The Boondocks was a daily syndicated comic strip written and originally drawn by Aaron McGruder, that ran from approximately 1996 to 2006. A popular and controversial strip, The Boondocks satirizes African-American culture and American politics as seen through the eyes of a young, black radical named Huey Freeman.
The Boondocks was eventually adapted into an animated television series of the same name, which was produced by Sony Pictures Television for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block, airing from 2005 to 2014.
Early history (1996-1998)
The strip debuted in February 8, 1996 on Hitlist.com, an early online music website. It later appeared in The Diamondback under editor Jayson Blair on December 3, 1996, paying McGruder $30 per strip — $17 more than other cartoonists. McGruder ended the strip's run in The Diamondback on March 18, 1997, two weeks after the strip was omitted due to a technical error and a Diamondback staffer printed the word "OOPS" in its place without an explanation. He pulled the strip after the paper refused to run an apology. (Upon the revelation in 2004 of news article fabrications by Blair, by then a reporter for The New York Times, McGruder's comic strip joined others in lampooning Blair.)
It later appeared in the monthly hip hop magazine The Source in 1997. No strips printed before 1999 are known to have been archived nor survived.
Main history (1999-2006)
As it gained popularity, the comic strip was picked up by the Universal Press Syndicate and made its national debut on April 19, 1999.
In Fall 2003, Boston-based artist Jennifer Seng assumed art duties from McGruder. In an interview with The New Yorker, McGruder said, "If something had to give, it was going to be the art. I think I'm a better writer than artist." Carl Jones succeeded Seng as illustrator in late 2004. In the introduction to the collection Public Enemy #2, McGruder wrote, "I had hired an artist to help me on some of the art duties. People think I stopped drawing the strip, but that's never been the case. To this day there has never been a single Boondocks strip that I did not personally touch — I still obsess over the details of Huey, Riley, Caesar and Granddad. I still go over every panel. I still care what it looks like, and I always will."
On February 28, 2006, McGruder announced that his strip would go on a six-month hiatus, starting March 27, 2006, with new installments resuming in October. Repeats of earlier strips were offered by Universal Press Syndicate in the interim. The Boondocks was syndicated to over 300 clients at its peak, but more than half substituted different features rather than publish reruns during the hiatus. On September 25, 2006, Universal Press Syndicate president Lee Salem announced that the comic would not return, saying, "Although Aaron McGruder has made no statement about retiring or resuming The Boondocks for print newspapers ... newspapers should not count on it coming back in the foreseeable future." He added that Universal would welcome McGruder back if he chose to return. Greg Melvin, McGruder's editor at the syndicate, met with him in an unsuccessful attempt to talk the cartoonist into returning. McGruder cited his work on the Cartoon Network show among other projects as reasons for not then returning to the strip.
After the strip was canceled, reruns continued to be carried by some newspapers through November 26, 2006. Reruns of the strip are available online at GoComics.
The strip depicts Huey Freeman and his younger brother Riley, two young children who have been moved out of the South Side of Chicago with their grandfather Robert to live with him in the predominantly white suburb of Woodcrest (in Maryland, as seen from the area code stated in the March 16, 2000 strip). This relates to McGruder's childhood move from Chicago to Columbia, a diverse Maryland suburb. The title word "boondocks" alludes to the isolation from primarily African-American urban life that the characters feel, and permits McGruder some philosophical distance.
Huey is a politically perceptive devotee of black radical ideas of the past few decades (as explained in the May 4, 1999, strip, Huey is in fact named after Black Panther Huey P. Newton) and is harshly critical of many aspects of modern black culture. For example, he is at least as hard on Vivica Fox and Cuba Gooding, Jr. at times as he is on the Bush administration. Riley, on the other hand, is enamored of gangsta rap culture and the "thug"/bling-bling lifestyle. Their grandfather Robert is a firm disciplinarian, World War II veteran, and former Civil rights activist who is offended by both their values and ideas.
Huey's best friend is Michael Caesar, a dreadlocked aspiring MC who agrees with many of Huey's criticisms but serves as a positive counterpoint to Huey's typically pessimistic attitude by taking a humorous approach to issues. He is also a budding comedian, although most of his humor consists of trying to play "yo momma" jokes on Huey, which always falls flat. The Freemans' neighbors are NAACP member and assistant district attorney Tom DuBois (a reference both to Uncle Tom and W. E. B. Du Bois) and his white wife Sarah, also a lawyer. Their young daughter Jazmine is very insecure about her ethnic identity and is often the subject of Huey's antipathy for being out of touch with her African ancestry.
The Boondocks was very political and occasionally subject to great controversy, usually sparked by the comments and behavior of its main character, Huey. The comic strip has been withheld by newspapers several times. In this respect, it is similar to Doonesbury. In particular, the principal characters often discussed racial and American socio-economic class issues. Because of its controversy and serious subject matter, many newspaper publishers either moved the strip to the op-ed section of the paper, pulled more potentially controversial strips from being published, didn't publish the strip at all, or canceled it altogether. Similar reactions have been faced by other strips, such as Doonesbury.
The content of McGruder's comic strip often came under fire for being politically left-wing and occasionally risque, leading to its being published in the op-ed section of many newspapers. For example, a strip making fun of BET's rap videos, some of which rely on the sexually suggestive gyrations of female dancers, and a strip mocking Whitney Houston's drug problems and emphasizing her buttocks, were pulled out of circulation. The Boondocks garnered significant attention after the September 11, 2001 attacks with a series of strips in which Huey calls a government tipline to report Ronald Reagan for funding terrorism. Soon after, he "censored" several strips by featuring a talking patriotic yellow ribbon and a flag (named Ribbon and Flagee, respectively) instead of the usual cast.
Several strips have been briefly pulled from prominent publications. For example, the "Condi Needs a Man" strip, in which Huey and his friend Caesar create a personal ad for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, portraying her as a "female Darth Vader type that seeks loving mate to torture", resulted in The Washington Post withholding a week's worth of strips, the longest such suspension ever by the paper. However, the paper's ombudsman, Michael Getler, later sided with McGruder. The Post also declined to run "Can a Nigga Get a Job?", which had black contestants compete on a reality TV show to work for Russell Simmons, only to find that all the contestants were rude and lazy.
McGruder has often attacked black political commentator Larry Elder in the comic strip as well as the television series. In response, Elder published an opinion piece in which he created the "McGruder", an award for statements made by black public figures that Elder considers "dumb", "vulgar", and/or "offensive".