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Christian Comics Pioneers

Jack Chick (USA)

Born in Boyle Heights, California USA on 13 April 1924, Jack Thomas Chick began drawing at a very young age like most other cartoonists. Perhaps inspired by the aerial dogfights of World War I, Jack's primary interest lay in drawing airplanes in battle.

During his High School days in Alhambra he was the kind of person whom his Christian classmates thought would never accept Jesus Christ. After graduation, in 1942, Jack studied acting on a scholarship at the Pasadena Playhouse, which has served as the training ground for many famous actors of stage and screen. World War II interrupted, and Jack entered the Army, spending the next 3 years overseas in Australia, New Guinea and Japan. (It has been reported also that he was one of the few servicemen to survive the battle for Okinawa.)

After being discharged, Jack returned to the Playhouse, where he met and married his wife, Lynn in 1948. She and her mother played a major role in Jack's salvation. While Jack was visiting with his new in-laws during his honeymoon, Lynn's mother insisted that Jack listen to Charles E. Fuller's Old Fashioned Revival Hour radio program. The Lord was already working on Jack's heart and when Fuller spoke these words from Scripture, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow," Jack knelt and prayed to receive Christ.

After he was married, Jack was able to earn a living in the secular world, as a technical illustrator in the aerospace industry in El Monte, but as a Christian he wanted to use his abilities to serve the Lord. Also (in part because of his overseas travels in the military) Jack desired to be a missionary. However his new wife wanted no part of that, so they remained Stateside. Sometime around 1958, Jack read Power From On High by Charles Finney, which motivated him to start sketching and to produce a book, Why No Revival? He couldn't find a publisher so he paid for the first printing himself. (This was apparently a book with mostly text and some illustrations. Later he published the Why No Revival? cartoon tract, which is shown here at right).

After being told by a missionary broadcaster for the Voice of China & Asia that multitudes of Chinese people had been won to Communism through mass distribution of cartoon booklets, Jack believed that the Lord wanted him to spread the Gospel the same way, presenting it in a simple, easily-understood graphic format.

In the early '60s, Jack produced A Demon's Nightmare (current cover shown here at left), which his ministry has called his "very first soul winning Gospel tract." He was inspired to write and draw it after driving past a group of teenagers and becoming deeply concerned about their salvation. This 36 page, 10 x 13 cm booklet was distributed by "Rusthoi Publications" in 1962. (In recent years, Jack explained to a friend that, "When I started writing and producing my first tracts I needed someone to place them in Christian Bookstores. Ralph Rusthoi was a mailman who also published materials and distributed books. When I was going to press he told me that I should put his name in as the publisher, so I said, 'OK.' It took a little while to realize that I was paying for the press runs and that actually I was a publisher. That's when I dropped Ralph's name. We printed large tracts for a couple of years, but sales were very slow until my printer, who was producing the 'Four Spiritual Laws,' asked me to make the tracts pocket-sized. When we did this, the tracts started selling better, and I had to rework some of them to fit the smaller size. The company grew until we had our own printshop, and that is how we are able to keep the cost per tract so low.")

Shortly after producing A Demon's Nightmare , Jack had an opportunity to speak to some prison inmates, and he presented the Gospel to them with a cartoon art flip chart to illustrate his talk. When he finished, most of the inmates present accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. Inspired by this, Jack later made his presentation artwork into the tract This Was Your Life! (Cover shown here at right), a 33 page, 9 x 13 cm booklet published in 1964. (An early issue of Jack's Battle Cry newsletter pictured the scene of young Jack Chick speaking before this group of prisoners, shown here at left.)

These publications were the first (of what would become many) small booklets known as "Chick Tracts" or (in some circles) "chicklets." (In more recent years internet "fans" who disagree with Jack, but still collect his tracts avidly, have also started calling themselves "chicklets," too.)

Jack continued to write and draw tracts, but it wasn't until the early '70s that his work became well known and widely circulated. At this time he released many new tracts and reissued the older ones. His now self-supporting ministry Chick Publications had grown and taken on additional staff.

In 1974 Jack began to publish his "regular comic book size" series, The Crusaders, drawn by the African-American comics artist Fred Carter from scripts and thumbnail sketches by Jack. These full color books were popular (as were Al Hartley's Spire Christian Comics during this same time period), but when they evolved into a series about an ex-Roman Catholic priest named "Alberto" in 1979, they generated a storm of controversy for Jack and his organization which led to a number of unpleasant repercussions.

Reportedly Jack's book store sales fell off in the '80s as some of the more incredible claims of his Alberto series met head-on with the rising ecumenical tide, and he was pressured to withdraw from the Christian Booksellers Association. (Rather ironically, books which mirror his some of his views from that series are now relatively common in the world of Christian publishing.) The government of Canada also banned the series, forbidding their import.

Jack was also vilified in many articles in the secular comics press and on numerous web sites. Several negative books were written about him and his work, and some people even circulated outrageous claims about his death on the internet. (If one measure of a man is to look at who his enemies are, then Jack stands pretty tall when examining all the various people who have attacked him, often viciously, over the years.)

Christian comics creators have also expressed divided opinions about Jack and his work. A number have wished that he was truly accountable to someone with regards to the content of his tracts, but still do believe that he has always meant well. Some have expressed frustration that his books seemed to make comics so distasteful to the Christian bookstore market, making sales more difficult for later publications. Still others have taken the side of the secular critics who have described his work as "harsh" or even "hate literature."One Christian comics artist and publisher has noted, "There's a fine line between portraying evil and glorifying evil, and in some of Chick's tracts the line has been crossed. However, though I take issue with a number of these tracts, I equally admire many others. Some which come to mind are Room 310, Titanic, The First Jaws, Firestarter, and The Sissy?" On the Roman Catholic issue specifically, another Christian comics creator is quoted as saying, "I'm really grateful God called the guy to service. And I'm more impressed that he's stayed in it despite his convictions and the repercussions against them. By the way, Jack LOVES Roman Catholics, he simply recognizes the 'Whore of Revelation' for the religious system it obviously portrays, including the Roman Church AND many 'Protestant' denominations. His goal is, and always has been, 'relationship with God in and through Jesus... first and only.' He says 'come out of her!' along with the book of Revelation."

However Jack's stand on this particular issue wasn't the first time his work had created a stir, nor would it be the last. From the beginning of his publishing career he had met with reluctance from bookstores who thought that "using these cartoons to present the Gospel ... was sacrilegious," according to Jack himself. Reportedly he lost financial support over the "provocative" way that some women were drawn and dressed in one of his comics. Even the early Crusaders series was criticized for its Black and White team of heroes, as well as for showing a Black woman give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a White girl who had attempted suicide in one story.

In addition to these various controversies, Jack has also suffered difficulty and tragedy in his personal life, apparently. It is said that he has had a heart attack or stroke (or both) at some point. His much beloved wife, Lynn, died in 1998 and went home to be with the Lord. His daughter passed away 3 years after that.

However, despite all setbacks, Jack's ministry has continued steadily for nearly forty years, becoming international in scope, with his tracts now translated into almost 100 other languages. His ministry is said to have published over 140 separate tract titles, totaling over 500 million copies sold world-wide, which thousands of people have placed on car windows, taxi seats, in telephone booths, laundromats, and public restrooms. Many people the world over claim to have come to Christ through Chick tracts (particularly This Was Your Life! - with 60 million copies in over 60 languages) and his ministry continues to receive many testimonies about the effectiveness of his material. Jack's comics were featured in the first edition of the Truth for Youth Bible with over 100,000 copies distributed. He has written books such as Smokescreens, The Next Step, and La Ultima Llamada. Copies of Chick tracts are displayed in the Smithsonian Institute as a part of American culture. Jack himself is listed in "The Who's Who of American Comic Books." His out-of-print tracts sell briskly on eBay.

Jack is still creating original Gospel tracts. In recent years he has been producing 25 tracts for his newest Bible tract series that are designed to introduce the reader to the great teachings of the Bible. (One of these is the story of Rahab the prostitute, entitled The Outcast, shown here at left.) He has also produced a new 78-minute Gospel film entitled The Light of the World, with 360 oil paintings by Fred Carter.

Famously reclusive, Jack's reason for shunning the limelight is based on Proverbs 27:2, "Let another man praise thee, and not they own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips." He believes this is the reason that the Lord has not given him permission to grant interviews on radio or television. (However Jack has consented to at least one print interview, with Canadian cartoonist Bob Wierdsma, in the small-press publication Christian Cartoonist & Illustrator, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1984.)

Jack has remarried and still resides in Southern California. He has offices in Rancho Cucamonga which he shares with more than 30 full and part-time employees.

More Jack T. Chick on the Web

Chick Publications
(official site)

Official Biography of Jack Chick

Comics by Chick Publications

Chick Tracts (List in English)

Tracts in other Languages

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