I have gotten to know Kurt Kuersteiner a bit over the past few years. I first met him when I was interviewing him for my first published book Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness: The Truth about the Vatican and the Birth of Islam. Kurt is a very interesting character if you ask me and he is well known in the “Jack Chick” circles. Kurt is the author of an exceptionally well done anthology of Chick Publication works The Unofficial Guide to the Art of Jack T. Chick: Chick Tracts, Crusader Comics, And Battle Cry Newspapers and he directed the documentary God’s Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack Chick, which I found engrossing. I have copies of both the book and the film. Kurt is an adjunct Communications professor in Tallahassee Florida, where he also publishes entertainment trading cards for Monsterwax.
Kurt and I approach Jack Chick in very different ways. Personally I don’t care what he puts in his tracts about sin in and of itself – it is when Chick tries to glaze over historical fact to promote his own point of view that I get bent out of shape with him. Kurt, on this other hand, sees Jack Chick as a cultural phenomenon that deserves respect for his work and his accomplishments. Or at least this is my understanding of Kurt’s point of view. You can see for yourself what he has to say.
What is it that you like most about the Chick Publication tracts and what got you to research your book?
It is inspiring to me to see a writer try to get his message to the masses, and without the help of any corporations or political party or even organized church, he is able out-publish everyone else! What is especially interesting is that his message is so politically incorrect, and if anything, the corporations, political parties, and (the majority of) organized churches have tried to marginalize him. Yet there is his, an underground cartoonist with his vision, who engineered a crusade that catapulted his work around the world and made him the most published author alive today. Chick has printed over 800 million tracts and is still going strong. That is a testament to creativity, determination, faith in the product, and the American dream. It proves that unconnected individuals can still succeed in this country if they work long enough and hard enough.
Personally, which do you like better, the Jack Chick style or the Fred Carter style?
I especially love Fred Carter’s art. It’s beautiful. He’s one of the best comic artists around and he’s very versatile. Too bad he’s ignored by both ends of the comic book business because the corporate side can’t hire or exploit his talents, and most of the customer side thinks he’s a square since he’s a fundamentalist. Even if most people disagree with his beliefs, they should still recognize his artistic talent and respect his willingness to give up so much in order to promote his faith. Interestingly enough, most my artist friends prefer Chick’s art, because his style is so distinctive and retro. Together, the two artists make quite a team!
Do you think that it is possible to be a fan of Jack Chick and disagree with what he is trying to get across? Is it possible, for instance, to be a secular art collector who appreciates the work but remains untouched or unchanged by the message?
To the first part of your question, the answer is definitely “yes”. I know all sorts of gays, Catholics, Jews, Rock and Roll fans, Witches and even self proclaimed Satanists who love collecting Chick’s tracts. Some feel it’s a guilty pleasure and others rationalize that his conspiracy theories are so extreme, that they only encourage the opposite view. Several of these Chick critics/ collectors wrote reviews for my book, so I know he has fans who love his product but hate his message.
When you ask if it is possible to remain untouched by his message, of that I am less sure. I suspect the more people collect his work and appreciate his talent, the harder it becomes for them to hate everything he represents. In other words, it tends to soften them to Chick and his message over time. They may still remain a gay Satanist Rock and Roller, but when their pals come around with a truck and baseball bats and want to go crack some Christian heads (to use a Chick analogy), they become less inclined to join the fun. It’s much easier to hate a group when you don’t actually know anyone in that group, yet everyone who reads Chick can’t help but get to know him after a while.
I look at the tracts and the comics as totally different kettles of fish because I think more often the tracts are aimed at a specific “sins” or “lifestyles” whereas the comics tend to tell “untold” histories or present conspiracies to the reader. Most of these subjects are quite controversial. How much research into these subjects do you feel that Jack Chick would have done before producing the tracts and comics?
The tracts are different from the comics, as you point out, but the comics tend to split up into two different groups as well.
The comic books remind me a lot of the TV show The X-files, but instead of agent Mulder and Scully, you get Tim Clark and James Carter, aka “The Crusaders”. Remember how there were two different types of X-files episodes? The first type was the conventional monster-of-the-week (M.O.T.W) tale, where Scully and Mulder track down the vampire or Mutant on the loose. With the Crusaders, that monster is Satan in the guise of some evil villain or cultural vice.
The earlier X-files M.O.T.W. stories were the episodes that got the public hooked, because they had the most action and eye candy. The same goes for The Crusaders. The first eleven comics have Tim and James dodging bullets, racing cars, and escaping other violent entrapments (thanks to the power of prayer) and always saving the day (or non-believer) by the end.
Later on, the X-files created a different formula, the conspiracy episode, which featured less action but put more emphasis on mystery and intrigue. So did The Crusaders. The basic difference was that while Agent Mulder and Scully got information from Deep Throat (a former insider) who tattled about the ongoing UFO conspiracy, The Crusaders listened to Alberto (who was said to be an former Jesuit) explain the vast Vatican conspiracy. The general public was less impressed when both series got deeper and deeper into the conspiracy plots, but the hardcore fans loved it.
Ironically, Deep Throat was shot in Mulder’s presence for revealing the truth in the X-files. And someone actually shot at Alberto Rivera in Chick’s presence (in a drive by situation) in real life. Year’s later, Alberto died of colon cancer, but he blamed it on a special poison given to him by an undercover Catholic. (I think I hear the X-files synthesizer playing now!)
Regarding Chick’s research: Chick’s background was in acting. He graduated the Pasadena Playhouse just after fighting in WW2. He likes drama so sensational plots are a natural attraction to him. That being said, he also feels constrained to tell the truth as he sees it. He believes in a living God who intervenes in our daily lives, which many Christians also believe. Where he differs is that he also believes in a real Satan, and that the devil ALSO intervenes in our daily lives. (Many Christians say they believe in the Bible but don’t actually think the devil is real.) This is why Chick is so suspicious of conspiracies, because it only stands to reason that the Prince of Lies would use conspiracies to promote evil, corrupt popular culture, and turn people away from the true Word of God (The Bible).
Chick reads his King James Bible, and sees how modern translations keep watering it down with newer and looser language, until they get to the point where certain churches want marry gays, and another wants to make Mary a “co-redeemer”. Chick sees these beliefs as blasphemies and proof of a Satanic plot to undermine Christianity from within. Now some may believe its just a coincidence that our culture, our government, our schools, and even many churches are working together to lead society further and further away from traditional Biblical values, but Chick and his supporters find that too hard to swallow. They recognize these changes as being orchestrated by activists, factions, unions, and special interest groups who have a progressive agenda. Chick and fellow fundamentalists believe that agenda is evil and inspired by Satan to turn the world against God. (You can choose not to believe it, but you can’t say that it doesn’t make sense.)
Like any good lawyer, Chick sets out to research and gather information that supports his position. He’s not interested in proving the other side’s case, so he only includes info that supports the fundamentalist view. He’s used different sources in the past, and some of them are quite controversial and shaky. However, David Daniels, the man who currently helps Chick write tracts (and numerous books), is a good researcher who knows how to document his sources. Daniels has a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological University and is well trained in the Bible and linguistics. So basically, it appears that Chick is responding to criticism that his claims have poor sources by bringing people like Daniels on board. Whether that helps him win more of his cases in the court of public opinion remains to be seen.
Do you have a favorite tract or comic (or both)? If so, which ones and why?
My favorite tracts are Wounded Children (about homosexuality), Angels? (about Rock and Roll), Satan’s Master (about witchcraft), Lisa (about child molestation), and Dark Dungeons (about role playing gamers). The main reason those are my faves tend is a combination of the sensational plots, the cool art, and, I confess, the fact that they are all out of print and rare.
My favorite Chick comic is Spellbound. It’s an action packed tale revolving around John Todd’s testimony about the Rock and Roll industry being run by the Illuminati. (Alberto later co-opted this claim by saying the Vatican controlled the Illuminati.) Spellbound has a pretty down beat ending too, with only a Pyrrhic victory, since one of two main characters is murdered before he can convert, and the news media compare the Christians to Nazis when they burn the Satanic Rock and Roll records.
On a happier note, John Todd’s character (Lance Collins) is saved from being shot in a drive by attempt, something that John Todd claimed happened to him in real life (but Chick did NOT witness that situation). These sure aren’t your average comic books!