A contemporary source of fundamentalist religious education, including creationism, is Jack T Chick's Chick Publications (PO Box 3500, Ontario CA 91261). In addition to books and videotapes, Chick Publications publishes a series of 32-page full-size comic books and a series of small 24-page black-and-white tracts in picture form. Millions of these comics and tracts have been distributed, published in English and more than 90 foreign languages; the cover of the comics claim that over 450 million tracts have been printed during the last 35 years. One of the aims of the publications is to reinforce already-established young-earth creationist beliefs; it is assumed that the reader already believes in a literal 6-day creation roughly 10 000 years ago. At 13 cents apiece, the tracts are also intended to be inexpensive yet effective witnessing tools. Perhaps the most startling use of these comics-format materials was to support anti-evolution legislation in Arkansas (see RNCSE 2000; 20 : 5-6).
For readers who have never seen these materials, I describe and analyze three Chick publications — one tract (Big Daddy?) and two comic books (Primal Man? and The Ark). The last two resemble the Classic Illustrated Comics® popular a generation ago.
All three have very clear messages. For example, Big Daddy?, in addition to "informing" readers that evolution is false, coaches students to reject evolution in their classes and to present anti-evolution arguments to their teachers. The comics also repeat a theme common to creationist thought: evolution is false and has been disproved by both science and Scripture, but many, if not most, evolutionists are liars and refuse to admit the falsity of their position (Morris 1985; Whitcomb and Morris 1961).
Robert T Pennock (1999: xvi-xvii) has noted that Big Daddy? offers students protection from being "brainwashed" into accepting evolution and is representative of creationists' current aggressive rhetoric. These publications also reflect a mindset that is prepared to accept very simplistic messages presented in a very dogmatic form. In addition, these comics include an implicit minor theme: that the theory of evolution and those who "believe in" it are evil. The theory of evolution, according to some of the most vocal creationists, was promulgated by Satan following the collapse of the Tower of Babel: "The real author of this vast religious complex — this great world religion of pantheistic, polytheistic, demonistic, astrological, occultistic, humanistic evolutionism — can be none other than … the Devil" (Morris 1984: 109).
The Ark opens with a bemused Russian diplomat ordering a collection of books on the Ark for his superior, Colonel Solkov. After reading the Genesis 8: 2-4 account of the Flood aloud to his staff, Solkov announces that a recently discovered photograph taken by a Russian pilot in 1945 shows Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat. This photograph is proof that atheism, and therefore communism, is false. The Russians fear that a current expedition of Christian scientist-explorers to Mount Ararat will prove the existence of the Ark, causing people to reject communism and become interested in the Bible.
The next sequence of panels shows the expedition of Christian explorers taken into custody by Colonel Solkov. Alerted to the crisis, the sponsor of the expedition prepares to send someone to rescue the explorers. First, however, the prospective rescuer is briefed about the Ark. The briefing includes a discussion of the evil that existed before the Flood, including pornography, divorce, and homosexuality. This is followed by the story of Noah, a discussion of the size of the Ark (with appropriate pictures), and a pseudoscientific explanation of the water vapor canopy and underground water that made the flood possible. Finally, the prospective rescuer hears how the animals entered the Ark, all the people except for Noah and his family drowned, and the Ark eventually settled on Mount Ararat.
The briefing then presents modern accounts of witnesses who have seen the Ark. Following an aerial sighting in 1916, a party of 150 military engineers was sent by Czar Nicholas II to Mount Ararat. A group of 100 men reached the Ark, entered it, and inspected cages large enough to hold dinosaurs. Unfortunately, in the chaos of the October Revolution, the documents proving that the Ark was discovered fell into the hands of the Bolsheviks, and Trotsky ordered the messenger to be shot. Another set of panels illustrates another discovery of the Ark under ice; a piece of hand-tooled timber is dated to be 4000 years or more old. A photograph of the Ark is reproduced in one of the last panels.
This section of the comic book parallels two of the accounts of discoveries of the Ark found in Charles Berlitz's (1987) book — either the discoveries have been suppressed by authorities or the evidence for them has been lost in one way or another. The idea that the Ark has been located and can be reclaimed derives from the notion that locating the remains of the Ark would establish once and for all the claim by young-earth creationists of the primacy of Scripture in historical and scientific, as well as theological, knowledge.
The Ark quite clearly states that there are conspiracies to hide the truth about the Ark. It claims that the KGB has convinced many Americans through its agents' "penetration" of Christian seminaries that the Ark is a "fairy tale"; it claims also that through the KGB, most professors and teachers in the US came to believe and teach that the Bible is wrong and evolution is true. It is only because of conspiracies of communists, atheists, liberal Christians, and secular teachers that evolution is accepted. There is a cold war to keep the "truth" from the public. Thus readers of the comic book will finish convinced that there are numerous proofs for the existence of the Ark on Mount Ararat; they will also be convinced of a secular conspiracy to keep knowledge of the Ark from the world of believers.
The second comic, Primal Man?, starts with seven pages of ape-like men and women fighting and hunting; only on page 8 is it revealed that the events all took place on a movie set, supervised by a lavender-clad effeminate director. A group of creationists (one of whom, Jim Carter, also appears in The Ark) visits the movie set and challenges the expert consultants on the truth of evolution ("one of the cruelest hoaxes ever invented"). There is mention that many professors reject evolution but do not say so because they are afraid of either being ridiculed or losing their jobs.
The next series of panels "prove" that evolution is false. Radiometric dating techniques are rejected, as are various pieces of fossil evidence. There is mention of the human footprints supposedly found with dinosaur footprints in Texas, a finding later found to be spurious but often not disavowed by creationists. Several panels present arguments that the earth is only 10 000 years old, including familiar claims about erosion and dust on the moon.
Following his discussion with the creationists, one actor decides that if evolution is wrong, then he must have a soul; he then realizes that he must become saved in order to be able to go to heaven. In contrast, the last panels show the movie's producer admitting that films depicting evolution brainwash and morally damage children, but asserting that because he serves his god — money — he will continue to make evolution movies.
The lessons in this comic book are clear. Those who believe in evolution are venal; only a sinful or misguided person can believe in evolution. There are proofs that evolution is wrong, a number of which are presented in order to reinforce creationist beliefs.
The tract Big Daddy? is cruder but just as effective. It begins in a classroom with a vaguely Semitic professor, behind whom is a painting of an ape eating a banana with the caption "Our Father". The teacher asks his students, "How many of you believe in evolution?" One student in the class says that he does not believe in evolution. Unlike the other students, he is neat and well-dressed; his hair is short and carefully combed. He is polite, a demeanor that other tracts and videos (see for example Hovind 1997) recommend for those wishing to witness the creationist position to teachers and fellow students.
Shouting, sweating, and gesticulating, the professor decides to "systematically tear your [the student's] little beliefs to shreds in front of the class!" The student is called a "fanatic" and threatened with jail for referring to the Bible. Yet he goes on calmly and politely to demolish the "basic concepts" of evolution, dismiss the Lucy fossils as "an unusual chimpanzee", and present the class with a reproduction of a Chick Publications poster of nine pictures illustrating bogus claims of evidence of human evolution, including Piltdown Man. For more information, the reader of the tract is referred to a video of Kent Hovind's series "The Creation Seminar".
The student continues to demolish the theory of evolution with standard well-worn creationist arguments. He ends by suggesting that atomic nuclei could not hold together without divine intervention, adducing Colossians 1: 17 ("by him all things consist") as evidence.
The professor admits that all of his evolutionary beliefs have been falsified, and then tells a university official that he cannot teach evolution any more. The response is "What? Are you crazy? GET OUT of OUR university! After you've apologized to everyone for your rudeness and ignorance, we MIGHT let you back in" (emphasis in original). This statement is a close paraphrase of what the professor first told the student defending creationism. The last page states that evolution is "the big lie" and that people have souls; people therefore need to repent of their sins and acknowledge Christ in order to be saved and go to heaven when they die. Jack Chick's theological position is that the "lie" of evolution leads to eternity in Hell. (An image in another comic is of a large conveyor belt full of people who will be dropped into Hell's abyss unless they are saved.)
Though crude, this tract repeats many of the creationists' arguments against evolution and its supporters. It implies that most evolutionists know that evolution is false and that their arguments can easily defeated. Teachers are defensive and irrational about their evolutionary beliefs.
The creationist, anti-evolution tract and comics by Chick Publications claim that much evidence exists for their viewpoint. They support a type of voodoo science with irrelevant or mistaken information. They buttress their arguments with conspiracy theories, unproven "data", and ad hominem attacks.