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Wednesday, 19 July 2006 00:00

Chick check

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The word “ubiquitous” is an apt adjective for Chick comics. They show up in motel rooms, garages, pool halls, laundromats, telephone booths, homeless shelters and Christian bookstores. The small format (about the size of an index card) with 24 to 36 pages and their raw, vivid colors make them instantly recognizable. Chick comics have been around for more than 40 years and they are literally all over the world. Popular titles like “This is Your Life” and “Somebody Loves You” have African, French, Hebrew, Dutch and Japanese versions (the comics are available in 70 languages!) with each “adaptation” subtly edited to reflect cultural differences. More than 400 million of them have been published now.

The founder and author of Chick comics, Jack T. Chick, is a Christian in the profoundest sense of that word, and his life is dedicated to Christ. He believes that Satan is an unrelenting force in our world and that every man, woman and child is destined for damnation — unless they accept Christ as their Savior. That is the message in every Chick publication and, according to collectors, there are more than 500 separate titles. Chick thinks that frightening people is a perfectly acceptable method of “bringing people to Christ” — whatever works.

Chick comics promote an impressive array of messages. Homosexuals are doomed (the artistic rendering of typical gays in “Doom Town” is memorable!), as are communists, Nazis and Catholics (the Vatican is one of Satan’s most powerful weapons). Chick also believes that any organization that has secret rituals is evil, and that includes the Rosicrucian, the Masons and Eastern Star. The theory of evolution is misguided and our educators are motivated by a godless doctrine. (Chick loves to parody pompous academics.) Many political figures will burn on Satan’s rotisserie, including ex-president Jimmy Carter, who made the mistake of welcoming the Pope to the US. Television and Hollywood films are doing Satan’s work for him. (“Saturday Night Live”is one of the worst offenders and past performers such as Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd are but two of the vast legions of smirking panderers that are lambasted by Chick).

In general, the comics contain graphic depictions of humanity’s doom. Famous actors, beautiful women, rock musicians, wealthy playboys and self-centered teenagers — all are beckoned from their graves and forced to stand before the “great white throne” where a faceless God reviews a film of their misspent lives and a grim angel casts them into a blazing inferno (one million degrees) where they writhe and scream ... too late. If only they had listened. Salvation could have been obtained in a moment, and now damnation is eternal.

In recent years, some of the world’s major spokesmen for pop culture have gone on record as Chick fans. Even though they brand Chick’s message as paranoid fundamentalist pornography, they find his comic art a major contribution to pop culture. When a friend gave R. Crumb a stack of Chick comics, Crumb eagerly read them and said, “This stuff is incredible! ... on one level it is stupid and disgusting ... as sick as the stuff is, it is WELL DONE ... They are like underground comics.” Similar views have been expressed by Gary Groth (The Comics Journal) and Daniel K. Raeburn who accomplished what no one else had been able to do — he interviewed Chick, who has spent 40 years avoiding the media.

Although Raeburn painted a brutally satirical picture of Chick (“He is a little bald-headed man that looks like Slim Pickens in the movie, Dr. Strangelove.”), the interview discussed Chick’s work in terms of artistic quality and noted their amazing resemblance to the old E. C. Horror Comics (The Vault of Terror, The Haunt of Fear, etc.).

All of this information has been lovingly gathered by Robert Fowler in this remarkable book which resembles a kind of concordance or reference book for all things Chick!, Fowler has meticulously listed every Chick comic (or tract) in existence, noting such details as publication dates, misspelled words, use of slang, profanity and changes in format. In addition, Fowler presents an astonishing cosmology of the Chick universe, including references to Heaven, Satan, demons, witchcraft, lesbians, evolution, sex, angels, etc. Fowler has also researched Chick’s life (he once studied to be an actor) and found some gruesome secrets, including his mother’s failed attempts to abort him — a fact that has left Chick with some serious health problems.

Although I am not sure that Chick’s comics deserve such exhaustive research, I found it fascinating to read this “Chick Thesaurus.” It is also gratifying to learn that the world is full of people like me (I found a stack of Chick comics in a garage recently) — individuals who are repelled by Chick’s message, but fascinated by the crude (and often shocking) energy of his art.

The World of Chick? by Robert B. Fowler.
Last Gasp, 2006. $16.95 – 96 pages.

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