Born Aaron Vincent McGruder in 1974, in Chicago, IL; son of Bill (a communications specialist) and Elaine (a homemaker) McGruder. Education: University of Maryland, Afro-American studies, 1997.
Debuted The Boondocks on The Hotlist website, 1996; moved strip to University of Maryland's college newspaper, The Diamondback, 1996; switched strip to The Source, 1997; signed with Universal Press syndicate, and The Boondocks began running in newspapers, 1998—; released Boondocks: Because I Know You Don't Read The Newspaper, 2000; Fresh for '01 You Suckas: A Boondocks Collection, 2001; A Right To Be Hostile: The Boondocks Treasury, 2003; coreleased Birth of A Nation: A Comic Novel, 2004; Public Enemy #2: An All-New Boondocks Collection, 2005; turned comic strip into cartoon, 2005.
Awards: Chairman Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2000.
When Aaron McGruder created The Boondocks comic strip, he wanted to shock the masses. Since the strip began, he has outraged readers, politicians, even A-list celebrities. The strips printed after the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States helped him truly achieve his goal. With The Boondocks also airing as a television show in the fall of 2005, McGruder seems to be taking his shock to a higher level.
McGruder was born in 1974 in Chicago, Illinois. His parents moved shortly after he was born, and finally settled in Columbia, Maryland. McGruder and his brother, Dedric, found themselves living in predominately white surroundings. His was a typical childhood filled with kung fu movies, rap music, and video games. He attended a majority-white Jesuit school that repressed and liberated him. If it was not for the restrictions the school imposed, he would not have begun using his creativity to deal with the oppression. He switched to a predominately black high school, and became a true fan of the rap music of the late 1980s and early 1990s, with groups that concerned themselves more about raising the consciousness of black youth. It was during this time that he began to formulate his opinions, and also turned into an "angry black man," who wanted to challenge mainstream society's way of thinking in a manner that would bring about real reform.
After graduating from high school, McGruder began his studies at the University of Maryland. While he pursued a degree in Afro-American studies, he began laying the groundwork for The Boondocks. The comic strip made its debut on The Hotlist Online in 1996. The strip was also run in the University of Maryland's newspaper, The Diamondback. Ironically, the person who is credited for allowing the strip to run in The Diamondback is none other than Jayson Blair, the former New York Times reporter who was fired for fabricating stories.
Things fell apart between McGruder and the college newspaper, and he removed his strip. The Boondocks was later printed in The Source, a magazine geared toward the hip-hop audience. The partnership was short, but a chance meeting with Harriet Choice of Universal Press Syndicate at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention proved fruitful. Universal Press Syndicate had been keeping an eye on the comic strip, so a deal was made. The Boondocks began running in 160 newspapers in late 1998. By February of 1999, the strip was running in 195 newspapers. As of 2005, The Boondocks ran in 250 newspapers.
The premise of The Boondocks centered around two children, Huey and Riley Freeman, who moved from the urban city to the boondocks (slang for the suburbs) and how they and their neighbors dealt with the transition. Huey, named after Black Panther co-founder Huey Newton, is a black nationalist who questions authority at every given chance. Riley, his younger brother, is a young thug-in-training. The two live with their cantankerous grandfather. McGruder saw the three main characters as three sides to the angry black man.
Other characters who appear in the strip include Caesar, a friend of Huey's, a former Brooklynite who wants to be a rapper; and neighbors Thomas and Sara Dubois, an interracial couple with a daughter, Jazmine. Huey tries to help Thomas get in touch with his blackness so he can help his daughter accept hers. There were also two other characters, Cindy and Hiro Otomo, but they have all but disappeared.
There was much fanfare when The Boondocks first appeared. McGruder was only one of a handful of African-American cartoonists with strips in major newspapers. The number of African-American cartoonists in the past was still a paltry few dozen. So, McGruder was met with praise for this accomplishment alone. The Boondocks, which began as a critical, and sometimes, scathing, review of race relations in America, was also praised for originality. The comic was drawn in the manga style, a popular Japanese comic form, which also set it apart from other comic strips. Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Joel Pett told John Nichols of the Nation, "I think that not only is [McGruder] doing good stuff, the fact that he is on the comic pages makes it important in a way that none of the rest of us could accomplish. He's hooking a whole group of people. He's getting ideas out to people who don't always read the opinion pages." No matter how thought provoking the comic strip was, there were many dissenters. White readers felt the strip made jokes at their expense. Black readers felt the strip should not air the race's "dirty laundry." While some newspapers moved the strip from the comics section to the editorial pages, a few removed the strip altogether. That did not deter McGruder, who as child, was a fan of Doonesbury and Bloom County, The Boondock's comic predecessors. If anything, McGruder upped his shock value; no one was safe.
In the years after its debut, the strip has poked fun at a wide variety of people, including President George W. Bush, former presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush, the CIA, the FBI, cable channel BET, the founder of BET and the first African-American billionaire Robert L. Johnson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Will Smith, Vivica A. Fox, and the rappers of today whose bling-bling lifestyle he frowns upon. He stated to the New Yorker's Ben Mcgrath, "I've never understood all the obsession over diamonds and jewelry and designer clothes—that just seems female to me."
McGruder's criticism of Robert L. Johnson led the billionaire to take out a two-page ad in Emerge magazine, criticizing the cartoonist for not having respect for the accomplishments of BET and Johnson. McGruder fired back in The Boondocks, and expressed to Monica Hogan of Multichannel News, "The worst thing about BET is it is taking up space and preventing another black station from coming along and doing it right."
He also drew the ire of conservative talk show host Larry Elder who in an op-ed piece suggested (according to the New Yorker) that the award for the "Dumbest, Most Vulgar, Most Offensive Things Uttered By Black Public Figures" be named the McGruder. Even the National Review wrote a short article condemning the comic strip and its creator in 2005.
But not all of McGruder's foes hate him. He has openly discussed his hatred of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and told her she was a mass murderer when they met while both received awards from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She, however, holds no ill will toward him and asked him to incorporate her into his comic strip. McGruder finally obliged in October of 2004, having characters Huey and Caesar attempt to locate a boyfriend for Rice so she would not destroy the world.
As the comic strip gained in popularity, McGruder was named one of People's "25 Most intriguing People" in 1999. He is a sought-after lecturer, speaking at a variety of places, including college campuses, conventions, and banquets, though one particular group regretted having him speak: at the 138th birthday celebration of the left-leaning political magazine, The Nation, he blasted the liberals for not doing enough.
As shocking to readers as The Boondocks was, no one was prepared for what was to come in the days and weeks following the September 11th attacks on the United States. While all of the editorial cartoonists, left-wing political pundits, comedians, and even late-night talk show hosts steered clear of attacking the president as well as questioning the government, McGruder and political dissident Huey went on a rampage. McGruder noticed that no one was asking the tough questions, and decided to use his strip to do so, even if it meant the end of his career. In the strip Huey decried the actions of Bush, the Defense Department, Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Democrats, and overzealous patriotic Americans. In one strip, Huey calls the FBI and asks if he can give the names of Americans who financed terrorists. When the agent says yes, Huey gives him Ronald Reagan's name.
Though the amount of outrage was huge, only a handful of newspapers removed the strip, and only for a small amount of time. In October of 2001, McGruder poked fun at the controversy surrounding The Boondocks by replacing it with a strip titled "The Adventures of Flagee and Ribbon." This pseudo-strip's characters were the patriotic symbols that appeared everywhere after the attacks. Of course, the new strip was pure satire, poking fun at the fear Americans were feeling and the enormous surge of patriotism. When "The Adventures of Flagee and Ribbon" appeared, readers of the Akron Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio, praised the paper for removing The Boondocks and replacing it with the new strip.
McGruder and his friend, Reginald Hudlin, director of the popular House Party films, teamed up to turn The Boondocks into a television show and a motion picture. A deal was made with Sony Entertainment and episodes of The Boondocks were scheduled to began airing in the fall of 2005 during Cartoon Network's Adult Swim time block. Adult Swim is known to air popular Japanese anime, including Inu Yasha, Ghost In The Shell, and Cowboy Bebop, and also satiric shows such as Family Guy, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and Home Movies. The Boondocks should be a perfect fit, and it would bring the strip and its creator full circle as Adult Swim's dominant audience is college-age. The show features the voices of actress Regina King of Jerry Maguire and comedian John Witherspoon, who was one of the stars of the film Friday.
McGruder and Hudlin co-wrote a script about the 2000 presidential election irregularities, but could not find any takers. They turned the script into a graphic novel, enlisting the help of artist Kyle Baker. Birth of A Nation was released in 2004. In the book, the black citizens of East St. Louis are denied the right to vote in the presidential elections, the city decides to secede from the United States and names the new country Blackland. Time stated that new readers "will appreciate [the novel's] readability. And though it lacks the racial zings of, say, Dave Chappelle, it manages to land some clever social jabs." While Booklist said the book was "highly entertaining," Publishers Weekly panned the novel stating that though the concept was terrific, and the talent behind it was impressive, there was "not enough follow-through to make it completely satisfying."
In addition to putting out The Boondocks daily, McGruder has released a few collections of the strip: Boondocks: Because I Know You Don't Read The Newspaper, Fresh for '01 You Suckas: A Boondocks Collection, A Right To Be Hostile: The Boondocks Treasury, and 2005's Public Enemy #2: An All-New Boondocks Collection. He has also overseen the drawing of the television show in Seoul, Korea. McGruder has begun writing other scripts, and is penning a book, tentatively titled Profits of Rage, and a coffee-table book, Huey Hate Book.
Throughout the comic strip's run, McGruder has become ill several times trying to keep up with the hectic pace. With so many projects in the air, and his plate overflowing, he turned over the day-today drawing of The Boondocks, to a Boston-based artist. The future of the comic strip version of The Boondocks is uncertain. However, it is certain that McGruder will not fade into history, but will continue to provoke America into looking at its societal ills.
Boondocks: Because I Know You Don't Read The Newspaper, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2000.
Fresh for '01 You Suckas: A Boondocks Collection, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2001.
A Right To Be Hostile: The Boondocks Treasury, Three Rivers Press, 2003.
(With Reginald Hudlin and Kyle Baker) Birth of A Nation: A Comic Novel, Crown, 2004.
Public Enemy #2: An All-New Boondocks Collection, Three Rivers Press, 2005.
Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 28, Gale Group, 2001.
Black Enterprise, July 2000, p. 64.
Black Issues Book Review, September-October 2003, pp. 36-42.
Booklist, July 2004, p. 1831.
Editor & Publisher, August 14, 1999, p. 29; October 9, 1999, p. 47; December 10, 2001, p. 12; July 14, 2003, p. 7.
Entertainment Weekly, October 19, 2001, p. 16; July 23, 2004, p. 81; January 21, 2005, p. 51.
Library Journal, September 1, 2004, p. 128.
Multichannel News, November 29, 1999, p. 10.
Nation, January 28, 2002, p. 11.
National Review, February 14, 2005, p. 14.
Newsweek, July 5, 1999, p. 59.
New Yorker, April 19, 2004, p. 153.
New York Times Upfront, November 26, 2001, p. 7.
People, July 26, 1999, p. 125.
Publishers Weekly, June 28, 2004, p. 33.
Time, July 5, 1999, p. 78; August 2, 2004, p. 83.
—Ashyia N. Henderson