Look, it’s no secret that metal is the Devil’s music. Satan and his fiery domain are depicted on album covers, bands delight in invoking the numerous personifications of the Devil, and many metalheads wear demonic likenesses on their clothing and even etched permanently into their flesh in the form of tattoos. The Devil is in metal’s DNA. Nine of the songs in the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen were recorded by metal bands, with two of those taboo tracks earning spots on the list solely for “occult” content. For some, though, the fear of devilish music encompasses much more than just the Venoms and Mercyful Fates of the world. Let’s take a look into a world where all rock music — even the most seemingly benign — is the tool of dark forces.
You know you’re in for quite a ride when the comic you’re reading is put out by Chick Publications, the fundamentalist Christian printing house responsible for those little black and white comics you find in restrooms or on public transit warning readers about the dangers of various kinds of fun. There’s a great deal of speculation over the identity of Jack T. Chick, founder of this eccentric enterprise, but that’s stuff better explored by documentary filmmakers. A lot more is known about the person who informed Chick’s thinking around popular culture in the 1970s and 1980s: John Todd, a man whose Wikipedia page URL contains the words “conspiracy theorist.”
In the late 1970s, John Todd made quite a splash in the American evangelical Christian community with speeches elaborating on his bizarre and detailed firsthand knowledge of secret Satanic practices. Not only did Todd claim to have been born to a family of witches, he claimed to have acted as a “personal warlock” to JFK and to have deep knowledge of the demonic conspiracies behind pretty much every aspect of American life. By the end of the ‘70s, he’d been largely abandoned by the same zealots who had helped to elevate his profile, probably as much due to revelations that he’d lied (a lot) as to his claims that prominent evangelical leaders were in the thrall of the Devil. By the early 1980s, Chick Publications was the only organization that continued to promote Todd’s claims. We should, quite frankly, be glad that Todd was given a platform for his ideas, because without Chick’s support, we would not know the joys of Dark Dungeons, the infamous anti-Dungeons and Dragons tract he inspired.
Chick Publications’ full-color 1978 comic book Spellbound? is a glossy adaptation of Todd’s worldview. In fact, the story opens with a thank you note to “the ex-grand druid priest” for his help in revealing the horrifying truth about rock music. Like any comic worth its salt, Spellbound? relies on breakneck pace and eye-popping visuals to tell its story. The comic opens with a car chase and a spectacular crash after two rock-crazed lunatics attempt to run a man off the road in order to get their kicks. It’s quickly established that This Ain’t Ghost Rider* when good samaritan Jim, the victim of the crash, performs first aid and rushes the driver to the hospital.. It turns out that the driver was rock star Bobby Dallas, who miraculously survives his injuries (presumably thanks to Jim’s prayers to Actual God and not Bobby’s ladypal’s prayers to Diana, as depicted via thought bubbles). Grateful to Jim for saving his life, Bobby invites the good Christian to his drug-fueled rock orgy, where Jim makes careful note of all the occult symbols he sees around the room. The comic notes that readers are in no danger of viewing these occult symbols since they are not reproduced in three-dimensional form. GOOD TO KNOW, comic book! Deeply concerned about what he sees, Jim tries to tell Bobby about the dangerous lifestyle in which he’s engaged. Evil record executives catch wind of this and Bobby winds up murdered, proving that you should never try to witness to someone at a drug-fueled rock orgy. RIP Bobby.
*A subtextual prayer for Hustler to make this junk happen, please.
The plot moves quickly to a suburban home where fellow good Christian Bob is trying to wean his rock-loving daughter off of that nasty stuff. Bob meets up with Lance Collins, who is one of the greatest Mary Sue characters in all of comics history, since his role is to regurgitate all of John Todd’s far-out anti-Devil rhetoric. Lance/John regales Bob about his former life as a witch working in the record industry and drops some serious knowledge on the unsuspecting dad and, as a result, on the reader. Did you know that druids used to go from castle to castle snatching up princesses for sacrifice every Halloween? Or that the rockin’ beats used during these human sacrifices have been carried down through the centuries and ultimately brought to America by the Beatles? And that even Christian rock records are actually issued by secret druid covens looking to infect well-meaning Christians with their insidious beliefs? Even the Illuminati is involved in this horrific plot.** That’s right — delete those Skillet songs off your playlists ASAP, kiddos. All of this makes it seem quite reasonable when Lance organizes a record burning event for the church so the good folks can purge their homes of demonic influences.
**Though this reader presumes Bilderberg Group involvement, the comic is suspiciously silent with regards to Lizard People.
The creators of this comic realize that some people might draw inappropriate connections to somebody else who really liked burning books, because the script self-Godwins in an exchange where an evil druid media mogul (visually signified as such by his penchant for cursing and hobbit-like pipe) tells the reporter covering the event to misrepresent Lance so that he looks “like Adolph [sic] Hitler” in his efforts to rid his community of Satan. Of course the Biased Media portrays this perfectly reasonable mass destruction of records as if it was some theatrical attempt to suppress opposing thought (oh, wait…). On his way home from the event that is absolutely not in any way, shape, or form a hysterical and borderline hateful reaction borne of superstition, Lance is attacked by gun-wielding cronies of the evil druids that control all of the media (these are clearly DRUIDS, guys — don’t make this any weirder than it already is) and discovers the true depths of the conspiracy when the cop who arrives lets his assailants off scot free. All is not lost for our latter day crusaders, though: the comic ends with Bob’s formerly rock-loving daughter explaining the evils of Christian rock music to a fellow teen.
There’s something fascinating to me about ultra-conservative Christians using the tools of popular mass media to argue against the corrupting influence of popular mass media. Where is the line that determines that comic books are acceptable instruments of God’s word, but that rock music is never OK? Make no mistake: Spellbound? is 100% traditional in its approach to comic book storytelling. From the lurid color palette to the exaggerated facial expressions of its characters to the visual depictions of sound effects, this is the same style used to depict the godless horrors perpetrated by the likes of Batman and Doctor Strange. Sadly, it’s too late to ask John Todd about his true feelings on comics since he died in 2007. Jack Chick, having built an empire on depicting various acts of violence in this medium for the greater good, is equally mum on the topic, having allegedly granted but one solitary interview since 1975 and preferring to let his body of work do the talking.
— Tenebrous Kate