October 31, 2016
Jack Chick is dead, alas, and along with him any hope for new additions to his corpus of strangely endearing Evangelical scare tracts.
Even those who aren”t aficionados might have encountered Chick’s work (known as “Chick tracts”) at some point or another. Little 3-by-5 Bible tracts featuring either simple, MAD Magazine-like artwork or more polished, fine-lined work. He had at least one ghostwriter, who did the latter format, though some have speculated that “Jack Chick” ended up being a conglomerate of Christian artists. The basic stories are more or less the same: Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and long-term personal savior or burn in hell for all eternity. Along the way, you”ll encounter the occult, personal hubris, and a vast Roman Catholic conspiracy whose tendrils include Freemasonry, Islam, and Communism. The Southern Poverty Law Center branded Chick Publications as an active hate group, something that can easily be worn as a badge of honor.
While Chick’s anti-Catholic conspiracism definitely makes for good reading, Chick’s work stands out from the pack because of his strong and compelling storytelling. I challenge anyone to read The Last Generation, a tale of the biblical end-times, and not be riveted by the twenty little pages. A one-world government is going after Christians. A family must escape to a remote cabin. Little Bobby, called “The Monster” by his own grandfather, will be the first second-grader you want to see spend an eternity in hell. One page, featuring postage-stamp-size illustrations of what will happen to the oceans during the apocalypse, is the stuff of nightmares. There’s also the small treat of the campy, cone-headed uniform of the “healers,” a sort of Gestapo-cum-priesthood of the nightmarish one-world government of the future.
I”ll never forget the first Chick tract I received. It was at a Wednesday-night market, sometime in the mid-“90s in my little hometown. A very Evangelical-looking man approached me and handed me This Was Your Life!, Chick’s signature tract. The work was translated into over 100 languages and specifically adapted for black, Muslim, and female audiences. It contains every leitmotif of Chick’s work: giant angels, “HAW-HAW” as an onomatopoeia for laughter, false Christians getting comeuppance as they”re thrown into the Lake of Fire, and righteous believers received into the arms of Our Lord.
It was a year or two later that I found out, through an older friend’s girlfriend, that Chick tracts were a whole cottage industry. People collected and traded them. Ever since then, I”ve had friends and family on the lookout. I”ve spent countless hours reading his tracts and long-form comics, the latter of which allowed him to detail the nuances of his anti-Catholic conspiracy, mostly gleaned from the musings of Alberto Rivera, a self-proclaimed former Jesuit priest. I wouldn”t say I like them ironically. As I said, the man can spin a yarn. But it’s worth wondering just how many people have read Chick’s work in total sincerity and credulity and how many were bratty little punk rockers looking for a laugh and a scare.
Every Chick tract contains a little microcosm of life and death, salvation and damnation within. The reader never knows until the ending whether the protagonist will give up their wicked ways, accept Christ, and lead a new life. Just as often as characters are saved, so are they thrown into the pit, either for stubborn rejection of Christ or choosing the wrong flavor of Christianity (which includes not just Catholics but also Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons”and Chick seems to not have cared much for corporate megachurch Evangelicalism, either). Protagonists run the gamut from renegade Catholic priests to Christian-rock bands to little kids. Very few walks of life don”t get at least a cursory Chick treatment. This makes the little pamphlets easy to get lost in for hours if you have enough of them to go around. If you go to his website, you can see each and every one, including those that have long been out of print.
On some topics, Chick is actually quite prescient. Doom Town retells the biblical story of Sodom, but also features a powerful and entrenched gay rights movement as a backdrop. Doom Town dates to 1989. The Gay Blade, from 1972, opens with a homosexual wedding. He originally penned The Last Generation in 1972, though it got an overhaul in 1992. Alongside The Beast, another end-times yarn from way back in 1966 (revised in 1981 and 1988″Jack was fond of rewriting his own tracts, getting a new copyright, and pulling the old ones out of circulation), Chick was crafting terrifying and compelling Christian apocalypse horror stories long before Left Behind. Allah Had No Son features a Muslim bragging about impending global dhimmitude way back in 1994.