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Christ Comics

08.21.2001 | COMICS

The devil is a busy man. He's constantly concocting schemes, plans and plots to turn you from God, turn you away from the light of Truth and lead you astray into the darkness of his world of lies. He is behind Halloween. And Mardi Gras. And Rock n' Roll music. And the Roman Catholic Church. And Islam. And Wicca. His favorite television show is Bewitched and he's gunning after you. There is a lake of fire (revelation 20:15) into which all of the lost, the sinners, the unrepentant, those whom God has deemed unfit for His grace are condemned. And you have an engraved, personalized invitation.

Seemingly, there are no holes large enough for a soul to escape from in the net Satan has cast. The general populace is ignorant, and the devils traps are omnipresent. But there is a way out.

They are comic books, called tracts, similar in shape to check books but slightly smaller, designed, presumably, with back pockets and wallets in mind. The comics are low budget affairs, as their black and white inner print, single color covers and tabloid fold and staple style attest. On each comics cover, in the lower left hand corner, are the letters JTC, the initials of Jack Chick, the alleged (more on this later) author/writer of the comics and architect of the Chick publishing empire.

And indeed, it is an empire. According to his officially sanctioned biography, Jack Chick rose like a holly rolling Horatio Algier character from a humble beginning as an illustrator for a Los Angeles defense contracting company to rule over a vast Christian publishing organization. The home page of the publishing company, which features all of the tracts online, is In a media saturated with pornography the fact that the website called Chick doesn't even post a single image of a bottle blonde in a bikini is a testament to the popularity and power of Chick.

The Chick catalog lists hundreds of religious titles in a variety of formats: books, videos, posters and the tract/comics. Nearly all of the comics and books are available in Spanish. Select tract comics are available in a buffet of languages, including Burmese, Swahili, Tamil and Pidgin. These creepy little comic books are translated into languages both obscure and non-existent to enable their worldwide dissemination. They are meant as missionary tools, visual aids for the spiritually impaired.

The tracts are available by mail order from Chicks Ontario, California offices. You'll find the works of Jack Chick mainly in men's rooms of highway rest stops, passed out by men with shifty eyes on street corners, outside airports and bus stations or in suburban strip malls as well as in the hands of irony starved hipsters who get a rise out of goofy religious iconography and publications.

The Chick comics, according to the website's mini-bio of Jack T. Chick, were inspired by Mao Tse Tung, who used peasant folk songs and children books as propaganda tools. Chairman Chick learned of the Communist indoctrination techniques and employed them to lighten the special burden he felt for missionary work.

The artwork in comics such as This was your life and Cleo is reminiscent of Mad Magazine, particularly the "The Lighter Side Of" series. Excluding dialogue, a Pepsi challenge comparison of a frame from "The Lighter Side Of" and a frame from "This Was Your Life" would result in confusion. Both are drawn in depthless line style and both seem stuck in a perpetual 1979 feathered hair and hip hugger bellbottoms time loop. Other books are drawn more detail intensively, like figures in a how to draw comic book characters manual or a Spanish language horror comic book

Often in the oeuvre of Chick, the reader is treated to a depiction of hell, the devil, or some other physical incarnation of evil. When rendering the diabolic, the comic style takes on a goofy expressionistic style that looks neanderthallically funky, kind of like R. Crumb without LSD or fetishism. The demons and devils are grotesque, sloppy. They are not wrathful, elementally powerful fallen angels, but beer soaked buffoons contesting for souls with ill-advised, transparent schemes. When God appears he is Godzilla size and faceless save for a blinding glow.

But where the drawings are absurd and pathetic and offer seeming visual evidence of humor or fun (like Satan's natty van dyke facial hair in the anti-Catholic treatise The Death Cookie or the syrupy doe-eyed cuteness of Cleo the dog in Cleo) the comics are emphatically not very fun at all. In fact, the comics seem to want to scold the readers for wanting fun. Maybe the comic/tract's first four pages will contain something entertaining, or more likely something that seems entertaining at first glance, but then the story quickly devolves into a Bible quote laden morality tale. And though the comics could be meant for enjoyment on a non-suffocatingly pious level, I just don't think that's possible.

Cleo begins with a dog named Cleo sleeping on the back ledge of its family's car. Cleo, a very cute dog with floppy ears and Lil' Orphan Annie lashes, jumps out of the car to chase a butterfly. The family drives off en route to a visit with a sick Grandmother. The son, whose name is obviously Timmy, realizes that Cleo is not in the car and becomes disconcerted. Cleo is picked up by a dogcatcher and impounded. Cleo, who even in her darkest hour is still very, very cute, licks the face of the man who decides she must be put to sleep.

Presently, we are back with the family. Grandma's OK. Timmy entreats his father (whose resemblance to seventies porn icon John Holmes is certainly unintentional but too hilarious not to mention) to drive to the pound to pick up Cleo. Cleo is clearly too cute to die, so Timmy arrives just before Cleo's scheduled death. As they drive Cleo home, Timmy and Dad discuss the power of prayer.

From an audience manipulation point of view, Cleo is morally reprehensible. Cleo fooled me. It was proffered as something quick and goofy, and for the first seventeen pages, quick and goofy it proved to be until big Daddy Holmes starts talking about Jesus. Imagine this tract falling into the hands of a Britney Spears cropped t-shirt wearing, gum chewing, Midwest dwelling 13-year-old girl. This seemingly innocuous comic/tract might prevent her from a healthy teenage life of AOL instant messaging, drug experimentation and giddy sensual self-discovery and start, like reading the Bible and shit.

Not that there's really a danger of that happening. The sloppy stories and the aforementioned aversion to audience engagement will keep Chick an underground phenomenon in perpetuity. And that is far from unintentional.

Aside from the anaemic plotting, Cleo is not representative of the tracts. It's softer in tone, like a gateway comic to the much darker tracts that make up the majority of Chick's body of work. The page from the Chick catalog subtitled "Tracts" that expose the errors of false religions contains the following tracts:

The Tycoon: A Buddhist learns that Jesus, not Buddha, died for his sins...and that reincarnation is a lie!
The Crisis: A Jehovah's Witness learns why his religion is wrong...
The Visitors: Two Mormons learn the Truth about their religion.
Doom Town: Uses Sodom to show homosexuals that Jesus is their only hope.
The Curse of Baphomet: Alex thought he could be a good Christian and a Mason until he learned Masonry is a type of Witchcraft.

These and other comics detail the tenets of Chick's faith, which is anti-denominational, and emphasizes private Bible study (and by Bible study, they mean King James Version study, as all other versions are the work of Satan), like Stan Lee instead of Martin Luther stapled the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church. The beliefs are not really worth getting into; suffice to say the devil lurks around every corner.

The stated purpose of the tract is the conversion of those who are under the demonic influences of masonry, homosexuality, et al, but that's not what they are really supposed to do. They exist in order to make their readers, who are no doubt good Christians already, aware of these cabalistic conspiracies, and to introduce them to a Tristerio level conspiracy of their own. Since Jack Chick neither has nor endorses a Church or a denomination, the entire religious service of Chick Publications is the distribution of the tracts. The content of any given tract is far less important than its distribution.

Jack Chick stopped granting interviews in the seventies, or so his secretary told me over the phone. I gave my name as Robert Dale, the pseudonym I use when writing bad checks or crashing frat parties. And the conversation went a little something like this:

Jack Chick's Secretary: Hello, this is Jack Chicks secretary.
Robert Dale: Hi, my name is Robert Dale. I'm writing an article for Christian Woodworker magazine. Could I please speak with either Jack Chick or a PR representative?
JCS: Jack Chick hasn't given interviews since the seventies.
RD: What?
JCS: Mr. Chick believes that his time is better spent writing and drawing tracts then talking to journalists. The FAQ on our website has all the information he wants to give out.
RD: Is Mr. Chick aware that writers like Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley Jr. manage to appear on countless interviews while maintaining a fairly prolific approach to their body of work?
JCS: [Awkward pause.] The FAQ on our website has all the information Mr. Chick wants to give out.

I called again, this time claiming to be a Canadian paper manufacturer specializing in the production of Christian texts. Even after I explained to her that my company included trace elements of the real cross in all of our wood pulp, she refused to allow me to speak with Jack Chick.

After waiting a day I called them from a payphone, saying that I was a representative from the Ontario, California power grid authority and threatened to cut off their power unless I could speak to Jack Chick. It was the third and last time they denied me.

My interactions with the Chick offices led me to suspect something which, when it hit me seemed so obvious that I was acutely ashamed for not having thought of it earlier; that Jack Chick is either dead or never existed at all, and that a majority or perhaps all of his works are products of different writers and artists, united only by a collective pseudonym. Here is my case for the death or non-existence of Jack Chick.

  1. The fucker's steadfast refusal to talk with me. Granted, I'm a punk writer with no sense of Journalistic ethics, but he didn't know that.

  2. The variance of the art in the different comics, which although could be a single artists evolution over time, is too radically divergent to be such.

  3. The eerie sameness of the plot construction of the comics, which I contend is the product of a group of contracted writers instructed to steadfastly adhere to a set formula, rather than the unified work of a single visionary.

I am not alone in my suspicion. The first question on the Chick FAQ is whether or not the man himself is alive (The answer: an emphatic yes). Whether or not Chick exists, the tracts definitely do. And people must be reading them. Although I wasn't able to get information on how many tracts are sold monthly, find out whether or not Chick Publications is a tax exempt religious organization, or get any other information on their financial set up, I have to assume that they are successful, judging from its thirty years of existence. The tracts are a window into a strange, haunted world.

There is nothing celebratory, nothing transcendent about Chick's comics. The comics are uniformly stern moral reprimands. There is no joy of knowing Jesus in the world of Chick. This is not about love. This is about hate. Chick casts aspersions on other religions, but neither has nor endorses one of his own. In exposing the world as an interlocking construct of Satan, he leaves little room for solace. This is not the kind of Christianity that will make you a better person; there is no compassion. There are barely any other people; just you and the warmth you feel from knowing you're probably not going to hell. It's Christianity as an amalgam of solipsism and fear.

Walking around Seattle, there are photocopied pages of Billy Graham's columns lying on the street, waiting for curious passers by. Someone has been stuffing religious pamphlets into the window of my friend's coffee shop. Outside the All-star game at Safeco field people handed out religious themed baseball cards. The devil is a busy man, indeed.

About the Author
New Jersey native Adam Bulger currently resides in Hartford, CT. As a free-lance writer he has written numerous articles on booze, cops and robots.
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