Jack Chick’s Chick Tracts – religious mini-comics with a (to say the least) conservative Christian agenda – have been notorious for some decades for their hellfire and damnation-style approach to converting “sinners”, not to mention their all-round intolerance. While Chick died in 2016 the tracts are still being published and distributed by the US Chick Publications. Indeed, just last year in the UK the police investigated after complaints about the offensive nature of Chick Tracts that had been pushed through domestic letter boxes in Bristol.
Rachelle Meyer cunningly subverts the mini landscape format of the Chick Tracts in her autobio series Texas Tracts, appropriating their look and parodying them with a far more beneficial intent. The debut comic in the series, ‘Holy Diver’, is the first of three planned Texas Tracts that look to explore Meyer’s religious upbringing and her role models. Clever in design, with a truly tactile quality that will be particularly resonant to anyone who has inadvertently encountered a Chick Tract, this first edition is half social commentary and half slice-of-life, all wrapped up in that clever representational twist.
‘Holy Diver’ deals with a bizarre urban myth that I remember from my own childhood being circulated among my teen peers. The story went that certain records included Satanic messages that were either subliminal or that would reveal themselves if the disc was played backwards. Meyer recounts a school lecture from her childhood by a mysterious visiting speaker on just that subject in ‘Holy Diver’ and the fear and suspicions that followed as she imagined the potential corruption of those around her.
Meyer’s beautifully shaded cartooning and the physicality of her visual characterisation (confused teens, overbearing religious extremists and authoritative nuns) emphasises the essential humanity of ‘Holy Diver’ and the confusing nature of our formative years when we really began to start interacting with a wider world outside of our family and social schoolyard bubbles. But her scene-setting dialogue, quietly witty in its wryness, also plays its own vital part in bringing us fully into her world – “When you hear a Hail Mary rattled off in a Texas twang you may very well wonder if someone’s trying to save your soul or sell it.”
While ‘Holy Diver’ is an endearing piece of slice-of-life that is the antithesis of the Chick Tracts in message and denouement it’s also one that isn’t afraid to underline the harsher realities of religious extremes and the darkness inherent in them. A Kickstarter campaign will be launching later this year to bring the rest of the series to print. Based on this opening issue that will be well worth your backer support.
Rachelle Meyer (W/A) • Self-published, €5.00
Review by Andy Oliver