It’s Halloween night and I feel compelled by the festive atmosphere to write about the Boogey Man. Or at least a boogey man, if not the Boogey Man. I want to tell you about a real-life creeper named Jack T. Chick. He died a couple weeks ago actually, after reaching the ripe old age of 92. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me tell you a little story.
I recently came into possession of a bunch of old comic books from the 60’s and 70’s, a gift from my wife’s mother’s boyfriend. (Thanks Dave!) The collection, about a shoebox’s worth, was a real mixed bag of comics history: some Marvel stuff, some DC stuff, some giant monster books, Archie comics, etc., etc. Some of Dave’s sister’s comic books were even in there, with romantic stories like Patsy and Hedy. Truly, this was a treasure trove of Silver Age comics nostalgia, from long before my time.
A few things caught my eye right away. Take for example Daredevil #4, from back in the day when Daredevil wore a hideous yellow costume. (Yes, I realize that Matt Murdock is blind, so it’s not really his fault, but that outfit is incredibly ugly.) This issue was the first appearance of Kilgrave, the Purple Man. As a huge fan of Marvel’s Netflix seriess, Jessica Jones in particular, getting my hands on the original incarnation of that show’s villain (played masterfully by David Tennant) was an ironic turn of events. The fact that there was also a Patsy Walker comic – another historical comic book character who had first inexplicably made her way from romantic books into Marvel superhero comics, and then onto that same Jessica Jones show – was oddly serendipitous
There was an old Fantastic Four issue where they meet the original five X-Men, Thor #2, a giant-sized special issue from 1966, and a Sgt. Fury comic that promised to explain how ol’ Nick got his eyepatch, multiple Superman, Superboy, and Batman issues, as well as a “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen” book. Classic stuff.
One comic caught my eye with a sweet woolly mammoth on its cover. The fantasy art was so cool that I failed to notice the question mark in the title – Primal Man?, it said. I did catch The Crusaders publisher logo in the corner, but it didn’t occur to me that this might be a clue to the nature of the book; I just noted that it wasn’t made by Marvel or DC or even Archie Comics. Opening the comic though, some text inside the front cover struck me as very odd:
Say whaaaa? My interest sparked, I jumped right into the reading Primal Man?.
It started out with the kind of prehistoric stuff suggested by the cover. Our caveman protagonist, named Borg, is celebrating a deer killing with his fellow hunters, when a rival tribe shows up and steals their food. Returning home empty handed, he learns that Tama - a cavewoman he cares deeply for - is still out gathering food in an area where mammoths are known to be.
Borg goes after Tama, arriving just in time to see her scooped up and taken by a wooly mammoth, King Kong-style. (This seems oddly aggressive for a mammoth, but I'll allow it to see where the story is going.) Borg attacks the mammoth, throwing a spear that gets lodged right in the animal’s forehead, causing it to drop Tama and go after Borg. This leads us to the epic moment depicted on the cover, our caveman pinned back on the end of cliff with the angry mammoth charging him. And the end of page 7, Borg falls backward on the cliff seemingly to his death...
But on page 8 a director yells, “Cut!” and suddenly we’re on a Hollywood set in modern day (1976). Turns out, the prehistoric premise was just a movie being filmed and the rest of the book has nothing to do with cavemen, volcanos, or wooly mammoths.
The bulk of the book follows a creationist anthropologist named Dr. Lind as he goes around upsetting movie producers his unflappable debating skills and strong command of the kind of pseudoscience one derives from religious publications. And yes, this is all as exciting as it sounds. Who needs sickass wooly mammoths you have debates over whether or not evolution is a real thing?
While the fundamentalist nonsense (plus some homophobic/anti-Semitic caricatures) made for an interesting historical artifact, the crass novelty of the comic wore off quickly. Why would somebody take the time to write such a terrible and frankly offensive book, and then put in the effort to draw the whole abomination? Between the comic medium and the bait & switch presentation, someone had clearly tried extra hard to strike the fancy of a particular demographic. Who in their right mind would go around trying to peddle fundamentalist propaganda as young adult entertainment?
Since Marissa’s family was visiting at the time – and had, in fact, delivered the treasure trove of classic comics to me – I asked her brother Antonio about this crazy book, apparently written by a Jack T. Chick. He immediately recognized the author’s name and his other work, Chick Tracts.
As Antonio explained, Chick Tracts are these little comic pamphlets made for the express purpose of promoting fundamentalist Christianity. He said he’d seen them in his youth, distributed by proselytizing kids, or left out in public places for random people to read and “be saved”.
Looking at the ad for Chick Tracts and listening to Antonio’s explanation, it suddenly dawned on me: I too had actually been given a Chick Tract when I was in high school. I had read one called Flight 144. You can actually read it too, in its entirety, online here. And I encourage you to do so, if only because it’s so batshit crazy and the majority of Chick Tracts follow this same formula. It goes like this:
- Introduce a lead character who seem like a good person
- Have character die unexpectedly and be taken via angels to heaven for judgement
- God judges them unworthy because they didn’t follow some cryptic bullshit from the King James Bible
- Throw them into Hell for eternity
You know, that old chestnut! It's a transparently manipulative attempt to scare kids into fundamentalist Christianity, but this time in comic book form. Yay literacy!
Making the connection between Primal Man? and Flight 144 got me thinking: Who is this Jack Chick anyway? How'd he get into the comics scene? And how much money does this game make? Diving into it, I actually wasted a lot of time scouring his website for answers, but Chick turns out to be strangely secretive figure. Then again, I suppose propagandists usually are. Then, before I could finish writing this post, he died.
Honestly, after doing my searching, it seems that Jack Chick’s Wikipedia page actually lays out everything you need to know about the dude. Plus he’s dead now, so investigative journalism won't really stick it to the man anyway. But let me give you the highlights:
- Jack Chick was a drama club kid/theater guy from LA and fought in the Pacific during WWII.
- He published his first Chick Tract cartoon in 1960 and established Chick Publications in 1970 to really crank out the comic book propaganda.
- Chick modeled his cartoons after the propaganda efforts of Communist Party in China during the 1950’s. (No, seriously. He even made a Chick Tract about it.)
- Chick believed only in the King James version of the Bible, because every translation after 1611 is apparently total balls.
- Chick Tracts were insanely critical of Homosexuality, the Theory of Evolution, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Pagan religions, Feminism, Halloween, Dungeons & Dragons, and pretty much anything else you enjoy, you Satan-worshiping demon spawn!
- A conspiracy theorist at heart, the main thrust of Chick’s work appears to be scapegoating groups like the Freemasons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, etc., etc.
So that’s our real-life boogey man, propagandist Jack Chick. He’s dead now, but one has to wonder if his vengeful ghost is still wandering the globe, forever haunting the people he disagrees with. Perhaps his shadow follows those who devote their lives to service and helping the poor, maybe even to Jesus Christ, but do so in a fashion he adamantly—intensely, obsessively, and unceasingly—disapproves of. Who knows, his ragged old soul might walk the Earth long enough to see humans and other creatures evolve and change over thousands of years. Oh man, that would be embarrassing....