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, Chick'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, Chick 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 Chick 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, Chick returned to the Playhouse, where he met and married his wife, Lynn in 1948. She and her mother played a major role in Chick's salvation. While Chick was visiting with his new in-laws during his honeymoon, Lynn's mother insisted that Chick listen to Charles E. Fuller's Old Fashioned Revival Hour radio program. The Lord was already working on Chick's heart and when Fuller spoke these words from Scripture, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow," Chick knelt and prayed to receive Christ.
After he was married, Chick 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) Chick desired to be a missionary. However his new wife wanted no part of that, so they remained Stateside. Sometime around 1958, Chick 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, Chick 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, Chick 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, Chick 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 , Chick 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, Chick later made his presentation artwork into the tract This Was Your Life! (cover shown at right), a 33 page, 9 x 13 cm booklet published in 1964.
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 Chick, but still collect his tracts avidly, have also started calling themselves "chicklets," too.)
Chick 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 Chick 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 Chick. 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 Chick and his organization which led to a number of unpleasant repercussions.
Reportedly Chick'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.
Chick 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, years before his actual passing. (If one measure of a man is to look at who his enemies are, then Chick stands pretty tall when examining all the various people who have attacked him, often viciously, over the years.)
Christian comics creators also expressed divided opinions about Chick and his work during his lifetime. Some expressed frustration that his books made comics distasteful to the Christian bookstore market, making sales more difficult for later publications. Others wished that he was accountable to someone with regards to the content of his tracts, but believed that he meant well. Still others took 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 Chick'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 Chick 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, Chick also suffered difficulties and tragedy in his personal life, including several heart attacks, the passing of his beloved wife, Lynn, in 1998, and the loss of his daughter 3 years after that.
Despite these setbacks, Chick's ministry grew international in scope, with his tracts eventually 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 the Chick website features testimonies about the effectiveness of his material.
Chick's comics were featured in the first/original edition of the Truth for Youth Bible with over 100,000 copies distributed. He wrote 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. Chick is listed in "The Who's Who of American Comic Books." He also produced a new 78-minute Gospel film entitled The Light of the World, with 360 oil paintings by Fred Carter.
Chick had remarried and was still residing in Southern California when he passed on 23 October 2016. Chick's business offices in Rancho Cucamonga remain open with more than 30 full and part-time employees.
Famously reclusive, Chick's reason for shunning the limelight was based on Proverbs 27:2, "Let another man praise thee, and not they own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips." He believed this was the reason that The Lord did not give him permission to grant interviews. (However Chick 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.) After his passing, Chick's successors began to release a number of his later photos (including the one shown here, right).