As a child in the Bible Belt I somehow missed out on Jack T. Chick’s weird fire-and-brimstone religious comic books. I was sporadically taken to a pretty low-key, boringly mainstream Methodist Church where his tracts would have been viewed as kind of embarrassing. As an adult I heard people with evangelical Christian backgrounds bonding over the nightmarish anxiety Chick comics had caused them as children. Fundamentalist churches made stacks of these proselytizing, emotionally charged, conspiracy-rich, racist, homophobic, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-pagan, anti-feminist, Islamophobic comics available to very young kids. Since 1961 over 235 different tracts have been published, selling almost a billion copies. They have been banned in many countries, including Canada, as “hate literature.”
Despite censorship, the comics have been read by a staggering number of people all over the world. Youth ministers hand them out on the street, and (presumably non-English speaking) missionaries distribute them overseas, spreading quirkiness like the Pope being the earthly manifestation of Satan. Someone once tried to hand me one in a bowling alley in England! People like Exene Cervenka were ahead of their time in recognizing Chick comics’ (and other Bible tracts’) value as collectible underground folk art and pop culture artifacts. The early X song “Beyond and Back” was taken from the title of a Chick tract. The online Jack T. Chick Museum of Fine Art contains an exhaustive collection of his titles, neatly summarized as:
He steadfastly exposes The Conspiracy of Catholics, Masons, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Agers, Rock & Rollers, and any other group the devil might use to damn your soul. Chick also offends Jews and Muslims with previews of their fiery futures in hell (but only because he wants to save them). The more taboo a topic, the more likely you’ll see it covered in a Chick tract!
Curator and tireless researcher Kurt Kuersteiner (who used to have a punk radio show) has written the definitive book about the worldwide phenomenon, The Art of Jack T. Chick, and in 2008 produced the documentary, God’s Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack Chick, which can be found in its entirety here. You don’t get a glimpse of the notoriously private man himself, since he is so convinced that people want to kill him (he’s probably right) that he lives in seclusion and hasn’t given an interview since 1975 (his first and last). The earnest sheer batshittery of his close associates is like watching a train wreck. According to Rotten Tomatoes’ synopsis of the film:
...while some Christians distribute the tracts in hopes of saving their fellow man from eternal damnation, secular fans collect them strictly for their entertainment value; the comics are so vividly drawn and outrageously over the top that they at times transcend their own intentions to achieve a sort-of grotesque self-parody. Eventually, the tracts became such highly valued pop-culture commodities that they were presented in galleries nationwide, and earned a permanent collection in the Smithsonian.
Kurt also perpetrated an awesome April Fool’s prank to demonstrate the censor-happy disapproval that Chick’s work has inspired.
The trailer for ‘God’s Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack Chick’:
Above, an episode of Boing Boing TV featuring Syd Garon and Rodney Ascher’s animated take on the Chick “classic” Somebody Goofed. This is Jack T. Chick in a nutshell. (Reportedly he’s seen this and liked it).