Even if you don’t recognize his name, you’ve probably seen Jack Chick’s work. His company, Chick Publications, produces religious tracts in comic book form that are often left in public places so that “the lost” can find them, read them, and accept Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior. Chick designed this indirect form of witnessing because he believes that it was important to spread the word of God, but doesn’t particularly like talking to people.
At first glance, Chick’s tracts seem to embody typical fundamentalist values. They point out the many evils of modern culture, from evolution (Hi There!) to homosexuality (Doomtown), and often throw in a healthy dose of conspiracy theory and hate speech for good measure. On closer examination, however, a reader discovers that Jack Chick’s take on Christianity is much simpler and more amoral than that of his more well-known peers.
In Jack Chick’s universe, the act of accepting Christ is the only necessary ingredient for salvation. Even a person who has led a completely immoral life can go to heaven, so long as he accepts Jesus with his dying breath. Conversely, a person who most would consider to be the pinnacle of virtue will still burn in hell for all eternity if he fails to recognize Christ as his savior.
This morality-free brand of religion is most explicitly conveyed by Gun Slinger, a tract that tells the story of Terrible Tom, a murderous thug hired to kill the local preacher. Tom is pursued by the Marshall, a classic white-hat-wearing western lawman. As in a typical Western, the lawman and his posse arrive just in time to save the preacher and bring the outlaw to justice. On his return home, the Marshall is bitten by a rattlesnake, dies, and—despite his seemingly virtuous life– is thrown into the Lake of Fire because he never accepted Christ. Terrible Tom, on the other hand, managed to find Jesus right before being hung and is allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven. Most Chick tracts follow this formula, but lack the dual storyline.
While Chick’s work often features garden-variety sinners, Jack seems to have a special place in his heart for murderers like Terrible Tom. In fact, we often discover that the witness attempting to convert the bad man is himself a former killer, thief, or all-purpose bad-ass of some type. While the “good guys” of Chick are often simply drawn, Chick and his fellow artist Fred Carter render the sinners (and reformed sinners) in lavish and often lurid detail. Comic commentator Dan Raeburn, in his discussion of Jack Chick, refers to this obsessive focus on sins and sinners as “hardcore Protestant pornography.”
Because Jack Chick is very reclusive, it’s difficult to precisely determine the reasons behind his unique and skewed worldview, but one known fact about his life may be important. Jack Chick fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II, where battles were particularly bloody and atrocities have been documented on both sides*. Perhaps Chick’s focus on bad men, and particularly his belief that there is salvation for everyone regardless of their sins, is a way of dealing with his own post-traumatic stress.
*For more on the subject, I highly recommend John Dower’s War Without Mercy.