A Demon's Nightmare, by Jack T. Chick
A Demon's Nightmare (1962)

Jack Thomas Chick was the most (in)famous artist, writer and publisher of Christian comics in the world. Chick's tracts have been distributed and translated in many languages, making him a global best-seller. He not only drew many comics himself, but also hired assistants. Even after his death, his company still churns out new editions and reprints older ones. Yet Chick also went down in history as one of comics' most legendary oddballs. His stories are infamous for their dubious aesops, immense plotholes and outlandish conspiracy theories which lack any credible research, left alone logic. He went through absurd lengths to link everything he feared or hated to Satan and/or the Vatican. Chick thought up far-fetched and ludicrous connections between the Devil and  atheism, feminism, rock music, sports, video games, pop culture media and all non-Protestant religions. Invariably all of them end with the horrible and sensational torture and death of at least one sinner in Hell. Chick's tracts have gained so much controversy that some stores downright refuse to sell them, because they are more personal fantasies than what the Gospel actually teaches. Surprisingly enough Chick does have his fans, though the majority likes it more for its zany imagination and unintentional campiness. Adding to his legend is the fact that the man was notoriously media shy. This makes it an open question whether he actually believed everything he published, or was merely a hilarious hoaxer?

He was born in 1924 in Los Angeles, California, as the son of commercial artist Thomas Chick. Not much is known about Jack Chick's life as he was a reclusive person. Only two officially released photographs are known to depict him. He was never filmed for TV and only granted one (written) interview in his entire career, which occured in 1975. He claimed to have been far from religious in his youth and that his Christian peers saw him as the "the last person on earth who would ever accept Jesus Christ". During World War II, he fulfilled his military service in South East Asia, where the work of the local missionaries left a great impression on him. After the war, he married a devout Canadian woman who converted him to Protestantism. From 1953 to 1955, Chick drew a single-panel cartoon called 'Times Have Changed', with text by P.S. Clayton. It was syndicated by the Mirror Enterprises Co. to papers from the Los Angeles area.

Why no revival?
Why no revival? (1960)

In 1960, the born-again Christian began writing, drawing and publishing his so-called "Chick tracts", in order to promote Protestant evangelism from a fundamentalist point of view, and to save sinners. Ironically enough he got the idea from seeing Maoist propaganda comics during his military service. On first glance Chick's comics appear to be your typical moralistic Christian stories about sin and redemption. Every story follows the same basic pattern and general message: anyone who doesn't accept Jesus as his saviour is condemned to eternal torture in Hell.  What sets these stories apart from other Christian comics are the paranoid tone and completely insane plot lines. According to Chick, Satan and his demons have various means to lead people away from the "good" path, for example: rock music, New Age, Wicca, Halloween, sports and the 'Dungeons & Dragons' games. The Roman Catholic Church is conveniently responsible for all the evil in the world, including Communism, the Holocaust, World War II and the Ku Klux Klan. He also claims that Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormon Church are in fact front organizations of the Catholic Church. Chick is personally convinced that the Pope ordered the USSR to conquer Israel and that atheists are sometimes demons in disguise. The comic artist is also a militant and fierce opponent of abortion, homosexuality, feminism, politicians, 'Harry Potter', premarital sex, freemasonry, pornography, scientists, the evolutionary theory, and basically any religion other than his own.

Mama's Girls
Mama's Girls

Chick wrote and drew all the initial comics himself, starting with 'Why No Revival?' (1960) and 'A Demon's Nightmare' (1962). He established Chick Publications in Rancho Cucamonga, California, in 1970 and hired Fred Carter to help on the artwork two years later. Chick and Carter's visual style can be easily distinguished from one another. Chick drew in a more "cartoony" style, while Carter has a more realistic and detailed graphical style, with heavy use of shading. Besides over 200 small tracts, Chick published comic book series such as 'Crusader Comics', which dealt with the occult, Bible prophecy and evolution. Another series was about the testimony of anti-Catholic activist Alberto Rivera. He was also active as a writer and publisher. Among his written books are 'The Next Step: For Growing Christians', 'The Last Call: A Revival Handbook', 'Smokescreens' (which is a pamphlet against Catholics) and 'A Solution To... The Marriage Mess'. He also released a few religion-themed audio cassettes, which give listeners an idea of what his voice sounded like.

That's Baphomet?
That's Baphomet?

Chick's work has been translated in more than 100 languages and is one of the most widespread Christian comics on Earth. Despite this impressive feat Chick's comics have always been controversial, due to their fundamentalist and discriminatory tone. Characters are always reduced to out-dated offensive stereotypes or gross oversimplifications. Anybody who hasn't converted yet is either evil or so stupid that they apparently haven't even heard of Christianity or any of its messages about salvation. Without exception all non-converts receive a horrible afterlife in Hell. While Bible quotes are quoted regularly throughout the text, Chick's own imagination is featured far more prominently. He seems more interested in thinking up sensationalist plot twists and far-fetched connections between various people, media and events that always lead back to either the Vatican and/or Satan. No actual reliable sourced research is ever given. In his rare 1975 interview Chick tried to convince critics that he didn't have a problem with anybody of a different race, nationality, religion or viewpoint, yet added "... as long as they accept Jesus as their savior and convert." A similar contradictive attitude was shown when he republished some of his Chick tracts "for African-American audiences", as if this demographic needed to be approached in a different way than other races.

Allah Had No Son
Allah had no son (1994)

Since Chick's tracts are so radical, eccentric and often thrive more on sensationalism and storylines that have little to do with the actual gospel many Christian book stores have refused to publish or sell them. Overall the comics only know one way of converting people: scaring them into it. Even some Christian fundamentalists have publicly distanced themselves from the content of these tracts. One particular Chick Tract, 'Lisa' (1984), was so controversial that it is no longer reprinted or featured on the official Chick Publications website. Its storyline dealt with a husband who is addicted to pornography and sexually molests his own daughter, Lisa. When a doctor notices the young girl has contracted herpes he confronts the father. Rather than arresting him the physician claims that the rapist "isn't responsible" for his deeds, because "Satan is in control." If he just converts then "Satan won't tempt him no more". The father suddenly feels spiritual relief. He shares his joy with his wife, who was also abused in her youth and knew about her husband's molestation of her daughter, but "turned a blind eye". He confesses that he took out his own personal frustrations on her and Lisa, but that becoming a born-again Christian is the solution to his and her troubles. As Lisa joins the conversation she is "comforted" with the news that "Your daddy and I will never hurt you again. We love you, and Jesus does too." This withdrawn pamphlet outraged the punk band Alice Donut so much that it inspired their protest track 'Lisa's Father (Waka Baby)' (1989).

Another story that was removed from Chick's bibliography was 'Wounded Children' (1983). The plot deals with a young boy becoming homosexual after Satan shows him his father's heterosexual porn collection. Gradually he adopts a gay lifestyle while thinking he is "a girl in a man's body". Apart from the usual plot holes the drawings featured so much unintentional homo-erotic content that this might explain why Chick personally withdrew it from his catalogue. Over the years some of Chick's older comics have modernized and sometimes bowdlerized to tone down some of its content. 'Dark Dungeons' (1984) - which attributes the popular boardgame 'Dungeons and Dragons' to Satanism - originally had a claim that the novels by C.S. Lewis (famous for 'The Chronicles of Narnia') and J.R.R. Tolkien (famous for 'Lord Of The Rings') were Satanic too. This claim was removed from later reprints and replaced by a reference to J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter'. Chick Publications was promptly sued for copyright infringement and forced to add "TM" behind the name, even though the original accusations remained intact.

Fairy Tales by Jack Chick
Fairy Tales

Despite all this Chick's work has gained a cult following in some circles because of its outrageous and bizarre messages. Some people don't share Chick's extreme views but enjoy the ludicrousness of his tales. Bob Fowler compiled the most complete overview of all the available Chick Tracts and information about Chick personally in his book 'The World of Jack T. Chick'. Another extensive and critical book is 'The Imp' by Dan Raeburn. Kurt Kuersteiner directed the informative documentary 'God's Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack Chick' (2008) about the man. Comedian David Cross named every routine of his stand-up tour 'Let America Laugh' (2003) after the title of a Chick tract. Daniel Clowes once drew a parody of Chick's style, 'Devil Doll' (1988), as part of his 'Eightball' series. Charles Burns also spoofed Chick Tracts with 'Burn Again' (1989) and Jim Woodring did the same with 'Jesus Delivers' (1996). Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, best known for the animated TV series 'Rick and Morty', spoofed Chick Tracts in the episode 'Council of Ricks'. The comic book shown in that episode was made in real life too and later added to first printings of the DVD release of that particular season as an easter egg. Other celebrity cartoonists who liked Chick's camp appeal are Robert Crumb and Matt Groening. Art Spiegelman, on the other hand, was less amused by Chick's ravings. He once stated: "It makes me despair about America that there are so many people who read these things." In 2014 one of Chick's tracts was adapted into a short film, 'Dark Dungeons' (2014) by L. Gabriel Gonda, which resembles a straight-faced parody more than a genuine propaganda film.

The shy Chick lived a reclusive life, and had limited personal contact with the public. Because of this, many thought that Jack Chick was in fact a pen name for several unnamed authors. Some have even wondered whether Chick wasn't just a prankster? The conspiracy theories in his comics are so far-fetched and mind boggingly insane - even contradicting things he drew in previous issues - that he might have just written everything as a joke. If this was the case it would be one of the most succesful hoaxes of all time and perhaps the only Chick Trait that actually made some sense...  Jack T. Chick died on 23 October 2016, at the age of 92, taking the mystery of his personality to his grave.

The Long Trip by Jack T. Chick
The Long Trip

www.chick.com

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