“Who Cares?” Jack T. Chick on 9/11
By Martin Lund
The story should be familiar to the reader, having been etched into most people’s minds through constant repetition in the days following the attacks, and in the fourteen years that have passed since: on the morning of September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked and sent to strike at targets in New York City and Washington, D.C. Three of the planes reached their destinations, one crashed in a Pennsylvania field, after its passengers rose up and stopped the hijackers.The attacks themselves were intensely visual, shown again and again in thousands of photographs and countless hours of video. Among the media that responded immediately was comics, where stories of 9/11 have been told in many different ways over the years.
Comics and 9/11
The first comics publisher to respond to the attacks was New York-based publisher Marvel Comics. Between December 2001 and February 2002, they published three comics that directly addressed the attacks: Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #36 (Dec. 2001), Heroes: The World's Greatest Super Hero Creators Honor the World's Greatest Heroes 9-11-2001 (Dec. 2001), and A Moment of Silence: Saluting the Heroes of September 11th (Feb. 2002).With only a short lag time, September 11th, 2001: Artists Respond was published in a collaboration between the smaller publishers Dark Horse, Chaos! Comics, and Image Comics. A second volume, September 11th, 2001: 9-11: The World’s Finest Comic Book Writers & Artists Tell Stories to Remember, in which Dark Horse teamed up with DC, was released in February 2002. The small publisher Alternative Comics published 9/11: Emergency Relief, the New York political anthology comic World War 3 Illustrated came out with its own themed issue, and independent publisher Michael Linsner vented his feelings in print.
In the more than a decade that has passed since the attacks, numerous other 9/11 comics have appeared, most notably Art Spiegelman’s 2004 personal meditation on the uses and abuses of the attacks, In the Shadow of No Towers; the 2006 comics adaptation of the 9/11 Commission’s report; the 2008 autobiographical American Widow, about trials of a woman whose husband died in the attacks; and the controversial 2011 Big Lie, which airs common 9/11 conspiracy theories.
One comic that has not been mentioned thus far, and that has received scant attention in the scholarly literature on 9/11 comics is the comics tract Who Cares?, published in early 2002 by evangelical fundamentalist and comics creator Jack T. Chick. It is this tract that this post will discuss. The tract does not claim to be set in New York City but, since for better and for worse, the attacks on 9/11 have become so intimately connected in the popular imagination with New York, and since the cover, with its image of the Twin Towers, invites that reading, it is reasonable to use the city as an anchor for this piece.
Jack T. Chick and His Tracts
Before discussing Who Cares?, however, a brief introduction to Jack Chick and his tracts is in order. Jack Chick is an evangelical fundamentalist comics creator operating out of California. His cartooning career began in 1961 when, after being struck by what he perceived as a deadness and hypocrisy in his church, he published a pamphlet titled Why No Revival?In 1962, he published his first tract, A Demon’s Nightmare, and has continued on that road since, with over 200 tracts published for the purpose of evangelizing, spreading the Gospel, and “winning souls” for Christ. With over 750 million tracts distributed worldwide to date, in over one hundred languages, Chick is the world’s most widely circulated comics creator.
The Chick tract format is simple: they are roughly 5” by 3” in size, contain some twenty pages of black and white cartoons, and end with a stock inside cover containing instructions for readers on how to accept Jesus as their personal savior. The tracts cover a vast array of topics, but their message is always the same: no matter how good you have been in your life, you are a sinner and therefore hell-bound unless you accept evangelical Christianity as promoted by the Chick brand. This, too, is the message of Who Cares?
Evangelical Voices after 9/11
American studies scholar Kevin Rozario points out about 9/11 that “[t]he terrorist attacks did not so much end up disclosing reality as providing the occasion for constructing a sense of ’reality’ […] that validated some ideologies and feelings while casting others as insignificant, inauthentic, and lacking moral urgency.” For the government and mass media, the framing used was one of victimization that worked to support a military response. The more mainstream comics publishers generally followed this line, although some contributions to the anthology collections veered more than others toward either the Islamophobic side or the corrective. The World War 3 Illustrated collective went further, putting out an issue that was focused on showcasing dissenting voices, in a climate where criticism was strongly discouraged. But there were also religious responses.
Chick’s work has long been permeated with an apocalyptic sensibility, centered around an idea of a cosmic war but also with a perspective on the Book of Revelation as a roadmap for what is to come. He is not alone in viewing the world in such a way, and the aftermath of 9/11 illustrated this is a powerful way: one 2002 poll suggested that one quarter of Americans believed the events had been predicted in the Bible. Evangelical preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson saw the attacks as an opportunity for a religious revival in the United States. They regarded it as a wake-up call.
As Rozario has pointed out, “[i]nterpreting the destruction of the twin towers as an act of God, many religious commentators resorted instinctively to the rhetoric of the jeremiad.” Sermons were given that the attacks were a warning, or brought on by America’s sinfulness; if the nation did not change its ways, worse things still would happen. Others saw angels or the devil in the smoke, and looked to the Book of Revelation for meaning. For many, the attacks were connected with a millennial theology: the end, they concluded, was rapidly approaching.
Surprisingly, given his earlier work, Chick did not indulge this impulse in his own response to the attacks. Rather, he chose a comparatively more grounded and much more personal approach.
Chick has never been one to shy away from controversy, and his 9/11 tract is no different. The tract’s cover is eye-catching and sensationalistic: the left side shows the Twin Towers with the first plane approaching, the right side the title, Who Cares? The question, of course, is rhetorical, and the answer, to anybody who knows his work, is obvious: God.
The tract opens on a Muslim woman watching the attacks on TV and wondering who would do something like this. When her son Omar answers that it is terrorists, she immediately wonders what will happen if the terrorists are Muslims, and who will protect them if they are. They both stay home for days, from fear of repercussions, but eventually Omar has to leave since they have run out of money.
Omar’s mother says that the American people are furious, that they want revenge. Omar soon finds out just how bad it is. When he gets to his store, he is pointed at and shamed for being Muslim, before he is viciously beaten by a group of revenge-hungry men. After the beating, Omar is brought to a hospital by the friendly Mr. Williams, a Christian who is simply following Jesus’ teachings and loving his enemy. (Omar points out that if the roles were reversed, he would not help Williams, because he is an infidel.)
From there, the tract turns into a poorly constructed theological debate. Williams recounts the story of the good Samaritan to show Omar that he cares for him, and to tell Omar that he has a message from Jesus. Since Jesus is recognized as a prophet in Islamic tradition, and since the Koran says that prophets cannot lie, Jesus’ self-identification as the son of God convinces Omar to convert. With some heavy-handed dialogue about how Allah does not love or even care about Muslims, and because Jesus does, the choice for Muslims is clear. Omar falls to the ground, accepts Jesus, and is saved.
The theology here is problematic, to say the least. I will not dwell overlong on the issue here, but a few comments are worth making. The claims about Jesus and prophets are correct. But Jesus’ divinity is formally denied in the Koran. The Bible from which Williams quotes to convince Omar has traditionally been regarded in Islamic contexts as a flawed document, wherein the revelation written down has been corrupted by human beings. For this reason, the Koran is regarded as superseding the Bible. The existence of different truth-claims in different religious traditions completely eludes Chick here; the Bible is the organizing principle to which all of reality must bow.
What is more important to note is the way in which American realities on the ground are figured in the tract. There can be no doubt that Chick’s tract is opportunistic.Chick plays into real, nationally felt fears. Almost immediately after the attacks, Islamophobic violence exploded. Nationwide, over 700 violent acts were carried out against Arab and Muslim Americans, or people thought to be Arab or Muslim, including several hundred attacks on Sikhs. At least seven people were murdered in “revenge,” including a Sikh man and an Arab American Christian who “looked Muslim.” Overall, 2001 saw an increase in anti-Muslim hate-crimes of 1700 percent.
Of course, not every encounter between Muslims and non-Muslims in the shadow of 9/11 was violent. Historian Ronald Takaki describes the fear Afghani immigrants in San Francisco felt after the attacks, and quotes worried voices, people who were afraid that they would become targets of ignorance or anger.But, as Takaki notes, some Americans “spoke out against such travesties” as those described above .
With Who Cares?, Chick inserts himself square in the middle of this reality, concentrating widespread anti-Muslim sentiment into a few short panels for maximum effect and creating a character that seems to belong to a friendly camp. The question with something like Chick tracts is of course how many people read them and who they are really aimed at. Does something like Who Cares? convince Muslims to be born again? Or is it more a matter of preaching to the converted? It is hard to know; statistics for the tracts’ reception do not exist and are difficult to collect. But one thing can be certain: the tract is unabashedly exploitative.
On the one hand, Who Cares? tells Muslims that people other than Christians, who are told by the Bible to love their enemies (the use of the word here has a certain importance), really do hate them and want to hurt them; escape lies in accepting Jesus as their savior. On the other hand, it tells Christians not to hate Muslims just because they are Muslims, which plays in perfectly with the provisional dichotomy between the “Saved” and “Lost” that all of Chick’s work operates with; since they are potential converts, it instead seems to say love thy neighbor, lend a helping hand as a good Samaritan, but do it conditionally. This is the reality of life after 9/11 as constructed in Who Cares?: Muslim fear and anxiety are less urgent than the opportunity to win souls that the attacks presented. Be kind to your Others, says Chick, because they might be vulnerable enough to listen to you.
Martin Lund is a Swedish Research Council International Post-doctoral Fellow at Linnaeus University (Växjö, Sweden) and a Visiting Research Scholar at The Gotham Center for New York City History.
 John Michael Straczynski, John Romita Jr., and Scott Hanna, Stand Tall, The Amazing Spider-Man, (vol. 2) #36 (New York: Marvel Comics, 2001); Various, Heroes: The World’s Greatest Super Hero Creators Honor the World’s Greatest Heroes 9-11-2001 (New York: Marvel Comics, 2002); Various, A Moment of Silence: Saluting the Heroes of September 11th (New York: Marvel Comics, 2002).
9/11: Artists Respond, vol. 1 (Milwaukie: Dark Horse Comics, 2002); 9-11 - The World’s Finest Comic Book Writers & Artists Tell Stories to Remember, Volume Two, vol. 2 (New York: DC Comics, 2002).
 Jeff Mason, ed., 9-11: Emergency Relief (Gainsville: Alternative Comics, 2002); Seth Tobocman, Peter Kuper, and Jordan Worley, World War 3 Illustrated #32 (New York: World War 3, 2001); Michael Linsner, I Love New York, 2002.
 Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004); Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006); Alissa Torres and Sungyoon Choi, American Widow (New York: Villard, 2008); Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine, The Big Lie (Berkeley: Image Comics, 2011).
 Jack T. Chick, Who Cares? (Ontario, CA: Chick Publications, 2002).
 The following introduction is based on my piece “‘[A] Matter of SAVED or LOST’: Difference, Salvation, and Subjection in Chick Tracts,” in Comics and Power: Representing and Questioning Culture, Subjects and Communities, ed. RikkePlatzCortsen, Erin La Cour, and Anne Magnussen (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2015), 177–96.
 Kevin Rozario, The Culture of Calamity: Disaster and the Making of Modern America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 185.
 Elisabeth Anker, “Villains, Victims and Heroes: Melodrama, Media, and September 11,” Journal of Communication 55, no. 1 (2005): 22–37; Amy Reynolds and Brooke Barnett, “‘America under Attack’: CCN’s Verbal and Visual Framing of September 11,” in Media Representations of September 11, ed. Steven Chermak, Frankie Y. Bailey, and Michelle Brown (Westport: Praeger, 2003), 85–101; Robert E. Entman, “Cascading Activation: Contesting the White House’s Frame After 9/11,” Political Communication 20, no. 4 (2003): 415–32.
 See for example Stan Lee’s contribution to 9-11.
9/11: Artists Respond.
 Tobocman, Kuper, and Worley, WWIII Illustrated.
 Rozario, Culture of Calamity, 185. On Chick’s worldview, see Lund, “SAVED or LOST.”
Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11 (University of Chicago Press, 2006), 36ff.
 Rozario, Culture of Calamity, 185.
 David Friend, Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11 (New York: Picador, 2007), 201–205.
 Lund, “SAVED or LOST,” 183–184.
 Friend, Watching, 124–127; Moustafa Bayoumi, This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 31–32, 85, 121–122, 131–133, 153–155, 186; Mike Davis, “The Flames of New York,” New Left Review, no. 12 (2001): 48–49; Edward E. Curtis, Muslims in America: A Short History, Religion in American Life (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 99–100.
 Ronald T. Takaki, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (New York: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown, and Co., 2008), 422–424.
 Note here what is pointed out above: Arab American Christians were not spared the wrath of hyper-patriotic xenophobes, so even this promise is empty.
 Lund, “SAVED or LOST.”