Jack Chick, “The World’s Most Published Author”, Has Died

Prolific tract author spread anti-Catholic conspiracy theories and promoted Satanic Panic

From Christianity Today:

Jack Chick, the cartoonist who wanted to save your soul from hell, died Sunday at age 92.

The biggest name in tract evangelism, Chick distributed more than 500 million pamphlets, nicknamed “chicklets,” over five decades. His signature black-and-white panel comics warned against the dangers of everything from the occult to Family Guy.

Various media outlets have reported on Chick’s demise, following an announcement that appeared on the Chick Publications Facebook page. Newsmax describes him as a “pioneering publisher of illustrated Gospel tracts”, noting that his tracts “angered some by speaking negatively about the Catholic church, Wicca, rock music, and homosexuality, among other topics”, while to Jezebel he was “the creator of bigoted yet weirdly enjoyable comic books”. Boing Boing, which seems to have been the first to have drawn attention to the announcement, focuses on one particular area of his writing, refering to him as “father of the Satanic panic” (more on that below).

jack-chickChick Tracts are ubiquitous: a 2003 profile in the Los Angeles Magazine states that he was “the world’s most published author”. In Christian bookshops, his tracts are sold in shrink-wrapped bundles, and the back-covers carry details of his international distributors. In the UK, Chick’s man was Theodore Danson-Smith, an old-time “King James Bible” fundamentalist who runs the B. McCall Barbour Christian bookshop in Edinburgh; there was controversy in 2011 when anti-occult themed Chick Tracts were shoved through the letterbox of a witchcraft shop in Devon, which Danson-Smith cheerfully justified as an an attempt to save the shop-owner’s soul.

Yet Chick himself was a recluse, rarely giving interviews and reportedly fearful that his life was under threat from Jesuits. According to a 1999 article by a writer and filmmaker named Dwayne Walker (page one here), Chick abjured association with the Christian Booksellers’ Association, complaining that it had been infiltrated by Catholics and become too focused on Christian celebrities such as Jim Bakker; the Los Angeles Magazine called him “the Thomas Pynchon of the Christian comics crowd”. He was in fact an underground comic artist, and as such he was was reportedly praised by the likes of Robert Crumb (in 2011 one writer even concocted a self-described conspiracy that Chick and Crumb were in fact the same person).

However, although Chick remained stuck in a 1950s sawdust trail groove, he was not isolated from wider networks. Walker’s article has some context here – and given that it is now consigned to the Internet Archive, I’ll quote a bit more at length than usual:

David [Cagle, founder of the King James Bible Society  was expelled from Bob Jones University because of his friendship with a renegade pastor named Peter Ruckman… David eventually went to work for Peter Ruckman’s Bible Baptist Bookstore and I moved to Hollywood to work in the fringes of softcore pornography and women’s wrestling videos. We still kept in touch, which was how I learned Jack Chick relied heavily on Peter Ruckman’s theology. Not only had Ruckman coined the phrase ‘Alexandrian Cult’, which Jack Chick started using in his defensive pro-King James ‘Sabotage’, but the term ‘chicklets’ was actually coined at Ruckman’s Pensacola Bible Institute.

…Randy Chapman was David’s contact at Chick Publications. Randy and David knew each other for quite some time, and now Randy was practically Jack’s right hand man. I introduced myself to Randy at the Anaheim CBA. He was working the Ruckman booth and selling Chick tracts.

Through these contacts, Walker managed to secure a meeting. Walker describes Chick as resembling the actor Slim Pickens, and he jokily includes a movie still of Pickens in the areoplane cockpit in Dr. Strangelove, which he captions as being Chick. Here’s some of what they discussed:

Chick began to open up and our conversation drifted from the business at hand to a variety of subjects; his views on Bob Jones University (who banned his comics for ‘sex and violence’), Jerry Falwell, Trinity Broadcasting Network, Peter Ruckman, Christian movie producer, David Balsiger, John Todd, and ‘occult expert’ Rebecca Browning.

…David Balsiger recently had a contract with CBS Television for a number of specials including ‘Mysteries of the Ancient World’ in which I commented on Nostradomus. David’s contract was cancelled when it was discovered George Jammal appeared on Balsiger’s show, claimed to have been on Noah’s Ark, and was later revealed to be a hoax. Balsiger had his CBS contract dropped and went to work for Group Publications. George Jammal went on to play the angry father in my film, Bible Madness.

“Balsiger sat on that couch right there! He’s really into conspiracies.”

…Ben Kinchlow, Pat Robertson’s former co-host, is a big Chick fan who visited the Rancho Cucamonga office. The book, The Most Dangerous Man in America, has a story where Kinchlow sends a Chick comic to a fan who is inquiring about the last days. The comic contains some anti-Catholic statements, which upset the person who complained to a Catholic periodical.

Walker goes to on note that Balsiger influenced Chick’s portrayal of Noah’s Ark as “a rectangle with a smaller rectangle in the center”. Balsiger is indeed “really into conspiracies”: in 1971, he and Mike Warnke formed an “anti-occult ministry” under the aegis of Morris Cerullo, and Balsiger ghosted Warnke’s notorious Christian paperback fraud The Satan Seller.

However, there is one error in the above: “Rebecca Browning” should actually be “Rebecca Brown”. Her account of being an ex-witch was heavily promoted by Chick Publications, and an article by G. Richard Fisher, Paul R. Blizard and M. Kurt Goedelman called “Drugs, Demons and Delusions: The ‘Amazing’ Saga of Rebecca Brown” is a thorough debunking, comparable to  Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott’s exposé of Warnke. Fisher et al. write:

Rebecca Brown and Elaine (no last name is given), have told their story to Jack rebecca-brownChick, whose Chick Publications company has published it in two cassette tapes, Closet Witches 1 and Closet Witches 2, and two books, He Came To Set The Captives Free and Prepare for War. Rebecca and Elaine have also had opportunity to promote their message on the syndicated talk show Geraldo in 1987.

Chick Publications, once known primarily as a publisher of Gospel tracts, has gained notoriety as a publisher of sensational stories, most notably those of John Todd, who claims to possess knowledge of an occult, conspiratorial society called The Illuminati, and Alberto Rivera, who claimed to once have been a Jesuit priest who witnessed all kinds of ungodly activities and plots by the Roman Catholic Church.

Chick is no stranger to controversy but considers anyone who disputes his publications’ claims a spiritual enemy. On the tape Closet Witches 2 he says “I think the listeners should watch carefully who in the Christian circles will attack Rebecca and Elaine to destroy their credibility and the message on this tape. More than likely the attackers just might turn out to be satanists or witches pretending to be believers in Christ and it is going to be very, very interesting to watch.”

In fact, both Rebecca and Elaine had troubled personal histories, and Rebecca – formerly Ruth Irene Bailey – had been barred from working in medicine after “misdiagnosing alleged leukemia, various blood disorders, gall bladder disease, brain tumors and various other ailments and conditions all of which Respondent stated were allegedly caused by demons, devils and other evil spirits.” The scholar of African Christianity Paul Gifford has drawn attention the popularity of Brown’s books (and Chick Tracts) among evangelicals in Africa; in the 1990s he noted that Brown (who is white) had spoken at a Black-majority church in London, and that she was billed as appearing at a conference in Ghana alongside Emmanuel Eni as two “ex-Satanists”.

Brown’s books have more recently been reprinted by Whitaker House, which is Charismatic rather than “King James fundamentalist”, but the demonic presences in Chick Tracts and in Brown’s story both fit well with the kind of “Spiritual Warfare” teachings of neo-Pentecostalism. Thus perhaps it is worth noting that Chick died just two days after the demon-obsessed Charismatic theologian C. Peter Wagner.

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