Chucky Jack's A-Comin Review

By | Monday, January 11, 2021 Leave a Comment
Chucky Jack's A-Comin
Several years ago, I discovered the existence of a comic called Chucky Jack's A-Comin' which purportedly detailed the "thrilling life and times of John Sevier founder of Tennessee." I know about nothing when it comes to the history of Tennessee, but I was intrigued mostly about the name "Chucky Jack" and I have a general interest in non-fiction comics. Even so, it took me until last week before I was able to track down a (reasonably priced) copy of the book.

The comic is a fast-paced 24 pages of Sevier's life, covering from his birth in 1744 through his death in 1815. (Although the first 28 years of Sevier's life are covered in the opening two pages and the last 19 years take a single page!) The rest of the story puts him very much in the role of the hero, constantly stepping up to help govern the lawless territory west of North Carolina, or fight off Cherokees or, later, the British. After the Revolutionary War (with many more heroics), inhabitants of the area pushed for it to be recognized as the state of Franklin and put Sevier up for governor. He's pulled into trial for treason at the behest of the governor of North Carolina, but he escapes mid-trial... and is later rewarded by being made a Brigdaier-General? He spends a few more years fighting various Native American tribes before Tennessee is eventually given formal statehood. Sevier then spent most of the rest of his life serving in various government positions, including in the state Senate and US Congress.

I wasn't familiar with cartoonist Bill Dyer prior to reading this. Apparently, most of his cartooning was specifically for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, although he did work on the syndicated The Adventures of Patsy comic strip from 1946 until 1955. (He was either the 7th or 8th cartoonist to work on the strip; there's a bit of nebulous period where Patsy went uncredited for a while.) One of Dyer's frequently-noted comics were "Dyergrams" of collegee football games, where he visually presented the entire game as a cartoon. I haven't found a good image of one to study it very well, but they look a bit like Billy's dotted-line adventures in Family Circus. If they 'read' well -- and, like I said, I haven't found one at a decent enough quality to study it -- it seems like it would be an excellent way to present a game. I suspect in Dyer's hands, they would be well done. Dyer's storytelling is quite good in Chucky Jack; my copy of the issue has a page ripped out, and I had no trouble picking up on the key story points that I missed.

However, while Dyer's storytelling is solid, some of the story itself is questionable. First, and most egriously, is the really bad Native American stereotypes depicted. The book was produced in 1956, so that's hardly surprising, but yeah... the fact that Dyer does specifically cite the Cherokee and Creek tribes by name instead of always lumping them together as "Indians" (although he uses that term much more often) is probably the high point of his depictions here.

The other problem here is that, even going into this knowing nothing about Tennesse history and never having heard of Sevier before, I can tell there's a good chunk of this that's bullshit. Beyond streamlining things for storytelling purposes, this reads like the Disney-fied versions of Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone. Sevier here does stop and reflect on his actions a couple times, but he is always in the right, always makes the right choice, and never fails at anything. Even his treason is presented as standing up for the rights of residents, but it's the governor of North Carolina (Samuel Johnston; he's never named in the book though) that's just being petty and enacting a personal grudge against Sevier. A quick check on Wikipedia, while not necessarily the final bastion of truth, finds a lot of discrepencies with the tale Dyer tells.

If this was just Dyer doing this by himself, I might allow for a little more leeway. But, as you can see from the cover, this was published in cooperation with the Great Smoky Mountains Historical Association and, on the inside front cover, is an introduction by Sevier biographer Kermit Hunter where he quotes Dyer himself: "In order to draw a booklet of Chucky Jack's life, all I had to do was let history tell its own story." Except he didn't. He took whatever stories and legends had been fed to him that a bunch of old white men developed specifically to create a perfect fictional hero to show just how magnificent Tennessee was in its origins. These stories act more as propaganda than they do as history, and many of America's problems stem from being taught this exceptionalist version of American history.

Dyer clearly had a deep love of Tennessee, and an abundance of talent to showcase that. I'm just annoyed that he chose such a skewed story to tell.
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