Jack Chick, 1924–2016: An "Appreciation"

In a dystopian future, Christianity will be banned by the world government:

A normal Christian family’s son is corrupted by secularist/pagan (for Chick, those were often interchangeable) propaganda into a near-demonic monster wearing a Nazi-like uniform:

Little Bobby reports his own parents to the authorities:

But the Rapture comes, and they’re taken to Heaven, while Bobby is (presumably) left to suffer in hell for all eternity.

I first stumbled upon this comic (titled The Last Generation) and others of Chick’s religious cartoon pamphlets, known as "Chick tracts," in the early 2000s, and was struck by what I encountered. While works like The Last Generation were full of standard Christian tropes (massive persecution complexes, fear of secularism and the Gay Agenda), the images and sheer over-the-top nature of the story elevated his work to something approaching a fever dream. A relentlessly hateful bigot, Chick nevertheless found appreciation, however ironic, far outside his ideological brethren.

Perhaps it was because his work was so deeply paranoid. Chick’s world was one where Satan himself personally planted occult messages in rock music:

Angels?

Where Satanic infant-sacrificing cultists lurked in every town:

The Poor Little Witch

Where Catholicism is actually a pagan religion:

Why Is Mary Crying?

That was responsible for the Holocaust, and now controls the world:

Holocaust

And whose leaders created Islam as a conspiracy to destroy true Christianity:

The Deceived

(Of course, the Catholic Church has shown itself to be a hugely corrupt institution, but for very different reasons than Chick depicted.)

In one of Chick’s most-parodied tracts, Dungeons and Dragons proves a gateway to Satanism for a group of teen girls:

Dark Dungeons

As a far-right Christian, Chick had particular animus for gays:

The Gay Blade

Doom Town

Uninvited

The Birds and the Bees

The bigot himself, looking every bit the genial old man he wasn't

Chick was born in California in 1924, served in World War II, and became a devoted Christian soon after. In the 1950s, he drew an innocuous newspaper comic about cavemen. After that ended, he decided to shift to far less secular subject matter.

Chick heard of the effectiveness of Communist propaganda leaflets and (nothing if not a propagandist himself) set out to produce his own. His first tract was published in 1961, and he founded his company, Chick Publishing, in 1970. This was an era that, not coincidentally, saw the rise of right-wing Christian backlash politics as feminism, gay rights, and abortion rights entered the public sphere to new degrees. Chick himself had little interest in direct political engagement (he regarded Ronald Reagan, conservative hero, as a tool of the Catholic conspiracy), but it’s nonetheless arguable that his work's success benefited from the same cultural forces that helped James Dobson, Patrick Robertson, and more.

Chick’s most popular tract, This Was Your Life, sets the template for his body of work. A materialist sinner dies, and is forever condemned to "everlasting fire," while a repentant sinner is able to ascend to heaven.

(Almost every Chick tract ends with a panel akin to the last one.)

In Chick’s work, such fates befall Jews:

Where's Rabbi Waxman?

Muslims:

Unforgiven

Catholics:

Last Rites

And gays:

Home Alone?

As of this writing, his company claims to have distributed over 750 million tracts worldwide in more than 100 languages. Such was his reach that his one could find his work on street corners and in subways, even in the bluest of cities. (In NYC, you'll frequently see Chick tracts being distributed in the tunnel between Times Square and the Port Authority).

In the 2000s and onward, as Chick made his work readily available on the internet, his work found increased fame amidst non-Christians, as a target of mockery and inspiration for parodies.

Chick's evangelical structure became a vehicle to preach the gospel of Cthulhu:

Who Will Be Eaten First?

Or as political satire:

A parody even appeared on Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty:

A full version of this tract was included with DVDs of the show.

Dark Dungeons was adapted into a short film, and not by Christian filmmakers:

And it's no surprise that Chick's death prompted artists to use his own format as a vehicle for critiquing the man and his work, as seen in a tribute by cartoonist Matt Bors that parodies This Was Your Life:

Even in death, Chick's ideology remains a hateful and pernicious influence. But it's also proven in its own way a ripe tool for examining and understanding the far-right Christian mindset, not to mention giving nonbelievers a lot of laughs. That would've no doubt infuriated Chick, which makes it all the sweeter.

Something tells us Jack didn't exactly end up on the winning side.

For more essential reading on Chick's work:

This is spiritual porn, pure sadomasochistic fantasy with an emphasis on the rhetorical foreplay leading up to the inevitable seduction and submission to Jesus Christ. The money shot, when it comes, is a close-up of the humiliated but grateful sinner gasping, sobbing, and quaking with passion as the salty body fluid of tears coat his or her smooth, round cheeks. Even if the sinner rejects Jesus Christ we get to see him on his knees gasping, sobbing, and quaking with passionate agony before an unmoved Jesus on the Day of Judgment. Either way, the sadistic Chick gets his fix.

It's just the tribute he would have hated, and exactly the one he deserves.