The Independent Baptist cartoonist who created hundreds of amusingly bizarre Fundamentalist witnessing tracts and comic books. Such classics as The Death Cookie, Reverend Wonderful, Doom Town, and the Crusaders and Alberto comics.
As strangely entertaining as his tracts and comics were, they were written primarily to attack the bugbears shaping the hysterical, psycho-Fundamentalist worldview. They attacked contemporary Christian music, modern Bible versions, Dungeons and Dragons, Halloween, and of course the largest subject of his attention, Roman Catholicism. Chick blamed Roman Catholicism for every major ill the world has ever known, from the emergence of Islam, all the major historical wars, both secular and religious, and even the Holocaust.
Oddly, some of his tracts were a bit prescient when it came to addressing issues within the church and culture. For instance, Reverend Wonderful, published in 1982, tells the story of a big Christian celebrity, conference speaking minister with the multiple degrees and the fawning fans going to judgment for his ecumenism. And Doom Town, published in 1991, with the raging flamboyant, S&M clad sodomites demanding their rights against a debonair Lot who looks a lot like Ricardo Montalban from Sombrero.
I first encountered Jack Chick comics when I was helping my dad do electric work. He had been called out to a trailer park to re-wire a window air conditioner that kept tripping a breaker. While he fiddled with the wiring, in between fetching him tools from the truck, I nosed around the living room. On the coffee table was a pile of Chick Comics. One of them was about the rapture and featured a screaming nurse running out of the nursery at a hospital shouting something like, “Doctor! All the babies are GONE!” As a kid who attended a squishy, compromised Methodist church, it freaked me out. Equally disturbing, looking back now upon that moment, were the collection of Playboy magazines sitting on another table nearby.
It wasn’t until the Lord was pleased to save me during my freshman year in college that I began to warm up to the messages of Chick tracts. A number of my new Christian acquaintances loved handing them out, even leaving them in the restrooms, and other public locations around campus. Still, I remained a bit ambivalent to using Chick’s tracts, primarily because of those folks I knew who used them.
The Chick tract users I encountered had staggeringly awkward interpersonal skills. A particular Chick aficionado I knew in college was a “non-traditional” student who was in his mid to late 20s and lived down the hall from me in the freshman dorm. He had stacks of Chick tracts and comics in his room he handed out all the time. However, he was notorious for getting into angry shouting matches and the occasional fisticuffs with other students. Another guy I would see around handing out Chick tracts always wore his mall security uniform, even to church on Sunday. He had a fixation with spiritual warfare and fancied himself to be a Bob Larson-style demon hunter.
Even the world had a cultic fascination with Chick tracts given the many knock-off parody versions they produced, and one group of folks even made some live-action movies of their favorite Chick potboilers, for example, this version of Dark Dungeons, Chick’s anti-Dungeons and Dragons tract.
Regrettably, Chick brought much more unnecessary scorn and ridicule upon the Christian faith than he did genuine converts with his tracts. A lot of that had to do with the fact that he was an odd, paranoid recluse who holed himself up at his Boyle Heights residence away from the public. Christianity Today ran their obit of him yesterday after the news broke of his death. They ran this picture from 2007 with the article:
Assuming that is him, and the fellow looks similar to other elusive, Bigfoot like photos I’ve seen of the guy, you have to wonder what’s going on with a hyper-fundamentalist KJV onlyist with crazy old hippie hair. A person who willingly cloisters himself away from the world cannot be considered a reputable minister of the Lord.
[UPDATE: An astute reader pointed out that the long haired fellow in the picture is not Jack Chick at all, but author Robert Fowler, who wrote a book entitled, The World of Jack Chick that I need to put on my wish list now. Chick Tract ministries released a statement about Chick’s death and has a more recent picture of him. He was just a paranoid recluse, not a long-haired hippie paranoid recluse].
Conspiracy theories is the one truly disturbing element that shaped Chick’s worldview that was illustrated in his tracts. He was heavily influence by John Todd, a bizarre man who claimed he had been born into a witchcraft family and had risen to the ranks as a satanic priest. According to his wiki page, he was criminally investigated for having sex with under-aged girls in 1976. After his release from prison, he began making the circuit around fundamentalist churches telling his conspiracy stores about the Illuminati and satanic take overs of the world. Chick ate the stuff up and drew a number of tracts around his claims like the Dark Dungeons tract mentioned above and the Angel of Light comic.
Todd disappeared a for few years in 1979 when his stories came under scrutiny. He was later arrested in 1987 for the rape of a college graduate and molesting two girls at a karate school where he worked. He died in a mental institution in 2007.
A lot of Chick’s material arose from the insanity of conspiracy cranks who later were exposed as frauds. Along with Todd was a woman named Rebecca Brown who told elaborate tales of spiritual warfare that she alleged came from a woman named Elaine who had been a satanic high priestess in the same coven where Mike Warnke was said to have been. Warnke was never in a satanic coven. And of course there was also Alberto Rivera, the “ex-Jesuit Priest,” who gave Chick the bulk of his anti-Catholic conspiracies he presented in his tracts.
But in addition to being guided by spiritual con-artists (which should make you wonder about Chick’s discernment), it is the theology advocated in his work that is probably the most disastrous. Chick promoted the typical man-centered, fundamentalist Gospel in his tracts and comics. Salvation was never a work solely done in the hearts of rebellious sinners by the divine act of a gracious God, but it was a product of “decisional” regeneration on the part of the person making the “right choice” about Jesus just in the nick of time before he died. In one theologically terrible tract entitled Set Free, Chick presents the heretical ransom view of the atonement that makes Christ’s death a ransom paid to the devil in order to set hapless, otherwise innocent people, free from diabolical clutches.
While I can admit there is a unique Americana that exists with his tracts and cartoons and the cult following they have produced over the last 40 plus years or more, they represent a troubling corner of evangelicalism where a deformed Christianity has spawned that is energized by conspiracy hokum and historical revisionism. That generation of Christians who have fed upon Chick’s twisted work, if they are even saved to begin with, are biblically anemic and have no genuine discernment to fight off real, soul destroying error.
Chick is someone who should be warned against. I put him in the same category as Beth Moore, Benny Hinn, and Bart Ehrman.
Probably the best overview of his life and work is found at LA Magazine who did a big story on him in 2003 but have reworked it and republished it this week after his death.
Check it out HERE
David Daniels, his assistant, gives a eulogy for Chick in this video.