The Wacky World of Jack Chick

By Rob Vest

    One of the most popular names in Christian publishing is Jack T Chick. Best known for his miniature comic books (referred to as “Chick tracts”), Chick has been in the business of publishing fundamentalist Christian material since 1961.1 Measuring five inches long and about half as wide, with twenty-two pages, Chick tracts are often left by well-meaning fundamentalists in telephone booths, bus stops, and other places where they are likely to be found.  These tracts can also be purchased through mail order or in Christian bookstores.  Over the years, Chick has produced over 150 different tracts, available in over 100 different languages.2  Worldwide distribution is said to be over 500 million.3
    The stories within Chick’s tracts, peppered throughout with scriptural references, seem to show that everyone is bound for Hell, even the “good” people, and that the only way to avoid this is by accepting Jesus Christ as one’s savior.  The tracts almost always end with the protagonist getting “saved” or going to Hell.  The artwork is often very good, and the narratives are short, blunt, and to the point.  Additionally, the stories are often paranoid, misinformed, offensive, clueless, and unintentionally hilarious.
    One likely reason for the popularity and ubiquitousness of Chick tracts is that they often address issues popular with sectarian Christian denominations, such as Southern Baptists and Assemblies of God, which have been steadily increasing in membership since 1940.4  A number of tracts criticize various parts of society which fundamentalists generally do not approve of, including homosexuality (The Gay Blade; Sin City; Doom Town), abortion (Baby Talk; Who Murdered Clarice?), ecumenicalism (Why No Revival?), the occult (The Trick; Dark Dungeons; Gladys), and evolution (Big Daddy?; In the Beginning).  In addition, Chick tracts show little tolerance for non-evangelical Christian faiths, skewering Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism alike.
    This paper will focus on the humorous aspects of Chick’s work.  Due to the lack of space, only three tracts will be examined, each with a different theme: science, homosexuality, and race.

Who’s Your Daddy?
    Big Daddy? is Jack Chick’s argument against evolution.  Similar in spirit to the debates between evolutionists and creationists that have been going on ever since the Huxley-Wilberforce debates of the 19th century,5  Big Daddy? presents an evolutionist university professor outwitted by a creationist student.
    Big Daddy? starts off with the professor polling his class to see who believes in evolution, then orders the lone dissenter to “get out of my class!!6  Realizing that this isn’t very professional behavior, allows the student to stay in order that he might “tear your little beliefs to shreds.”7  It’s interesting to note that more than one person has described the appearance of the professor as “Jewish” and that of the student as “Aryan.”8     
    When the student mentions the Bible, the professor, calls the young man a “fanatic” and demands that the student argue his case only in scientific terms—he also implies that mentioning the word “Bible” is a criminal offense for which one can serve time.9  The student complies and begins to present his argument.
    First the student mentions “six basic concepts of evolution,” which the professor writes on the board.10  The student claims that only one of these, “micro-evolution: changes within kinds (of plants and animals),” has been proven, and that the rest are “believed by faith,”11  implying that the professor is, as Carl Sagan wrote, “worshipping at the altar of science.”12   The class agrees with the student and the professor seems to be outfoxed.13  The truth is that this is a “straw man” argument, as these “concepts of evolution” are creationist, not scientific concepts.14  

Chick's Six Basic Concepts of Evolution

    The highlight of this debate is when the student presents a chart which “disproves” much of the evidence for hominid evolution.15  Some explanations are falsehoods—the earliest known hominid, “Lucy,” is “proven” to have been no more than an unusual chimpanzee and “Neanderthal man” is portrayed as having been little more than a normal human who suffered from arthritis.16  Other explanations are true, but their presence on the chart misrepresents them as being accepted by modern science—Piltdown man, which was recognized as a hoax in 1953, and Nebraska man, which was never widely accepted in the first place.17  

Lucy to Peking Man

Neanderthal Man to Modern man

    The student continues to destroy argument after argument until the professor admits defeat.18  The student goes on to convince this professor of evolution that Jesus is responsible for all of creation, the professor is fired for refusing to teach evolution anymore, and the student tells the class how they can get into heaven.19  A rather happy ending, except for the now-unemployed professor.  Then again, considering how easily he was outsmarted by a mere student, he probably never deserved the job in the first place.
    Big Daddy?, under close scrutiny, fails to make the case for creationism because it opens religion up to refutation by presenting itself as “a set of claims,” rather than a “state of being.”20  Big Daddy?, by posing as “science,” fails to apply the scientific value of skepticism to its own method, its entire foundation resting on the Bible, a text based more on emotion than logic.21 For pure entertainment value, however, Big Daddy? easily beats anything the Leakeys have ever written.

Big Gay Ray
    Sin City opens with a gay parade being interrupted by a black evangelical, Malcolm Wesley, hoisting a sign reading, “Homosexuality is an abomination.”  The police immediately come to the rescue, charging Malcolm with a “hate crime” and beating him into submission in a scene that looks like the Village People having a club-fest with Rodney King.22  

It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A!

    In the hospital, Malcolm learns that the parade organizers will drop the “hate crime” charge if he stops being so hateful.  Enter a smiling priest with a (supposedly unseen) demon on his arm—Reverend Ray—the “Big Gay Al”23  of Chick tracts.  “Hi, I’m Reverend Ray and I’m gay!” the priest gushes.  “And Jesus loves me!24 he adds.

Big Gay Ray
  
      Reverend Ray very likely represents a criticism of the decision of some mainline churches, such as the Episcopalian and Presbyterian, to ordain and/or tolerate openly gay ministers.25  Ray then tells Malcolm how homophobia is wrong, and begins to support his argument with a liberal interpretation of the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah.26  But Ray is soon interrupted by Malcolm’s friend, Bob, who “exorcises” the demon and relates the “true” version of the story—God destroyed the cities because there was too much buggery going on.27 The tale concludes with Ray having a complete turnabout, denouncing the gay lifestyle, and accepting Jesus into his heart—“It happened!  Jesus is real. . . .   I know I’m saved!28  Ray seems to have had what Wayne Proudfoot terms a “religious experience”—one gets the feeling that Ray doesn’t believe his salvation “can be dismissed as an illusion of hallucination.”29

Big Saved Ray

That Chick is a Baaad Mother-
    One would be hard-pressed to call Chick a racist.  The same tracts are often published in multiple languages, each variation featuring characters of the prevailing racial type (ie, Chinese tracts feature Asians, Swahili tracts feature Africans, etc).30  However, some of Chick tracts could be interpreted as presenting negative stereotypes, which isn’t really surprising, considering fundamentalists tend to be less open to racial integration in their churches.31
    Case in point, Soul Story—a 1977 tract that quite obviously was influenced by the “Blaxploitation” films of the early seventies, such as Shaft and Superfly.32  One of Chick’s most unintentionally hilarious works, the protagonist of Soul Story is Leroy Brown, a thug from the ‘hood with a God-fearing grandma who wants to save his soul.  Naturally, the tract starts out in prison, where Leroy threatens a guard, calling him a “white @*!!!33   When a guard tells Leroy that the warden wants to see him, our belligerent hero replies with “You tell that head honky to @**!!!@!34   In the very next panel we find that Leroy’s anger was unwarranted, as the nice warden is freeing him because the Supreme Court ruled that Leroy was denied his “rights.”35  Thus far, the most valuable lessons that Soul Story has taught us is that prison is filled with angry, racist negroes, and the judicial system works in their favor.

Bad, bad, Leroy Brown

    Back in the ‘hood, Leroy finds that since his time in the joint, his woman and his organization have been claimed by his rival, RD.36  Leroy enters RD’s pad in style, knocking the door off the hinges and standing in the doorway like a pimp ubermensch, while a startled bystander shouts, “Oh, no! . . . It’s LEROY BROWN!37   One can almost hear the funk music playing in the background.  Bad, bad Leroy Brown then calls RD a “stupid jive turkey,” beats him to a pulp, and takes back his organization and his woman.38  

Leroy: The Dark Pimp Returns

    As the story continues, Leroy’s grandma, on her deathbed, tries to save his soul, to no avail.39  At grandma’s funeral, an assassin hired by RD attempts to kill Leroy in a drive-by shooting, but misses and kills his girlfriend instead.40  Leroy swears revenge and honors his girlfriend’s memory by putting the moves on her sister, Joyce.41  Joyce admits she’s a Christian, and the tale takes a strangely Oedipal twist—Leroy confesses that his new love interest reminds him of his grandmother, and he begins to think about finding Jesus himself.42  The lesson Chick seems to be imparting here is that black men are adulterous criminals who are only interested in using Jesus as a means to an end—that “end” being sex.

Leroy macks on his dead girlfriend's sister
 
    The story climaxes in a gunfight with RD in which Leroy becomes mortally wounded.43  Making his way back to Joyce’s apartment, Leroy falls into Joyce’s arms, accepts Christ as his savior, and dies just in time to make it to Heaven.44  What’s ironic is that this tract seems to have been marketed especially to inner city blacks. One wonders how many gang-bangers saw this tract as a “get out of Hell free” card—criminal behavior is okay, as long as you have a few seconds of life remaining to find Jesus.

In the nick of time!  

For the love of Chick
    Jack Chick has become an American institution. Admirers of his work include  non-believers as well as believers.  Chick’s work has been praised by the likes of famed underground artist Robert Crumb,45  and has been parodied in National Lampoon magazine.46  Fans have even created an online museum and fanclub.47  Countless parodies can be found on the internet.  At least two guides to Chick’s work, Robert B Fowler’s The World of Jack T Chick, and Daniel K Raeburn’s The Imp #2, have been published.48  Even for those who disagree with Chick’s fundamentalism, his tracts can provide a hearty reminder not to take ourselves (or religion) too seriously.

Endnotes
1. Robert B Fowler, The World of Jack T Chick (San Francisco: Last Gasp, 2001), 1-2.
2. The Jack T Chick Museum of Fine Art, nd, <http://members.aol.com/monsterwax/chick.html>
3. Ibid.
4. Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 248.
5. Susanne C Monahan, William A Mirola, and Michael O Emerson, eds, Sociology of Religion: A Reader (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001), 374.
6. Jack T Chick, Big Daddy (Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 1970, 2000), 1-3.
7. Ibid, 4.
8. Fowler, 2-9.  See also Jim Foley, “Fossil Hominids: Big Daddy?” (2001), http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/bigdaddy.html
9. Chick, Big Daddy, 4-5.
10. Ibid, 7.
11. Ibid.
12. Monahan, Mirola, and Emerson, eds, 390.
13. Chick, Big Daddy, 7.
14. Mike Friedman,  “Jack Chick’s Big Daddy, Part 1” (2000),  http://www.godhatesfundies.com/articles/chick_bd_part1.shtml; Greg Morrow, “Frothing at the Mouth: Jack Chick’s Big Daddy” (2003), http://www.whiterose.org/dr.elmo/blog/archives/001781.html
15. Chick, Big Daddy, 10-12.
16. Ibid, 11-12.
17. Foley.
18. Chick, Big Daddy, 13-18.
19. Ibid, 19-21.
20. Monahan, Mirola, and Emerson, eds, 382.
21. G Sam Sloss, “The Success of Science: An Evolutionary Perspective,” Michigan Sociological Association, Volume 15 (Fall 2001), 131, 135.
22. Jack T Chick, Sin City (Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 2001), 1-3. 
23 Big Gay Al is a flamboyant, openly-gay character on the popular animated series, South Park.
24. Chick, Sin City, 4.
25. Monahan, Mirola, and Emerson, eds, 176-177. 
26. Chick, Sin City, 7-9.
27. Ibid, 9-14.
28. Ibid, 20-21.
29. Monahan, Mirola, and Emerson, eds, 66.
30. Fowler, 2-52.
31. Monahan, Mirola, and Emerson, eds, 246.
32. Fowler, 2-36.
33. Jack T Chick, Soul Story (Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 1977), 4. Profanity in Chick tracts is always rendered in asterisks, ampersands, punctuation, and various other symbols.  See Fowler, 4-15 for a complete list of “Chick swear words.”
34. Chick, Soul Story, 5.
35. Ibid.
36. Ibid, 6.
37. Ibid, 7.
38. Ibid, 8.
39. Ibid, 10-11.
40. Ibid, 13.
41. Ibid, 14-15.
42. Ibid, 15.
43. Ibid, 17-18.
44. Ibid, 19-21.
45. Fowler, 6-15.
46. Ibid, 6-5.
47. The Jack T Chick Museum of Fine Art, nd, http://members.aol.com/monsterwax/chick.html
48. Fowler, 6-17, 6-18.


Bibliography
Chick, Jack T.  Big Daddy.  Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 1970, 2000.  Available online: http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0055/0055_01.asp
Sin City.  Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 2001.  Available online: http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/5003/5003_01.asp
Soul Story.  Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 1977.  Available online: http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0069/0069_01.asp
Finke, Roger and Rodney Stark. The Churching of America, 1776-1990.  New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992.
Foley, Jim.  “Fossil Hominids: Big Daddy?” 2001.  http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/bigdaddy.html (16 Jun 2003)
Fowler, Robert B.  The World of Jack T Chick.  San Francisco: Last Gasp, 2001.
Friedman, Mike.  “Jack Chick’s Big Daddy, Part 1.”  2000. http://www.godhatesfundies.com/articles/chick_bd_part1.shtml (16 Jun 2003)
“The Jack T Chick Museum of Fine Art.” http://members.aol.com/monsterwax/chick.html
Monahan, Susan C, William A Mirola, and Michael O Emerson, editors. Sociology of  Religion: A Reader.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.
Morrow, Greg.  “Frothing at the Mouth: Jack Chick’s Big Daddy.”  2003. http://www.whiterose.org/dr.elmo/blog/archives/001781.html (16 Jun 2003)
Sloss, G Sam.  “The Success of Science: An Evolutionary Perspective.”  Michigan Sociological Association.  Volume 15 (Fall 2001): 124-145.


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