Jack Chick, the prolific comics artist and publisher whose paranoid and hate-filled tracts were a subject of perverse fascination for generations of Americans, died this past Sunday, according to a Facebook post by his company. He was 92.
The reclusive king of the scaremongers, Chick railed against everything from gay rights and Dungeons & Dragons to Freemasonry and the Catholic church—which he believed instigated the Holocaust, the Russian Revolution, and the Civil War—in formulaic and often repetitive mini-comics peppered with apocalyptic predictions and ethnic stereotypes.
For a long time, very little was known about Chick’s life, to the point that his name was sometimes incorrectly assumed to be a pseudonym. Born and raised in California, Chick was a World War II veteran and aspiring actor when he reportedly underwent a religious conversion while listening to an episode of The Old Fashioned Revival Hour, a radio show hosted by the Baptist evangelist Charles E. Fuller. He began drawing comics in the 1950s, beginning with a single-panel comic called Times Have Changed?, which was syndicated in the Los Angeles area.
Chick self-published his first religious mini-comic, Why No Revival?, in 1960, while working for a tape recorder company. Initially working out of his kitchen, he became increasingly prolific throughout the decade, and officially incorporated Chick Publications in 1970. The anti-Catholic conspiracy theories that would become a prominent feature of his work were inspired by Alberto Rivera, a con man who claimed to be a former Jesuit priest with insight into the Vatican’s secret (and seemingly counter-intuitive) involvement in Islam, communism, abortion, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Jonestown Massacre. With the help of Fred Carter—with whom he split drawing duties starting in 1972—and at least one more unknown artist, Chick produced over 250 tracts, which were translated into over 100 languages.
It is believed that Chick Publications has printed as many as 800 million copies of its mini-comics, which continue to be produced in a wallet-sized format eerily reminiscent of Tijuana bibles, illicitly printed pornographic comics often featuring popular cartoon characters or celebrities of the day that enjoyed their greatest popularity during Chick’s Great Depression adolescence and his years in the U.S. Army. The difference here is that, instead of Clark Gable diddling Betty Boop, Chick’s tracts offered text-heavy fantasies of a world where everything was part of a secret conspiracy of Satanist indoctrination, and Bronze Age druids were always on the verge of making a comeback.
Chick himself claimed that his inspiration came from a news report about Communist propaganda comics in China. Over the years, his widely distributed mini-comics were the frequent subject of boycotts by Christian organizations. They also developed an ironic fanbase who appreciated Chick’s work for its unintentionally absurd plotting and dialogue and its frequent, tone-deaf attempts at appealing to specific audiences, making excerpts from and parodies of Chick tracts common in ‘zines and on punk flyers throughout the ’80s and ’90s.