Jack Chick Has Died — a Look Back at His Religious Comic Legacy

Chick Tracts almost always end badly for the characters involved.
Chick Tracts almost always end badly for the characters involved.

On Sunday, October 23, the world lost a creative individual — a man who built an empire on weird comic art combined with an extreme form of fundamentalist Christian beliefs. That man was Jack Chick. After undergoing a religious transformation, Chick began writing and drawing his crude comic tracts in the early '70s, and in a few years, the hateful little things seemed to be everywhere. Chick's brand of visual evangelizing portrayed a world where demons fought over the souls of human sinners in a constant and very real battle of good versus evil. Chick Publications pushed a world view that had an exceptionally broad concept of "evil," one in which almost anything fun was sinful and where any belief system that was different from Chick's strict brand of fundamentalism was dangerous. In Chick's comics, people met terrible, often agonizing deaths, but that was just the beginning of their problems, because unless they'd accepted Jesus as their savior before the comics' end, they were met with the prospect of being kicked into the "Lake of Fire" by a giant angelic punisher.

Chick didn't give many interviews during his life, and much of his personal story is shrouded in mystery, but he left such a large collection of his publications that we at least know what the man didn't like (the answer: everything except a narrow interpretation of the Bible). Over the years, Chick took careful aim at all sorts of "dangers" threatening Christians and ignorant heretics unaware that they were courting eternal damnation. Since Chick himself wasn't forthcoming in interviews, looking at some of the topics his comic's addressed seems like a good way to gain a fuller understanding of their creator.

Chick Publications often took on various aspects of "the occult," but in true Chick fashion, the subjects tackled were portrayed so broadly and ridiculously that the results were generally more humorous than scary. That fear of the occult covered so much ground in the Chickoverse that it's fair to say it colored almost every topic the tracts addressed. Dungeons and Dragons was truly evil viewed through the lens of a Chick tract, and playing the game was a surefire way to hook up with real demons and lose one's soul.

Unsurprisingly, Chick also attacked Halloween in more than one of his comics, "exposing" the holiday's hidden occult origins, and in others, even playing in a Christian rock band ran the risk of attracting Lucifer and eternal damnation. In the world Jack Chick portrayed, satanists and witches lurked behind every doorway, secretly sacrificing babies to their Dark Lord. In some tracts, Satan sits at a sort of diabolic boardroom meeting in Hell, while his demonic minions help roll out super-villain-style plans to enslave more human souls. Sometimes, the Illuminati are referenced, ouija boards and tarot cards are portrayed as portals allowing demons free rein, and the corner New Age shop isn't just selling crystals and books on Wicca; it's earning people their spots in Hell.

Perhaps this isn't surprising for fundamentalist religious tracts, but Chick Publications has never been... subtle, so they always tend to go too far, becoming both unintentionally funny, scary and sad.

A tendency to put facts aside and to make shit up also made Chick publications one of the more powerful architects of the 1980s "Satanic Panic," a moral crusade mostly rooted in fictional bullshit, in which "satanic ritual abuse" was thought to be a widespread phenomenon. Silly religious fear-mongering of the type that Chick tracts spread gained traction back then, and resulted in a lot of innocent people's being investigated for nonexistent crimes.

When Chick tracts weren't specifically going after "the occult," the mean-spirited comics targeted a rather large selection of other enemies. Freemasons, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and especially Catholics were all subjects of scorn in the Chickoverse, which held that none of them offered anything other than an eventual residency in that Lake of Fire. Unsurprisingly, Chick also had an anti-boner for pre-marital sex and homosexuality, tolerance not being the publisher's strongest trait. Almost all of the individuals appearing in Chick tracts are presented as terrible stereotypes, and not as real people. His style of comic-based proselytizing even earned Chick Publications a place on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of active hate groups...So there's that.

Looking back at his work through the years, Jack Chick leaves behind quite a legacy — comics that made a legitimate mark on pop culture, and that have been parodied and collected by many of the types of people Chick apparently disliked or disapproved of — valued because of their unintentional and insane mean-spirited humor. But it's also important to remember that Chick's legacy is one of intolerance and hate, and that the type of religious beliefs he pushed helped to create an atmosphere of paranoia and fear that had awful consequences in the lives of many people.


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