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Comic-Book Theology

[whitespace] The Imp
Postapocalyptic Parking Control: Hapless citizens without the Mark of the Beast will have their necks trimmed on the spot in Jack T. Chick's vision of a harrowing future.

Unearthing famed Christian artist Jack T. Chick

By Richard von Busack

A POODLE PETTER, "a dead ringer for Slim Pickens," a member of the military-industrial complex--he's all of these things and much, much more. The mysterious Jack T. Chick of Chino, Calif., is finally unearthed in The Imp, #2, a pocket-sized zine published by Daniel Raeburn of Chicago. At long last, Raeburn exposes the legendary recluse who has sent out into the world some 400 million books in 70 languages.

Everyone has seen Chick's comics, those grisly little rectangles of pulp epitomizing the violently paranoid, apocalyptic side of fundamentalist Christianity. Chick has carpeted the globe with his tiny comic-book pamphlets, each about the size of a dollar bill. Behind this empire of Christian comics is a man of J.D. Salinger-caliber anonymity.

According to Raeburn's correspondent, Dwayne Walker, the noted cartoonist/evangelist is a little bald man who looks exactly like Slim Pickens' character in Dr. Strangelove. Now that he is a full-time publisher, Chick lives in Riverside County with his silver poodle. Despite the aftereffects of a stroke, he still turns out dozens of his bloodthirsty Christian comics and books.

In his youth, Chick was one of the few Marines to survive Okinawa. Raeburn supposes that the horrors Chick saw there have colored his vision of the world. Chick got his start in the aerospace industry as a technical illustrator for AstroScience Inc., a defense contractor in L.A. Thus, in Chick, the Cold War fantasy of imminent Soviet invasion is linked to the Fundamentalist fantasy of imminent Satanic invasion.

Chick's fire-and-brimstone brand of religion dates to the Puritans, but he's also plainly influenced by grisly E.C. horror comics. Chick favors the shock punch line, in which Satan takes the place of the crypt keeper. The devil guffaws ("Haw haw haw!" is the Chick signature laugh) as yet another deluded sinner meets a 1,000,000-Fahrenheit fate in Hell.

Chick's sizable body of work includes some exceptional moments. In Somebody Loves Me, a Keane-eyed kid is clubbed to death and goes to Heaven. This Was Your Life is even more striking in the kind of cinema it proposes. This small comic claims that our deeds are recorded by angels with cameras; after we die, the 75-year-long epic is projected on a cloud-borne drive-in screen. God, the ultimate critic, gives the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to decide whether we'll spend eternity boasting or roasting.

Big Daddy, another lulu, depicts a stereotypically Jewish professor trying unsuccessfully to indoctrinate a good blond Aryan kid with the lie that granddad was a gorilla. Actually, Chick likes Jews, knowing that their eventual conversion to Christianity will herald the Apocalypse. But Chick loathes the Catholic church ("I call her 'The Whore of Revelations,' " Chick told The Imp's Walker). In the mythology that Chick has constructed, the Catholics control everything: the U.N., the worldwide Communist Party, New Age cults, the Council on Foreign Relations.

In Chick's scheme, the Catholics are currently busy creating the One World Government. This reign of terror will bring with it disease, decadence, famine and $5 glasses of water--a horror seen only in some supper clubs, at present. Soon after will come guillotines--mounted on parking-police three-wheelers--to trim the necks of those without the Mark of the Beast. ("Serves him right," smiles a middle-aged suburban duffer in The Beast, as an onlooker gloats, "Kill him! Haw haw haw!")

Perhaps Chick picked up the idea of guillotines for those unnumbered by the Beast from Salem Kirban's bestselling Christian novel 666 (Tyndale House, 1970). Funny, Chick is a real Pope-hater, yet he borrows the old church tradition of using ghastly horror stories to save souls, reveling in the lives and ordeals of martyrs, making their torture more hideous in each new version.

CHICK'S COMICS are so fascinating because they contain such maniacal passion and rage in their apocalyptic images. The man is a great folk artist; his visions of war in the Invisible World are the newest versions of a style of imagery that has influenced American populist thinking for centuries.

Comics reduce the human condition to its purest form. To see Chick's worst-case-scenario Christianity illustrated as a comic pamphlet is like seeing a reduction of a reduction. Chick confirms our worst fears of ignornance and prejudice. To read Chick is to have the thrill of horror comics restored for the first time since childhood.

You can be absolutely revolted by the pin-headed Christianity espoused in these booklets, you can guffaw at the kind of terrorized faith that finds Satanism in the TV show Bewitched--still, it's hard to distance yourself from the rawness of Chick's sick images, each one jolting with klaxonlike blasts of shock, each as powerful as the hot kiss at the end of a wet fist.

Raeburn not only managed to get a profile of Chick but has also written an incisive analysis of the worship of power in Chick comics, especially as seen in the recurrent theme of Jesus as the king ass-kicker in the universe. A favorite plot of Chick's is to have tough guys convert when they learn that Jesus wasn't just a long-haired sissy.

The Imp, which costs $5, can be ordered by writing to 1454 W. Summerdale 2C, Chicago, IL 60640). Chick's unending oeuvre can be found at laundromats near you, but check also Libreria Cristiana, 3126 16th St., San Francisco. Hide your Satanist paraphernalia when shopping there.

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From the April 2-8, 1998 issue of Metro.

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