In this perfect-bound book, Nate Phillips collects the covers of over a hundred religious pamphlets and tracts.
To a reader outside of the faiths from which these publications originate, these covers can be hilarious, packed with awkward photographs, startling design decisions, and unintended double entendres that will appeal to the more puerile among us (a divine scroll descends from Heaven bearing a verse from the book of Revelation: “SURELY I COME QUICKLY.”)
These covers draw from every trope of contemporary (or recently contemporary) life, creating stunning combinations of image and character. There are indictments against widespread sins like skateboarding, pro wrestling, and boozing—as well as impressive hair-splitting on issues like infant baptism and other inter-denominational squabbles.
Still, in aggregate, there’s something moving to be found here. These tracts are aimed at vulnerable people—alcoholics, prisoners, those who are lonely or who have experienced loss. The questions that the covers ask again and again are urgent and earnest: what happens when we die? When will the weary and downtrodden find rest? How can one live an ethical life? One asks, “Should I participate in war?” Is there hope for the world?
Because Phillips’s book only preserves the fronts of these pamphlets, it preserves the questions and the yearning. Phillips discards the pious surety found between the covers, aligning his reader with “the hopeless, the down and out” at whom the tracts are aimed, in the common pursuit of some way to make sense of this mess.