by Benn Ray
On Sunday, October 23, 2016, religious propagandist cartoonist Jack T. Chick died in his sleep at the ripe old age of 96.
With close to 1 billion copies of his comics printed, the chances are very good you've encountered one of his Chick tracts in an elevator or public bathroom - a mini-comic warning you that heavy metal music will send you to hell, or doing drugs will send you to hell, or being gay will send you to hell, or being Catholic will send you to hell, or ... well, in Jack T. Chick's world, there are a whole lot of ways you're going to hell.
In the late 1990s-early-2000s, his comics began to be seen as some kind of religious folk art. We even carried them off and on, ironically, at Atomic Books. We eventually stopped stocking them in the early-mid 2000s because we began to feel uneasy about it. It's one thing to have an ironic appreciation of something, but it's another thing to participate in the propagation of hate and intolerance. And we began to feel like carrying his comics felt more like the latter than the former.
However, as a way of remembering Jack Chick, I want to share this one anecdote where carrying his comics came in handy. Back in 2004-ish, there was a girl who lived in the neighborhood where Atomic Books is located. I think she was in high school at the time.
Every day, after school, she passed by the store on her way home. And as she did so, she would bang rather loudly on our window (startling anyone in the store at the time) and shout things I could never fully make out, but from a word or two I could pick up, it involved sin, going to hell, y'know, the basic Christian judgmentalism.
Finally, after several weeks of this, I had enough and was waiting for her. Right after she banged on the window, I stepped out from around the corner and stood in front of her.
I told her I would appreciate it if she stopped hitting my windows and asked her why she was doing it.
She said, "Because your store is evil. You are anti-god. You carry anti-god books."
I thought for a second, as this was true. We have sections on Satanism and Atheism. And I said, "Well, you're not being completely fair. We also have pro-god publications too."
"No you don't," she responded in a rather un-Christian tone.
"Look, come here," I said, ushering her into the store to the R.Crumb Devil Girl candy box we used to house the Chick tracts. "All of these comics are pro-god. Here, take some and read them at your own leisure." And I gave her a handful of Chick comics.
She walked out with the comics, looking somewhat confused. But she never harassed the store again.
Yes, Chick was responsible for putting a lot of religious-based intolerance and hate out there in the world, but he did help us in a small instance of religious harassment.
One of the best pieces I ever read on Jack Chick was Daniel Raeburn's zine The Imp (long out of print). You can read the .pdf of it here.