Jack T. Chick, the producer of Chick tracts, small comic book tracts that will be handed out this Halloween, died October 23, 2016 in Alhambra, California. He served in the military, got his start taking acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse (with such notables as Dustin Hoffman), and eventually worked as aerospace illustrator for another Christian writer who specialized in biblical prophecy, George Otis. Chick struck gold with a tract called ‘This Was Your Life‘, the story of a man who dies, is taken before the judgement seat and watches a movie of his life unfold.
I always found it interesting how judgement gets portrayed in each generation. Prior to electronic media, the ‘books were opened’ and all your deeds would be documented in this ultimate book which listed the names of the saved and damned. After movies came about, the judged saw a film of their lives. In one Christian movie, the judgement seems to take place at a divine airport. If you don’t have a ticket, you’re not on the plane!
Chick’s small tracts became known as ‘chicklets’ amongst collectors. He graduated to comic books and hired the illustrator, Fred Carter, to illustrate magazines that could compete on the same lines as Marvel and DC Comics. Chaos, The Big Betrayal, The Ark, Angel of Light, and the Alberto series are just some of his works filled with conspiracy theories spanning the gamut: satanic panic, aids purposely being leaked into the blood supply, anti evolution, anti gay, and other subject matter that could be such a lie and a turn off. The quality of his work, however, kept the harshest critic reading till the very end of his tract or comic book.
I met Jack Chick back in the early 90s. He was in the pre-production phase of the movie that would become ‘Light of the World‘. Through a convulted series of circumstances, I was giving a presentation to Mr. Chick of my work in the hopes of helping him make this video a reality. His goal was to show it on the side of a building in Brazil and it was to be a missionary tool. It can currently be seen on youtube. I got to see the animation cells that portrayed Jesus on the cross. They were 3D and you could feel the bumps of paint with your fingers.
Even though I did not get the job, I knew this was a rare opportunity to ask questions of the man whose images made an impression on me during my days as a high school fundamendamentalist. I was going to Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, and, while they sold Chick tracts, some of the more controversial ones (like The Gay Blade) were actually kept under the counter.
Bob Gray, my former pastor at Trinity, was currently working as a missionary in Germany after leaving his church due to whispered accusations of child abuse. I mentioned this to Chick and talked about the time Bob Gray visited Jerry Falwell after Falwell convinced Jim Bakker to give him the PTL Club.
Gray was concerned Falwell was turning charismatic. Falwell responded that he wasn’t, he just wanted to expose Bakker, drive PTL into bankruptcy, then buy back the studio at bargain basement prices for Liberty University. Gray told Falwell he did not believe it was right to expose the sins of preachers and returned to Jacksonville to admonish his congregation from giving to the PTL Ministry. Falwell later contacted Gray and, while we do not know what was said, Bob Gray quickly changed his tune. When a reporter asked Bob Gray why he walked back the comments regarding Falwell, he simply responded, “I stand corrected.”
I always wondered, “Did Jerry Falwell knew about the accusations against Bob Gray?”
When I mentioned this to Jack Chick, his response was, “There are Jesuits at Liberty!”
It’s easy to criticize Chick because of the horrible views he propagated, however, there is another side. One of the comics that got him in trouble was The Gift because it showed a black woman giving a suicidal white girl mouth to mouth resuscitation. Southern Christian bookstores began pulling that comic, but comics like The Gift gave Christian young people permission to reject racism. The animation cells of Fred Carter gave fundamentalist teenage girls permission to wear pants instead of dresses. In a time when Christian comics were of the Archie and Jughead variety, Chick brought in gritty realism.
That hook gave him a wider audience than the unfortunate bigotry that would dominate his work throughout most of his adult life. Chick’s tract, A Demon’s Nightmare, was given a cameo in Hunter Thompson’s book, The Great Shark Hunt. Chick did not give interviews or allow himself to be photographed. That is the reason my meeting with Jack Chick was featured in Dan Raeburn’s acclaimed booklet about Jack Chick called The Imp. In fact, I once thought there was a chance Jack Chick never existed! Perhaps he was a made up personality created to sell tracts? My meeting with Chick ended that suspicion.
As the years went by, and the internet expanded, Jack Chick lowered his resistance. He allowed a videographer to interview his co-workers in the movie, God’s Cartoonist, and gave permission to just about anyone who wanted to turn one of his tracts into a play or short movie. And, of course, he was the inspiration for ‘Uncle Jack’ in my novel, The Last Fundamentalist.
His artwork will be remembered for a very long time. His views, let’s hope, will be quickly forgotten.
God’s Cartoonist: the comic crusade of jack t. chick
The Light of the World
Dan Raeburn’s The Imp
Jack Chick’s wiki: