Jack T. Chick is generally not one of the first names brought up when comic fans discuss the greats of the industry…but this cartoonist and publisher is, in fact, one of the most controversial figures in comic book history that you may not have heard of.
Born on April 13th, 1924, Jack Chick lived a typical American lifestyle of the time; he was married, served in the military, and made an honest living drawing a single-panel cartoon called Times Have Changed? It wasn't until he converted to Christianity that the soft-spoken and shy cartoonist decided the best way for him to evangelize others was to do so through the subtle art of comic book propaganda.
Having been left on buses, in phone booths, and given away by Evangelical Christians, these Chick Tracts contained a surprisingly depressing central theme: either fall to your knees and devote your life to Jesus Christ, or suffer an eternity in hell. In one disturbing issue, a young boy looks for comfort after learning his best friend passed away only to be told that his friend will burn forever because he chose to go trick or treating. And yes, the comic even chastises the young boy for believing that being a good person will allow him to go to heaven, which is "a lie propagated by the devil. "
Although these so-called "Chick Tracts" may not have reached the shelves of a local comic book shop, their bigoted subject matter boasts the platinum status of having sold nearly 800 million copies. This does not include the distribution counts that were willingly left in public places for free, with intriguing covers of witches, devils, gorillas, and more.
These issues didn't just attack the gateway holiday of Halloween. Other religions and Christian denominations were not safe from Chick's wrath either. He often attacked the Catholics in particular, strangely linking them in a similar tier to Dungeons & Dragons, insisting that both systems were subversive paths to evil orchestrated by the devil himself. Although these claims are entertaining to learn about and easier to dismiss, Chick was a brilliant mastermind when it came to playing the propaganda game with his publications. He pulled cultural fears and twisted them into a call for action of religious extremism. During the highest success of his comics, the United States found itself in the middle of the Protestant-Catholic crisis, with even Dwight D. Eisenhower pushing anti-Catholic sentiment onto the masses. With enough boogeymen being magnified during the Cold War propaganda, not even children were safe from this fear-mongering regime, which makes these comics even more disturbing.
As entertaining as it is to see an artist's silly religious rendition of what an LSD flashback looks like, these comics more nefariously attacked the marginalized, such as homosexuals, and claimed that they deserved a life of misery and death. Unfortunately, Chick's legacy managed to reach millions, and his publications were translated into more than 100 languages. Oddly enough, the man who chose such magnanimous work only gave one interview in his life and died quietly in his sleep on October 23rd, 2016, with barely a mention in the most prominent of comic circles. However, his death did not stop the propaganda machine of Chick Publications, which continues to publish fanatical agitprop to this day.