Even if you don't recognize Jack T. Chick's name, you've most likely seen his unmistakable art work.
Starting in the '60s, the prolific Chick began publishing "Chick tracts." They're idiosyncratic, palm-sized comics loaded with explosive religious material. Most carry your standard hellfire-and-brimstone message. Many are dedicated to bashing gays ("The Gay Blade"), Catholics ("The Death Cookie"), Mormons ("The Visitors"), Jehovah's Witnesses ("The Crisis"), Muslims ("Who Cares?"), Evolutionists ("Big Daddy?"), Jesuits ("Holocaust") and kids who enjoy Halloween ("The Trick").
Chick tracts are free, handed out in bus stations, flea markets, college campuses and malls. He has published more than 1 billion, making him the most widely distributed underground cartoonist on the planet. Yet, Chick himself remains a reclusive, shadowy and controversial figure who exists on the fringes of popular culture and organized religion.
Tallahassee filmmakers Kurt Kuersteiner (director and author of "The Art of Jack T. Chick") and Dan Wester (producer) decided to make an investigation in the mysterious world of Chick. Their compelling documentary-in-progress - tentatively titled "God's Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack T. Chick" - is being shown at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. today at All Saints Cinema. Kuersteiner and Wester are looking for audience feedback.
Be assured, this is not your usual Chick flick. Just wait until you get a load of the animated version of the classic "Somebody Goofed" tract by Rodney Ascher and Syd Garon that literally gives the devil a ride to hell. "Haw, haw, haw," as the devil likes to say in Chick world.
When it comes to guarding his privacy, Chick rivals the media-shirking novelist Thomas Pynchon ("Gravity's Rainbow"). The only photos of Chick that can be found are from his high-school yearbook and a head shot from his brief stint as an acting student at the Pasadena Playhouse in the '40s. He's not exactly willing to sit down for an interview, which makes things tricky if you're a documentary filmmaker.
Instead, Kuersteiner (who has actually met Chick) rounds up a colorful cast of commentators to hold forth on the man, the message and the art. They include Chick writer-collaborator David Daniels, anti-evolutionist Kent "Dr. Dino" Hovind, Chick illustrator Fred Carter, Church of the SubGenius founder the Rev. Ivan Stang, underground-comics expert Bob Fowler and writer Daniel Raeburn.
"Part of the appeal of the Chick tracts is that they are free," Raeburn says. "Part of the fun is the hunt. Their disposable, ephemeral nature makes them valuable."
Even so, many Chick tracts are sought out by collectors and can sell for more than $50 at comic-book conventions. Clearly, many fans are looking at Chick's comics as outsider art, not fundamentalist agitprop.
The scratchy style and melodramatic nature of Chick tracts have been admired and imitated by everyone from illustrated novelist Dan Clowes ("Ghost World") to National Lampoon magazine.
"He's the most fun to parody, and he's too busy to sue you for copyright infringement," Stang says. "He's got other fish to fry."
And other obsessions to feed, too. About half way through "God's Cartoonist," the discussion takes a side road into Chick's personal war on Masons, the Catholics, the pope, the Druids (!), assorted demon-worshippers and on and on.
Can't wait to hear the reaction when "God's Cartoonist" is shown at 8 p.m. Feb. 29 in Florida State's Dodd Hall as part of a symposium sponsored by FSU's religion department. Haw, haw, haw, indeed.