If you grew up in the Bible Belt during the 70s, 80s and even well into the 90s, there is a very good chance that you have more than a passing familiarity with the hateful, frightening and just plain bizarre “Christian” comics produced by one Jack T. Chick.
Chick’s twisted message, infused with his peculiar style of fervent, the-end-is-near Fundamentalist Christian insanity, by virtue of appearing in what most parents considered to be innocuous “religious” comic books, enjoyed a long period of widespread cultural popularity. Chick tracts were distributed in Sunday schools, summer camps, motel lobbies and bus stations all across America. There have been over 750 million of them sold!
There can only be one reason such deranged literature was allowed in so many places: Adults never read them. If they had, they’d have been utterly horrified. (My own mother gave me dozens of these comics when I was a kid. I’m sure in her mind they were better for me than the Marvel of DC comics I was reading. LIttle did she know that she was actually providing me with!)
Chick’s scary, angry Fundie diatribes have given many a kid terrible nightmares. His favorite topics tend towards subject matter like “You’re going to Hell,” Halloween is evil, eternal damnation, abortion, the Vatican is evil and created Islam, demons walk amongst us, child molesters, the Antichrist will rise soon, New Age beliefs, Judaism, Mormonism and Islam are Satanic, witches are everywhere, homosexuality is an abomination (Chick’s solution? Fire-n-brimstone, baby!), Darwin’s theories are Satanic, Harry Potter is Satanic, feminists are Satanic, the Satanic plot behind rock music (The Beatles were Druids!), “You’re going to Hell,” the Commies are everywhere (Catholics are to blame for this, of course) and just about any other crazy, fucked up conspiracy theory you can think of. He’s kind of the Glenn Beck (or maybe better still Alex Jones) of paranoiac Christian comic books. Did I mention that a lot of his comics were about how YOU (that’s right you, the person reading this) are going to Hell? Chick’s God is a VENGEFUL God. The Old Testament Jehovah has got nothin’ on Chick’s version.
Not much beyond the basics are known about Chick, who is now 86-years-old. He’s an extremely private man and few photographs have been taken of him. So it’s not like anyone knows about the reclusive Jack T. Chick himself, but show almost anyone in America one of his Chick tracts and they’ll respond with an immediate recognition of the distinctively shaped and wildly deranged mini-comics. For Jack T. Chick, it’s all about saving YOUR soul from eternal damnation, not about being popular.
It wasn’t until 1998 that the first serious examination of the world’s best-read theologian (think about it) appeared and that was in the pages of The Imp a self-published journal of comics criticism from Daniel Raeburn, fashioned via the shape, design and a Daniel Clowes illustration to resemble a Chick tract. I’ve had a copy of this issue of The Imp since it came out, sitting in pride of place on my bookshelf, but it’s now long out of print. Happily Raeburn has put all four issues of his much admired publication online, also including his erudite takes on Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, and Mexican historietas.
“People who dismiss hate literature offhand are going to miss the point of this tribute to Chick, which is that hate literature reveals not only its own corruption but the sick society that hatched it. Examine the historical and theological forebears of little Chick and you’ll find an awful, and I do mean awful, lot of mainstream beliefs. Like the Protestant zealots who colonized and raped this country, Chick tracts and the violence in them are as American as apple pie.”
Above, an episode of Boing Boing TV featuring Syd Garon and Rodney Ascher’s animated take on the Chick “classic” You Goofed.. This is Jack T. Chick in a nutshell. (Reportedly he’s seen this and liked it!)
This might be a recent photograph of Jack T. Chick
Thank you Taylor Jessen of Burbank, California!