The Aesthetic Choices of Jack Chick

Here's a challenge my buddy Mike set for me a while ago — to write about the comics of Jack Chick from an aesthetic perspective without talking about their religious content. It took me a while to come up with an aesthetic angle I could write about meaningfully, and I still have to talk about their religious content- but only in the ways that it impacts their chief aesthetic decision.

Anyone who's read more than a handful of Chick tracts know that they come in two distinct varieties — some of them are drawn in a stilted photorealistic style, and others in a stilted gag strip style. But what determines which tract is drawn in which style? The answer is simple but also shows a mildly sophisticated grasp of the medium.

The Fool

excerpt from The Fool

Here's the Chick "gag" style, as seen in tracts like Flight 144 No Fear, and The Fool. These primary purpose of these tracts is evangelical — they're trying to convince you to accept Christ into your life — and the primary way they do that is by encouringing a small amount of projection onto the characters. Chick wants you put yourself in the place of the plane passenger who doesn't believe in God, the depressed kid who wants to commit suicide, or the king who hasn't prepared for the end. By using cartoonish, iconic figures he makes this self-identification easier — there are no details or specifics to get hung up on. That's cool media 101.

The Visitors

excerpt from The Visitors

Here's the Chick "photorealistic" style, as seen in tracts Dark Dungeons and The Visitors, or in his full-sized Crusaders comics. The primary purpose of these tracts is cautionary — they're trying to convince you that Catholics or Mormons aren't real Christians, that Black Muslims are really gangsters, that Dungeons and Dragons is a front for satanism, etc. The goal of the art, therefore, is not to encourage you to identify with the characters, but to convince you that they're real and pose an actual threat to your spiritual well-being. A cartoony style might lead you to associate with the characters and think that you aren't at risk, or even make you think that the threats are exaggerated and overblown. Thus, a more studied realistic style is more likely to convince you that these threats are very real.

So there you have it — a simple aesthetic choice that shows Jack Chick's surprisingly effective grasp of the medium of comics.

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