difficult to really enjoy, inasmuch as one enjoys such things. There is such a glut of mediocrity in this vein, and there are so many people with a middlingly unremarkable case of agenda. With most forms of entertainment, study, self-initiation, or whatever you're up to that can possibly correspond, you're wading through dreck to get to what you need, and that's irritating on its own. Here, you're also wading through a mass of grasping hands; I don't know about you, but I have one hell of a huge concept of personal space.
So, when a star falls from the firmament into tedium, it's always a shame. You have the older materials, of course, but what now? Where the hell is this going? Do we stick around and see if it gets better? Or worse?
I usually do. I'm nothing if not loyal.
(Illustrations are from the Hal Lindsey/Al Hartley Spire comic There's A New World Coming. Eric should be back tomorrow, Kyriotate willing and the creek don't rise. I'll be yelling at screens for the next couple days, then yammering something about Bob (for real next time). Takeover! resumes after God Shot IV: Officer Carter and the Squandering of Ms. Henn.)
March 18, 2005
Wednesday: [weds] Falling Out of Love with the God Shot I: Info Dump
Everyone has their comfort trash. Apartment 4-G. Those horrid Li'l Archie comics where everyone balances themselves on one foot during the course of normal conversation. Mile-thick installments of pulpy fantasy "cycles." Iron Chef America.(*)
Me, I have Chick tracts.
And I know you're staring at me like I'm some kinda predictable freak ("how can you enjoy that stuff? What, did you like old rapture movies as a child or something?" Errr...), but leave aside the matter of his cracked theology (bizarre and kooky at best, downright hateful at worst) just for a moment. Seriously. Just for a moment. OK?
Jack Chick arguably has the best independent comics distribution network ever.
Think about it. Many of us are going to be delighted if we get, like, more than half a dozen hits on our webcomics, or sell a couple dozen copies of "My Logorrhea Ate Montana" at the zine fair. Some are going to be delighted if books sell a couple thousand copies, especially if one can supplement that income with t-shirt revenue. A very few get respectable positions on the Amazon bestseller list for a day or two. A couple folks end up big enough fish in their small ponds that they, say, might be found at the mall.
Chick tracts, meanwhile, are all over the place. Public transit. Phone booths. Washrooms. Workplaces, if you're
unfortunate. Cafes. Turnpike service stations. McKFCQueenKingThing(**). Hell, probably Sbarro, since all things inevitably lead to Sbarro. I've found them in three different countries, four different languages, just over the course of daily events -- they get hell of translated, so there's every chance you'll find one just about anywhere you'll go, assuming someone's eager.
Yeah, lots of your gaming buddies might have their favourite strip which keeps up with the industry chatter, but dude? Not only has everyone seen Dark Dungeons, gamer or not, chances are someone you know found a copy on the bus once.
This has its effects. You get everything from people who know them on sight and by reputation (although they couldn't tell you much about the contents) to keen collectors. You could order a selection of the in-print tracts from the site, but that's cheating (and several of them have been altered, taken out of general circulation, or discontinued entirely), so there's a certain cachet to tracking them down if you go for that sort of thing. Comic distribution as scavenger hunt.
What's cooler than that?
Also, what a lot of us are after isn't Chick, per se. It's Chick and Fred Carter, who drew Chick's vision for most of the highly recognizable tracts. (A less distinctive third artist has made contributions, but you can track down a copy of Imp #2 for more on that one). Chick's own approach is distinctive, but cartoonish. Carter's style is often lush, sumptuously detailed, and exaggeratedly gritty. Soul Story's finest panels (like that one right there) should be paid homage in a lower-profile Tarantino film, put it that way.
So it went. Until 1994. That's when Fred Carter began his extensive break from drawing tracts (he has only just resumed this past year) to work on paintings for a film called The Light of the World. In the meantime, Jack Chick himself suffered a stroke (circa 1996?) which affected not only his drawing hand, but, arguably, his writing style.
The decline really became obvious when LotW went into final preparations and we began seeing the solo-Chick companion tracts: The Bible Series, featuring ... this guy called Bob.
Bob is the worst Mary Suevangelist since Cameron "Buck" Williams, and next time we'll talk about him.
In scathing tones.
I assure you.
(*) Disclaimer: Wednesday has been told it gets better, but... Bobby Flay, people. Euuuurgh.
(**) KFC, for reference, should be pronounced "kafka."