The year was 1976. Our nation was celebrating its Bicentennial. Jimmy Carter was running for president, The Captain and Tennille were tearing up the airwaves, and a young Ron “Horshack” Palillo had just taught us how to laugh again.
I was a young, naive third-grader, full of hopes and dreams (most of which involved Lynda Carter). Little did I realize that my youthful optimism and childlike faith in God would soon be shattered by an innocuous little comic book tract entitled Somebody Goofed.
The cover looks harmless enough, with a bunch of cartoony demons giggling merrily from Hell’s flame. However, any sense of whimsy is immediately shattered on page 1, where we encounter a young man named Bobby who is dying in the throes of drug addiction. As Bobby thinks his last gasp, a number of his “hippie” friends look on with baked concern. One of them–obviously a fan of Black Sabbath, Rush… OR SATAN–puts his blunt down just long enough to think, “Wow! What a drag!”
It’s in the midst of this hellish and utterly realistic depiction of teenage life that we meet the two stars of our tale. The first is a young freckle-faced lad in a snazzy striped shirt, and the second is a creepy, older guy in a blazer and turtleneck ensemble that was quite stylin’ at the time. Did I mention it was 1976? Anyway, since “Bobby” is the only character in this whole mess to get a proper name, I’ll call these two “Kid” and “Roman.”
As Bobby’s remains are crammed into an ambulance, an old man who kind of looks like Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H wanders over and casually broaches the subject of salvation. Kid finds his question intriguing, but Roman does a facepalm and calls the old man a fanatic.
Well, Colonel Potter doesn’t seem to be in any kind of hurry to prove Roman wrong. He informs Kid that Bobby will stand before God to be judged, and without Jesus, he’s going to win himself a one-way ticket on the Brimstone Express. Kid is astonished, because he’s apparently never heard about Jesus or Hell before. Roman, meanwhile, mocks Colonel Potter with a very timely pop culture reference from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Haw haw!
In Jack Chick’s world, non-Christians come in two flavors: people who simply don’t know about Jesus, and evil minions of Satan. In most of his tracts, all it takes is a few minutes of proselytizing to convert even the most hardened atheist or devout Muslim to Christianity. And it certainly looks like Colonel Potter is making headway with Kid, but Roman steps in to sabotage his evangelical efforts.
Roman makes a surprisingly reasonable argument that a “God of love” certainly wouldn’t put his creatures in Hell. Would be nice to believe that, right? Of course, if you subscribe to Jack Chick’s version of Christianity, then you have to accept the fact that God is a temperamental dick who stays up nights just thinking of reasons to send you to Hell. Any talk of God being kind or loving is just liberal propaganda that flies in the face of everything Chick believes.
So anyway, Roman shouts down Colonel Potter by bringing up all the contradictions in the Bible and reminding him that it was, after all, written by men. Colonel Potter retorts with that hoary chestnut about how people who think there are contradictions in the Bible simply don’t understand it. After all, the Bible must be the literal and unerring word of God because… hey, it says so, right there in the Bible!
Roman’s heard enough, but Kid is intrigued and wants to hear more of this thing called Jee-Sus. He asks Colonel Potter how he can avoid Hell and get into Heaven, and Colonel Potter tells him all about Christ invading our planet in the form of a man (seriously) and how if you accept Him as your savior, then His blood will wash away your sins.
And then, Roman goes ballistic. And apparently starts glowing. Beads of sweat fly from his wrathful brow as he accuses Colonel Potter of clinging to an outdated and fearmongering religion.
Colonel Potter ignores Roman’s outburst and hands Kid a pamphlet entitled You Must Be Born Again. He informs Kid that “2500 years from tonight, you will remember this meeting!” And, um… what?
I honestly don’t know what significance the 46th century plays in Christian theology, but I guess it’s important. I did do a little research online, but all I could determine was that, according to Zager and Evans, “In the year 4545, ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes. You won’t find a thing to chew. Nobody’s gonna look at you.”
At this point, Roman has had enough. He elbows Colonel Potter in the back and snatches the pamphlet from Kid’s hand. Kid tells Roman to “Cool it!” and insists that he doesn’t “have to work him over.” Because that’s how teenagers talked in 1976, when they weren’t saying things like “Aaaaay” and “Twenty-three skidoo!”
Roman tears up the pamphlet and promises Kid he’ll straighten him out. “I’ve got all the answers!” he insists. They get into Kid’s car, and Roman gets right to the task of setting Kid straight. He tells him that “God helps them who help themselves,” which a lot of Christians seem to think is in the Bible, but isn’t. He also tells Kid that Jesus was just a man. And presumably that Jesus is just alright. Did I mention it was 1976?
As Roman yammers on about his new age hippie spiritualism stuff, Kid’s car approaches a railroad crossing. Kid notes that there is a train coming, and he doesn’t think they should try to beat it. But Roman goads him on.
And then… YAAAAAA!
Kid and Roman wake up in a fiery cave, and Roman clumsily exposits that they’re in a place where the lost go temporarily. “This is not Purgatory,” he insists emphatically. “There is no such place!” So take that, Catholics!
Roman goes on to explain that Kid will remain in this temporary abode of the lost that isn’t Purgatory until Doomsday, when God will judge him. Kid is understandably upset by this horrifying turn of events, as would anyone foolish enough to believe in a kind and loving God in Jack Chick’s world. He points an accusing finger at Roman and tells him, “Hey friend, remember all those things you told me? YOU WERE WRONG– YOU GOOFED!”
And at this point, Roman removes his mask, revealing his true face to Kid. AND HOLY SHIT, IT’S THE DEVIL!
Even at the tender age of 9, Jack Chick’s message was all too clear to me: Satan really needs to learn how to delegate. Also, if you don’t immediately accept Jesus as your savior the very first time you hear His name, God will eagerly and happily throw your sinning ass into Hell.
But apparently, Chick was afraid people of color might reject his message, or assume it only applies to white folks. So he got Fred Carter (also known as “the good artist”) to adapt the tract for Black audiences. And by adapt, he basically meant to just reuse the same dialogue, but draw in some gangstas and Rastafarians. But he did change the name to Oops!, since Somebody Goofed lacked a certain street cred.
Kid and Roman were replaced by Willis and Montel. This did have the unintended effect of giving some of the lines an ugly racist subtext…
But note that Black Satan was also a LOT more horrifying than White Satan. This is an important theological lesson they strive to teach children in all the red states.
Bonus: Check out Rodney & Syd’s movie of Jack Chick’s Somebody Goofed!