McGruder, Aaron 1974-
McGRUDER, Aaron 1974-
(Aaron Vincent McGruder)
PERSONAL: Born 1974, in Chicago, IL; son of Bill (a communications specialist) and Elaine (a homemaker) McGruder. Education: University of Maryland, graduated, 1997.
CAREER: Cartoonist, screenwriter, and writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Chairman's Award, 2002, for "The Boondocks" comic strip.
(With Reginald Hudlin) Birth of a Nation: A Comic Novel, illustrated by Kyle Baker, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2004.
"THE BOONDOCKS" COMIC STRIP COLLECTIONS
The Boondocks: Because I Know You Don't Read the Newspapers, Andrews McMeel Publishing (Kansas City, MO), 2000.
Fresh for '01—You Suckas!: A Boondocks Collection, Andrews McMeel Publishing (Kansas City, MO), 2001.
A Right to Be Hostile: The Boondocks Treasury, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Public Enemy Number 2: An All-New Boondocks Collection, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Author and illustrator of "The Boondocks" syndicated comic strip.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Television and film versions of "The Boondocks."
SIDELIGHTS: Cartoonist and writer Aaron McGruder is the creator of the popular, often controversial, newspaper comic strip "The Boondocks." The strip follows the lives of Huey Freeman and his younger brother Riley, two African-American preteens newly transplanted from the predominantly urban black neighborhoods of Chicago's south side to the largely white neighborhoods of the city's suburbs. There, the politically observant and sardonic Huey (named in honor of famed Black Panther leader Huey Newton) and wannabe-gangster Riley live comfortably, if sometimes bemusedly, with their grandfather, a stolid old man with more traditional leanings than his active, and activist, grandsons. Life in "the boondocks"—hiphop slang for the surburbs—becomes a daily search for the meaning of new racial dynamics, political developments, and cultural adjustment. The humorous strip presents "a satirical description of the complexity of interaction among American blacks and whites and the various subcultures prevalent within America's races," commented a contributor to Contemporary Black Biography.
The strip started in 1996 on the The Hotlist Online. While a student at the University of Maryland, McGruder became a staff member at the university's independent newspaper, the Diamondback, and "The Boondocks" appeared for several months in print there under the editorship of Jayson Blair, who later became famous for providing fabricated stories to the New York Times. The strip then appeared in the national hip-hop magazine the Source, for some months in 1997. Launched to syndication in December of 1998 to more than 160 newspapers (a record at the time), the strip's circulation grew to more than 300 papers around the country within five years.
In its more than half-decade run in national syndication, "The Boondocks" has tackled subjects ranging from its core concept of race relations to consumer culture, juvenile delinquency, urban decay, biracial identity, interracial marriage, and the perceived shortcomings of the administration of President George W. Bush. McGruder "has taken to task America's only black billionaire, BET [Black Entertainment Television] founder Bob Johnson, speculated on Condoleezza Rice's negritude, cast aspersions on the thespian abilities of Vivica A. Fox and repeatedly poked fun at rappers in general and P. Diddy (whom he still calls Puff) in particular," observed reviewer Karen Grigsby Bates in the Black Issues Book Review. "McGruder is able to make pungent observations about race, class, consumer culture, and, of course, politics," Bates noted.
On occasion, its subject matter has prompted editors to pull the strip. Some papers refused to run a post-September 11 strip that questioned the country's "blind, unquestioning faith in our almost-elected leaders," according to Hillary Atkin in the Hollywood Reporter. In other cases, the strip has been moved from the comics page to the editorial page. "Lots of readers find the strip racist and the furthest thing from funny," observed William Powers in the National Journal. "Lots of others think it's wise and hilarious. Both sorts have been writing passionate letters and emails to newspapers all over the country, debating the merits of the strip." Remarked Michael Moore in the Nation, "With bodacious wit, in just a few panels, each day Aaron serves up—and sends up—life in America through the eyes of two African-American kids who are full of attitude, intelligence, and rebellion."
Though McGruder pushes for greater political awareness and excellence in the black community, he does not see himself as an agent of revolutionary change. "I'm just a cartoonist," he said in an interview on the AOL Black Voices Web site. "And I do tell people that very often because with the void in black political leadership, people are desperate for someone to tell them what to do." McGruder insists he is not that person. "I ain't a leader. This ain't the revolution. It's a comic strip, and I do what I can. I'm not ashamed of my work, but it is not the revolution. It is entertainment."
McGruder is also the coauthor of Birth of a Nation: A Comic Novel, a Hollywood movie script that he adapted into a graphic novel written with Reginald Hudlin. The book tells what happens when the African-American residents of East St. Louis, Illinois, in a presidential election and "fed up with an electoral process that isn't working for them, seceded from the union and declared their city a sovereign state," noted Andrew D. Arnold in Time. As the residents of the newly created Blackland adjust to life without the support and restrictions of the United States, a new alternative energy source makes war with the well-funded and overly armed United States inevitable. Booklist reviewer Ray Olson called Birth of a Nation "an unpredictable, frequently hilarious satire" and "highly entertaining."
McGruder "hopes to improve problems of race evidenced in the involuntary preconceptions, scapegoating, and fear felt among Americans of all races by getting his readers to stop and reflect on, not necessarily the interracial ideal, but the reality, and how it might become closer to the ideal," the essayist noted in Contemporary Black Biography. "'The Boondocks' isn't pretending to tell the absolute truth about race, but instead McGruder is trying to create characters whose experiences, thoughts, and feelings on race somehow ring true," Powers commented. "That they're not ringing true with all readers, or perhaps ringing a little too true, is by design."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Henderson, Ashyia, editor, Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 28, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Black Enterprise, July, 2000, F. Romall Smalls, "Blowin' Up in 'The Boondocks,'" p. 64.
Black Issues Book Review, September-October, 2003, Karen Grigsby Bates, "Aaron McGruder's Greatest Hits: The Creator of the Popular Four-Year-Old Syndicated Strip 'The Boondocks' Pulls No Punches as He Expands His Franchise to Books and Films," p. 36; September-October, 2004, p. 11.
Booklist, July, 2004, Ray Olson, review of Birth of a Nation: A Comic Novel, p. 1831.
Editor & Publisher, August 14, 1999, David Astor, "High-Profile Year for 'Boondocks,'" p. 29; October 9, 1999, David Astor, "'Boondocks' Artist Still Living on the Edge of Controversy: Aaron McGruder Comes to Canada to Talk about His High-Profile Comic," p. 47; December 10, 2001, Dave Astor, "Off Center," p. 12; July 14, 2003, Dave Astor, "'Boondocks' Screen Deal," p. 7.
Entertainment Weekly, October 19, 2001, "Unfunny Business: A Political Cartoonist Finds His Satirical Strip Banned in New York," p. 16; July 23, 2004, Troy Patterson, "Black Comedy: Director Reginald Hudlin and Cartoonist Aaron McGruder Team up on a Topical Graphic Novel," p. 81; January 21, 2005, p. 51.
Hollywood Reporter, February 19, 2002, Hillary Atkin, "Honor Roll (NAACP Image Awards)," p. S16.
Library Journal, September 1, 2004, Steve Raiteri, review of Birth of a Nation, p. 128.
Nation, January 28, 2002, John Nichols, "Huey Freeman: American Hero—Sure, He's a Cartoon Character, but It Still Takes Courage to Speak Out," p. 11; November 17, 2003, Michael Moore, "Aaron McGruder's Right to Be Hostile," p 20.
National Journal, July 10, 1999, William Powers, "Beyond Family Circus," p. 2028.
Newsweek, July 5, 1999, "What's the Color of Funny? 'The Boondocks' Riffs on Race—and Stirs up Controversy," p. 59.
New Yorker, April 19, 2004, Ben McGrath, "The Radical," p. 153.
New York Times Upfront, November 26, 2001, Sarah Groff-Palermo, "A Laughing Matter," p. 7.
People, July 26, 1999, "Point Man: Cartoonist Aaron McGruder Draws a Bead on Racial Tension in 'The Boondocks,'" p. 125.
Publishers Weekly, June 21, 2004, Calvin Reid, "Birth of a Comical Black Nation," review of Birth of a Nation, p. 24; June 28, 2004, review of Birth of a Nation, p. 33.
Time, July 5, 1999, Margot Hornblower, "Comic N the Hood: 'The Boondocks' Has Scored with Its Brash Racial Humor, but Not Everyone's Laughing," p. 78; August 2, 2004, Andrew D. Arnold, "Black Humor: A New Comic Novel Boldly Takes on Politics and Race," review of Birth of a Nation, p. 83.
AOL Black Voices Web site, http://bv.channel.aol.com/ (September 30, 2003), Bomani Jones, interview with McGruder.
Boondocks Web site, http://www.boondocks.net/ (April 12, 2005).
uComics.com, http://www.ucomics.com/ (April 12, 2005), "Aaron McGruder."