Jack T. Chick, the legendary evangelical cartoonist, passed away Sunday night at the age of 92. I have written about Mr. Chick in the past in PopCult, and wanted to note the end of an era. Chick was a private man, often described as a recluse, but his work is known all over the globe.
He was arguably the most successful self-published cartoonist in the world, with over 750 Million of his tracts in print in over 100 languages. These are the little comic books that you find scattered about that try to get you to accept a very judgemental version of Jesus as your only way of getting into heaven. The man was skilled at conveying his simple messages in cartoon form and doesn’t get enough credit for being a talented, if idiosyncratic, stylist. Even his targets find his work so charming that they find them entertaining, in an Ed Wood sort of way.
Part of the reason Chick never got credit as a cartoonist was the content of his work. He was a master propagandist, using all the tools of comics and cartooning to deliver messages that, more often than not, veered well into the territory of hate speech. Jack Chick was intent on delivering his most important message, which was “Live the way he thinks the Bible tells you to, or you’re going to go to hell.”
Among the people that Jack Chick was confident were going to go to hell: Catholics, Muslims, Hindi, disobediant children, rock musicians, Satan worshippers, pop musicians, country musicians, people who watch The Walking Dead, people who like Star Wars, people who like superheroes, people who play Dungeons and Dragons, people who read any translation of the Bible besides the King James Version, Jehovah’s Witnesses, vegetarians, vegans, people who are gluten-intolerant, Democrats, evolutionists, fans of Harry Potter, Wiccans, fans of Family Guy, fans of The Simpsons, environmentalists, homosexuals, homosexuals again because he was so hung up on that one, Pagans, feminists, Heavy Metal Musicians, The Beatles, Contemporary Christian musicians…actually, pretty much everyone but him and his family and whomever else could be persuaded to subscribe to his end-timer with a particularly angry God philosophy. For someone who proclaimed himself to be a man of God, Jack T. Chick sure seemed to hold a lot of hate in his heart.
The man’s views were controversial, to say the least. “Abhorrent” is another good descriptor. Yet, his narrow and didactic worldview and manner is part of what made him such an effective cartoonist. The man’s sincerity was never in doubt. He really did believe that there was only one, true, narrow path to salvation, and it didn’t matter if it didn’t really make sense to anyone else. You can’t fake that kind of dedication, no matter how wrong-headed it seems. His work was so over-the-top that much of it is simply hilarious. The best self-parody is that which is unintentional, and Chick fits that description to a “T.”
Chick was aware that the vast majority of his “fans” actually mocked the ideas that he was trying to put forth. He didn’t mind. In his view, if a hundred people thought he was crazy for every one person who was “saved,” it was worth it. Though he was not interviewed on screen, he did cooperate with my friend Kurt Kurstainer on his documentary, “God’s Cartoonist,” which viewed the Chick Publishing empire through the lens of The Church of the SubGenius. (you can order it HERE, along with a great companion book). Chick did not mind being the butt of jokes if there was a chance he could reach more people.
That’s an admirable quality, even if he was a person who probably did as much to promote hate and divisiveness as anyone else in the last 60 years. His work shaped much of the anti-intellectual evangelical movement of today, with its rampant xenophobia, homophobia and sexism. Yet he has a huge folowing among liberals, atheists, gays, anarchists, and a lot of the people that he swears are going straight to hell.
Sure, it’s hate speech, but it’s got such a goofy, naive charm to it.
Now we can imagine Jack Chick, lined up at the gates of heaven, looking in the giant book of names, seated in front of the giant faceless God on the giant throne, being judged for what he did in his life. Then we can hear the booming voice of “The Great I Am” bellowing forth, “You know, this is all crap, but it’s so damned funny that we’re gonna let you in anyway.”
Then, because God has a twisted sense of humor, he puts Chick in the section of heaven with all the Catholics.
Chick Publications is still a going concern, despite the death of Jack Chick. You can order assortments of his tracts as well as his other works HERE. There is an official Facebook Page devoted to his work HERE. An unofficial Facebook Page, which is much, much more fun, can be found HERE.