Interview: Kurt Kuersteiner of the Jack T. Chick Museum of Fine Art

Jack T. Chick

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Kurt Kuersteiner is the proprietor of the Jack T. Chick Museum Of Fine Art and the VP of the Chick Tract Club. He’s written The Art Of Jack T. Chick on Chick tracts, and directed the new documentary God’s Cartoonist about Chick as well. Kurt’s actually met Jack Chick (recounted in the book!) as well as Fred Carter (who appears in the documentary!), the other cartoonist of the Chick tracts.

When he’s not doing Chick-related work, he owns Monsterwax, a publisher of collectible card sets as well as (appropriate, given the time of year), the Terror of Tallahassee Haunted House (again, appropriately enough, 826 W. GAINES St.). And, let me tell you, if I weren’t at one of the farthest points in the Lower 48 away from Tallahassee, FL, I’d be there!


Part the First

At this moment in time, what is your favorite song?

Kurt Kuersteiner: Public Image by PIL. It’s old but gold.

What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?

Kurt Kuersteiner: Stereolab. Somewhat weird but wonderful. I also like a lot of classic alternative stuff like Kate Bush, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Oingo Boingo, R.E.M. and the Moody Blues.

What, if anything, is on any particular wall (your choice) in your domicile?

Kurt Kuersteiner: You mean besides spider webs? I have an uncut sheet of trading cards depicting the covers of classic pulp magazines from the 30s, 40s and 50s. They are beautiful paintings of the fronts of magazines called Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, and Astounding Science Fiction. Each one makes you want to pay the $20 or so bucks to track the magazine down and read it!

What’s the strangest thing you own?

Kurt Kuersteiner: I can think of several, but I’ll settle on a small quartz cowry shell that was used for money in the Chou Dynasty from 850 BC. This stone shell could be exchanged for a real cowry shell nearly 3,000 years ago, the same way that gold certificates could be turned in for actual gold in the last century. It was some of the earliest money ever invented. When you hold it to your ear, you can actually hear the sound of rock.

Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)?

Kurt Kuersteiner: This is an random guess, but one of my most enjoyable experiences was creating the Papa Prell radio show at Stanford University. Prell was a spoof on right wing radio talk show hosts (Rush was just going national back then) but Prell skewed all sides. He was kind like Archie Bunker and somewhat addictive–once you got past the in-your-face hardcore dogma. The broadcast could reach from San Francisco to San Jose, and the reaction was often shock and dismay. They didn’t know HOW to react. It was a real blast pushing the envelope every week and seeing just how much we could get away with. The calls were real, the guest were (usually) real, and the personal life of the character was hilarious. A lot of the MP3 “special reports” are available on-line at PapaPrell.com. I love doing the haunted house too, which, now that I think about it, has something in common with the Prell show: It’s fun getting a strong reaction out of the audience!

Who’s your favorite visual artist (excluding yourself)?

Kurt Kuersteiner: I would certainly exclude myself, because I can only draw good enough to know how hard it is to draw really well. I’m a big fan of Robert Williams‘ art. I only wish I could afford some of his originals, which are quite large and gorgeous.

What are the five most recent films you’ve seen?

Kurt Kuersteiner: I put off going to the movies until they reach the cheap theatre, so I’m always a few months behind the latest greatest. My most recent five would be the X-Files movie, Hellboy II, Wanted, and a couple of (non-Jack) Chick flicks that my girlfriend made me see with her or else… (They were Made of Honor and Mamma Mia!).

What’re your top three movies?

Kurt Kuersteiner: Curse of the Demon, Mystery Men and either Blood Simple or Blade Runner.

Do you own any original artwork, and if so, whose?

Kurt Kuersteiner: I have an original Xno painting of artwork that was censored from the Dinosaurs Attack trading card set. It shows a T-rex being teleported into the present, with a struggling hunter fused within its chest molecules. Topps censored the piece because it also has a priest holding a crucifix up to ward off the evil. My other original pieces are from Jeff Butler (from the RIP card set), Hal Robins (Tune In For Terror card set), and Ricardo Garijo (Don’t Let It Happen Here and The Art of H.G. Wells card sets). Did I mention I collect card sets?

What is your favorite game?

Kurt Kuersteiner: SAW. (Just kidding.) As a writer, I get a kick out of Dictionary, where you pass blank pieces of paper around the group, and only one of them has the definition of an arcane word written on it. Everyone else writes a fake definition, and then the group votes to see who guesses the right one. If you can bluff people with your fake definition, you also win points. It’s not very action packed, I admit, but it is creative and often very funny.

What sort of pie do you enjoy?

Kurt Kuersteiner: Either coconut cream or custard pie. Why do you ask? Am I setting myself up for something to be thrown in my face?

If you could say one thing to David Byrne, what would it be?

Kurt Kuersteiner: “You should marry Brian Eno before they outlaw gay marriage in California. The thought of you holding hands is kinda gross, but if that’s what it takes to get you to produce more records like My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, it’s worth it.”

Describe some horrible/otherwise amusing local commercials.

Kurt Kuersteiner: I don’t watch TV anymore. I decided I’d rather make my own trash than waste my time watching Hollywood’s version of it. I wouldn’t be too surprised to find out some of the ads I’ve made for our haunted house (TerrorOfTallahassee.com) are on other people’s “worst local ad” list. It’s nice to top a list.

What are your five most favorite books in the world?

Kurt Kuersteiner: My current favorites would be The Canterbury Tales (by Chaucer), Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (by Rudolph Grey), Ghostmasters: A Look Back at America’s Midnight Spook Shows (by Mark Walker), The Witch’s Tale: Stories of Gothic Horror from the Golden Age of Radio (by Alonzo Deen Cole), Horror Comics: The Illustrated History (by Mike Benton). The Imp #4 on Mexico’s Addictive comics is also high on my list (by Dan Raeburn). Any book I enjoy reading more than once ranks high for me.

What is the most boring thing you’ve ever experienced?

Kurt Kuersteiner: The movie Purple Rain by Prince. It’s the only movie I remember getting up and walking out of. Taxes come in a close second.

If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?

Kurt Kuersteiner: King. Then I’d want compensation for giving them such power. The way kids are today, they would probably throw me in the dungeon.

What would be a better weapon, a gun that fires dogs or a gun that fires cats?

Kurt Kuersteiner: A gun that fires fire. Then you could set a dog AND a cat ablaze and sit back while they run around and paint the town red.

What is your favorite meal?

Kurt Kuersteiner: Anything my girlfriend cooks. My favorite snack is smoked oysters on captain’s crackers with cheddar cheese and tiger sauce. She doesn’t care for those much.

What is reality?

Kurt Kuersteiner: Don’t ask me. I’m still trying to get a grip on the alternative existence that I experience daily.

Part the Second

How did you get so into the Chick tracts?

Kurt Kuersteiner: I found them around Auburn Campus (in Alabama) when I was earning my undergraduate degree there in the 1980s. I thought they had great art and were quite quaint. I never imagined there were over 200 titles though. That took nearly another twenty years for me to figure out! Then I set out to collect them all. The rest is history.

Did you ever tell Jack Chick of your idea to get him the celebratory Death Cookie for his 150th tract?

Kurt Kuersteiner: No, and I doubt he would have trusted me enough to eat it. Imagine the headlines if he died from it: “Famous Anti-Catholic publisher dies from giant Death Cookie”. I would probably have to flee in exile to the Vatican to live out the remainder of my days, though I expect they would keep me in high style.

Are you interested in other Christian/Evangelical media?

Kurt Kuersteiner: Yes, anything associated with Chick, like Tony Alamo (who just recently was arrested for sexual abuse of minors). I collect Alamo’s newsletters, as well as Rebecca Brown’s or any anything from Alberto’s “Anti-Christ Information Center” (Or AIC, which was later renamed the tamer title of Assurance In Christ). But without the great comics, none of the other newsletters compare to Chick’s.

As a fan (and creator!) of Haunted Houses, have you seen the documentary Hell House ? If so, what did you think?

Kurt Kuersteiner: I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t seen that film yet, but I’m gonna. It has two great topics rolled into one and is bound to be fun.

Do you have a personal theory on the fate of John Todd?

Kurt Kuersteiner: I like the version Chick heard, which was that Todd’s old Illuminati partners showed up at prison one day and checked him out in minutes. Then they flew him away in a fancy helicopter and somewhere over the ocean, threw him out. That wouldn’t explain the other guy who claims to be John Todd who remained in prison, but he wouldn’t be the first dupe who was paid to replace someone in the clink and was left to rot.

In this Article there’s mention that John Todd accused Mark Warnke of stealing Todd’s material. Do you think there’s any truth to that?

Kurt Kuersteiner: That would be ironic indeed, considering Warnke wrote the forward to a book that exposed Todd as a fraud. And then Warnke was exposed as a fraud himself years afterward. I guess what goes around comes around.

Are there many disagreements amongst tract collectors that you’ve seen for those who collect because they agree with Chick and those who collect for other reasons?

Kurt Kuersteiner: They tend to avoid one another because they know neither group is going to change their mind. But they agree on the fact they both love to collect the tracts, so I have seen very civil discussions on which tracts they like and so forth. It reminds me of the history I heard in Missouri about Civil War soldiers from both sides gathering together at night after battle to play cards and swap stories. I’m sure both groups were careful to avoid discussing politics.

What do you think the most interesting lesson to pull away from Jack Chick and his work is?

Kurt Kuersteiner: If you work on something long enough and hard enough, you can become successful at it, no matter how crazy everyone else thinks you are. And success is the best form of revenge!

How did you get Fred Carter to agree to an interview in the God’s Cartoonist documentary?

Kurt Kuersteiner: Chick avoids the camera like the plague, but I think he wanted his story to be told and he figured I’d be fair about it based on my treatment of him in my book. I believe he encouraged Carter to agree to an interview, even though Fred initially refused our request. Fred, like Chick himself, is a very easy-going fellow in person and a pleasure to be around. You would probably never guess that based on the inflammatory comics they produce.

Have you seen the Hot Chicks project of people doing shorts based on the tracts?

Kurt Kuersteiner: Yes I have, and I wish I could have adapted a tract to film as well! I would have enjoyed doing “Satan’s Master.”

Personally, what are your opinions on Alberto Rivera‘s past?

Kurt Kuersteiner: His story reminds me of the UFO controversy. You can pooh-pooh it all you want, but you can never be positive it’s not true, because it is always possible, even though I have never witnessed it first hand. Conspiracies are meant to be secret and the fact they are not accepted by the mainstream public just supports the notion of an orchestrated cover up. As far as Alberto personally, it’s hard to prove if he was real or fraudulent. He did provide some impressive governmental identity papers showing he was a priest in Spain, while his critics have all sorts of claims of him lying. But ultimately, they have no hard proof of it, just other people saying he lied (which can be fabricated as easily as Alberto’s claims about the Vatican). In fact, I’m always humbled by the one piece of hard evidence his critics claimed to have but didn’t. They said they had a death certificate for an illegitimate son Alberto fathered while he claimed to be a priest and that the boy (named Juan Rivera) died in July 1965 in El Paso. I thought, “great, we can confirm that”. So I wrote the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Texas and they had no such certificate. I even wrote them again to make sure, but the closest match was to a different father. It makes you wonder if the critics might actually work for the Vatican after all, haw-haw!

What do you think of the many Chick Tract parodies floating around (including the ones you authored!)? Is there any advice you’d give to budding parodeers?

Kurt Kuersteiner: I enjoy the parodies almost as much as the tracts themselves, and it adds an entirely new dimension to collecting Chick tracts. (I try to collect them both and so do many collectors.) They are fun to produce because if you get a good artist, you can often pass them off as the real thing (at least, for the first few pages). My only suggestion to others is that you use original art and not use Chick’s art, because it’s copyrighted and he’s duty bound to track you down and kill you. (I mean, kill production.) It’s the only way he can protect his business. And I want him to stay in business as long as possible. Because whether you agree or hate the message and/or the messenger, you gotta love the way they infuriate the P.C. Police! We need more people who defy political correctness these days. It truly is one of the more insidious threats to democracy.

Of everything Chick’s put out (tracts, issues of Battle Cry, books, etc.), what’s your all-time favorite?

Kurt Kuersteiner: Hmm. That’s a tough one: I’ll go with “The Poor Revolutionist“, because it’s extremely rare, hopelessly dated in the 1970s, out of print tract, very in-your-face, and conspiratorial. What’s not to love about it? Plus, it’s one of his earliest tracts. I’ve seen it go for auction from $50 to $175. Worth every penny!

Do you think we’ll ever get to see the film Chick’s been working on completed?

Kurt Kuersteiner: Yes! It has been completed and released! You just didn’t know it because of the vast media black out of all things Chick! It came out in 2003 and is a 78 minute feast for the eyes. It’s called Light of the World and features 363 masterpiece paintings, most of which were painted by Fred Carter. That film consumed over ten years of Carter’s work (stopping production of any Crusaders comics during that time) and I bet Chick spent over a $1 million making it. It’s very professionally done. He sells the DVDs at Chick.com. Buy it!

What do you think will happen to Jack Chick’s ministry when he passes away?

Kurt Kuersteiner: It will continue to move forward on auto-pilot, much like the Voyager space probe continues to travel beyond our solar system in search of life. Chick has stockpiled new tracts to be released after his death, and hand picked his replacement from the ranks of his trusted employees. Judgment day may soon be at hand, but just in case it isn’t, Chick Publications is prepared to stay in operation until the end arrives.

What’s the most surprising correspondence you’ve gotten since starting the Jack Chick Museum of Fine Art?

Kurt Kuersteiner: That would be an email from Rev. Rich Lee, a preacher and lawyer who wrote Chick when Rich was a youngster in the 1980s. Chick wrote back, the two became friends, and they kept up with each other over the years. He wrote to tell me he loved Chickcomics.com and we eventually became good friends. In 2001, I flew out to meet him and he introduced me to Jack Chick, who is otherwise a famous recluse and darn near impossible to see. Chick doesn’t allow photographs, but he was a very pleasant host and showed us all around his facility. It was an amazing experience, which I detailed in the book.

Have you sent Chick Publications a copy of your book and film? Was there any reaction?

Kurt Kuersteiner: He liked both because unlike most media, I wasn’t judgmental about him. I tried to present his views and also his critics, and let the audience decide whom they wanted to believe for themselves. Some would say that’s not very PC, because you’re expected to condemn anyone who offends other people, but I think that’s bunk. Freedom of speech means nothing if you can’t actually practice it. We need to be more tolerant of different viewpoints, even when those viewpoints offend powerful minority groups. Otherwise a free market place of ideas doesn’t really exist.

How’s your kitty on the back cover of The Art Of Jack T. Chick doing?

Kurt Kuersteiner: That was Fox, my giant Maine Coon cat. I’m afraid he has since passed away (assassinated by Jesuits?), but he was a great pal and I bet he’s having a good time enjoying Chick tracts in heaven. You see, according to former Chick author, Dr. Rebecca Brown, pets can also go to heaven and gain the ability to talk when they arrive. So I’m assuming Fox would have learned to read by now, because he was a very smart cat and Chick tracts are probably the only comics allowed in Heaven. I just hope he saves me a copy of each title for when I get there.

 

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2 comments

  1. Richard F. Lee

    I introduced Kurt to JTC himself! I’m one of the FEW to have his picture taken with Jack Chick, and I’ve posted it on my office wall! Fox communicated to me from the grave, and he wants the dog who killed him taken out! The dog was a Vatican spy! It’s been a pleasure working with Kurt over the years on all things Jack Chick, but I wish I had a co-author credit on the book! Haw haw haw!

  2. Pingback: R.I.P. Jack Chick - Here's His Top 5 Most Homophobic Religious Tracts | Unicorn Booty

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