book reviews, religion

Repost: A review of You Don’t Know Jack: The Authorized Biography of Christian Cartoonist Jack T. Chick

This review originally appeared on my old blog on April 3, 2018. I am reposting it here as is.

Sometime in the early 2000s, I heard of famed Christian cartoonist Jack T. Chick for the very first time.  In those days, I was hanging out on a messageboard for former students of Pensacola Christian College.  I think someone on that site mentioned him.  I did some Googling and found Chick’s official Web site, which sold all of his tracts. 

Somehow, in the course of learning about Jack Chick, I also found a Web site called Weird Crap.  That site, which is pretty primitive, still exists.  Within it are hilarious, but blasphemous, parodies of Chick’s tracts.  The owner of the site got into a pissing match with Chick over copyright violations.  The end result was that a bunch of people created some very funny, and very sick, parodies of Chick’s tracts.

I never encountered a Chick tract myself until I visited Amsterdam back in the summer of 2015.  I found a Dutch version of the one entitled “Heart Problem”.  Someone had dropped it on the ground.  I have a feeling a lot of Chick’s tracts have eventually littered the planet.  However, Chick clearly had his champions, which was why he was able to make a living as a cartoonist for so long.

Jack Chick died on October 23, 2016 at the ripe old age of 92.  He was preceded in death by his first wife, Lola, who died in 1998, and his daughter, Carol, who died in 2001.  Last year, a man named David W. Daniels wrote an authorized biography of Chick.  His book was cleverly titled You Don’t Know Jack: The Authorized Biography of Christian Cartoonist Jack T. Chick.  Having just finished the book, I can honestly say that the title is probably the most clever thing about it.  Daniels clearly admired the late Chick and his book kind of reads like a eulogy.

Nevertheless, since Chick never gave interviews, Daniels’ book did provide some interesting information about the late cartoonist, whose tracts are very controversial and sometimes regarded as “hateful”.  Basically, each one is about how if you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, you will go to Hell.  The tracts are anti everything but evangelical Christianity– basically anyone who doesn’t subscribe to Chick’s interpretation of the Bible is doomed to Hell… according to the tracts, anyway.

Daniels writes that he was a friend of Chick’s.  Chick hired him in 2000 to help write tracts.  Daniels describes Chick as a kind person who was nice to “the help” in restaurants and loved animals, especially dogs.  The book includes several formerly unpublished photos of Chick as well as a lot of tributes written by people who were apparently “led to the Lord” after reading one of Chick’s nickel priced tracts.  Evidently, one guy, a lawyer, actually came to Chick’s office and personally paid him five cents for the tract, which he claims led him away from a lifetime of sin.

You Don’t Know Jack isn’t poorly written, but I didn’t find it all that interesting a read.  The author has sort of a fawning appreciation for Chick and presents him as a great guy who got his start in acting and then decided that Hollywood was too “dirty” for him.  Daniels writes that the women in Hollywood, back when Chick was a young, handsome guy, were encouraged to “sleep” their way to fame.  Maybe there’s truth in that statement, although my guess is that there may be some hyperbole at play.  According to Chick, a Hollywood executive said something along the lines of, “when you’ve ‘slept’ with so and so, get back with me and we’ll see if we can find her a part in a movie.”  I have no doubt at all that a lot of people sleep their way to the top, but that scenario seems a little ridiculous.

Also, while the author presents facts about Chick, he doesn’t really delve much into Chick’s life.  His stories about Chick aren’t deep enough and lack engagement.  Daniels’ tone about his late mentor is enthusiastic, but his words are rather shallow.  Moreover, although Chick was evidently raised Catholic, he was extremely anti-Catholic beyond his childhood.  The author doesn’t really explain why that is, although he does include some anti-Catholic commentary.  Of course, this IS an authorized biography, so of course Chick is going to be presented in a positive light.  And I see on that the reviews are mostly very positive.  They were probably written by his friends or employees.  In fact, those people are probably the only ones reading this book.

In any case, if you are curious about Chick and want to see some previously unpublished photos of him, I suppose You Don’t Know Jack might be worth the six bucks I paid.  However, some of the very positive Amazon reviews are, in my opinion, vastly overstated.  This book is mostly pretty dull, written by a guy who clearly admired a man who was hated by a lot of people.  Daniels has nothing to say about that.  I think this article about Chick is probably more informative than Daniels’ book is.

I found this Chick tract in Amsterdam, of all places…

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