On History: Jack Chick

By | Tuesday, October 25, 2016 1 comment
The infamous Jack Chick died on Sunday. As word spread, I saw primarily three types of reactions...
  1. "He was still alive?"
  2. "I enjoyed his comics in a weird, ironic way."
  3. "WOHOO! Burn in hell, you fucking asshole!"
Chick was born in Los Angeles in 1924. He would've grown essentially alongside the birth of the comic book, although I don't see any records of him being a particular fan of the medium that early. But regardless, I expect it would've been hard for any fourteen-year-old in the US to miss at least hearing about the debut of Superman. He also could easily have witnessed the births of Prince Valiant, The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Li'l Abner, and countless other comics that are now considered great classics. Again, I can't find any record of their influence on him, if there was any at all, but certainly there's potential groundwork there.

Chick was drafted into the US Army in 1943. It was only after returned from service and meeting his wife that he "found" religion. He and his wife wed in 1948. He started drawing a single-panel cartoon, written by P. S. Clayton, in 1953 called "Times Have Changed?" which were not unlike Johnny Hart's B.C. in premise -- contemporary situations with a caveman veneer. (The Billy Ireland Museum posted several examples a few years back.)

Chick's first tract, Why No Revival?, wasn't until 1960. His second would take another two years. He didn't formalize Chick Publications until 1970, though, and it would be another two years beyond that before he actually hired an artist. (All of the writing and art prior to that was done by himself.) Over the ensuing decades, he would publish over 250 more titles with a little under half that remaining in print, each selling for sixteen cents. I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations early this year and figured he probably made a decent enough living selling tracts. Potentially enough to let him live comfortably.

Which is kind of amazing considering that he only repeated one story over and over and over: "If you don't practice my specific form of religion, you're going to burn in Hell for all eternity." The stories were all poorly written -- even setting aside the wow-this-is-a-flimsy-straw-man-argument-even-as-far-as-straw-man-arguments-go exchanges -- with barely coherent plots and dated, tin-ear dialogue. Coupled with being so unapologetically preachy with a seeming naivete about just about everything -- for literally over half a century! -- it's little wonder these became booklets with high kitsch value.

But here's the thing about Chick: he spent his career espousing hate speech. Every one of his books damns some group or another, usually literally casting representatives in the pits of Hell. He attacked or demeaned, as near as I can determine, every type of person in existence except for cishertero white males who practiced his specific form of religion. He seemed to be against so many types of people, it became impossible to take him seriously.

Except people did. And do. Chick spread hate and actively fanned the flames of ignorance for over fifty years and, as insane as it sounds to most (I hope) people, there's a contingent out there who lapped it up. Who said, "Yes, Jack, you're right! These heathens deserve nothing but disdain and I shall act accordingly!" Here's a short Twitter story about exactly that...
I spent years dismissing Chick's messages because I didn't think anyone could take this crackpot seriously. And I actually kind of dug that he used comics, in the immediate wake of the anti-comics crusades of the mid-1950s, to do something beyond simple entertainment. But in seeing stories like the above, where people took his bat-shit crazy ideas to heart, I can't hold any measure of respect for him. He was a hate-monger, plain and simple.

He claimed he only wanted to see people change their ways so they could be "saved" but that's as flimsy a straw man argument as any in his tracts. He cultivated hate and fear, and earned his living encouraging nothing but negativity. I don't believe in an afterlife so it's a little hollow for me to say "rest in peace" if I even wanted him to, but I do hope that people who were negatively impacted by Chick's vile attitudes do find some measure of peace in their own lives now that he's no longer able to generate more messages of hatred.
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I never heard of him before. You have educated me. Thanks (I think).