This parody below comes to us from an artist named Howard Hallis, to whom all credit is due. I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing it here because the design of his website leads me to suspect that this cartoon might be replaced by something else the next time he has a fit of artistic inspiration.
This is a brilliant piece of art. While it helps to have a prior acquaintance with the ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ that H.P. Lovecraft developed in now-classic horror stories of the 1920s and ’30s, Hallis does a vivid and effective job of conveying the central themes and feel of the Mythos. But the truly subversive genius of this cartoon lies elsewhere…about which more after you have read it.
This is, of course, a parody of a fundamentalist Christian evangelical tract. More specifically, it is a remarkably accurate take on the style of Jack T. Chick, a pamphleteer who has occupied the scungy basement of Christian evangelism since the 1960s. Both the talking heads are recognizable, stock Chick characters — the sinful, scornful unbeliever and the saintly white-haired minister.
Some cultural-studies type ought to do a book on the way that the Cthulhu mythos has oozed forth from its pulp origins to become Western pop culture’s generic Nightmare From Beyond. This parody could have been written thirty years ago — Chick goes back that far and has been remarkably, er, consistent in his output — but thirty years ago only a handful of SF and fantasy fans would have recognized Cthulhu. Nowadays ol’ squid-face is all over the place; there are, ironically, plush toys.
I put it down to fantasy-role-playing games, which have reached a far larger audience than print SF or fantasy. Gamers have borrowed the Cthulhu mythos so frequently that it’s a cliché — but one which, thanks to the eerie power of Lovecraft’s imagery, never completely loses its power to send a chill down the spine. Even the mere names — the Necronomicon, Yog-Sothoth, the corpse-eaters of Leng, the Hounds of Tindalos, and of course dread Cthulhu himself — is to feel a vast and threatening darkness.
Hallis’s parody draws on a much more specific tradition. The idea of the Campus Crusade for Cthulhu as a parody of the Campus Crusade for Christ was already live when I was in college in the 1970s. But Hallis makes their point more compactly and effectively, and therein lies the real touch of genius in this piece.
Jack T. Chick’s pamphlets speak plainly the most fundamental message of Christian evangelism: believe or be damned. It’s all about fear, the induced fear that if you don’t get straight with God you will burn in Hell. Not for Chick the sugar-coating of talk about love or morality or becoming a better person. Writing for the lowest common denominator, he zeroes in on terror.
But so pervaded is our culture with Christian ideas and imagery that it is difficult to see how nasty and inhumane Chick and his ilk really are; even those of us who are not Christians tend to respond to the fear-mongering with a kind of numbness, reacting to Chick’s ugly, drab oeuvre mainly as an offense against good taste (or a form of unintentional found humor). For the more intelligent sort of Christian, Chick is embarrassing — like a slovenly relative you can’t quite kick out of your house because, after all, he is family.
What is really incisive about Hallis’s parody is his demonstration that very little about the Christian world-view or rhetoric has to change to make it indistinguishable from Lovecraft’s nightmare. Ah, the rapture of being taken up by the Elder Gods! Worship and sacrifice are good things. Trust the preacher, he will make you fear and show you the way.
It used to be popular among a certain sort of leftist to claim that the collectivist and apocalyptic ideas in socialism made it a proper political analog of Christianity. They were arguably correct in this; where they went wrong was in considering the connection flattering to socialism rather than damning of Christianity. Hallis’s parody is a starker demonstration; the fact that both the fictional cult of Cthulhu and the all-too-real religion of Christianity both depend so fundamentally on the terror of the Gods is not grounds for exonerating the former, but rather for condemning the latter.