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Aaron McGruder posters


May 29, 1974

Birth Sign



5' 7" (1.7 m)


An unlikely firestorm was ignited on the 19th of April, 1999. The Universal Press Syndicate made the largest launch ever of a single comic strip in the history of the printed page when it debuted an off-beat work in more than 160 newspapers that day (and 40 more by year's end). The strip, centering on two prepubescent Black youths transplanted from the inner-city of South Chicago to the lily-white fictional suburb of Woodcrest, immediately set off controversy with its daily skewerings of race, politics, music and every other slice of Americana considered taboo to the "funnies". And yet both the success and controversy of the comic happened so fast that few knew about the man behind it all. The strip is "The Boondocks", brainchild of Aaron McGruder.Born in Chicaco, Illinois in 1974 under the sign of Gemini, Aaron and his parents soon moved to from their largely-Black neighbourhood to a mostly-white suburb in Baltimore, Maryland when Aaron was about to start school. Spending the majority of his life there, young Aaron got a first-hand education on race relations; often feeling like an outsider as a minority. read more

Yet, he was never unhappy. It was during his productive and highly influential youth that McGruder would come in contact with the things that would change his life forever. The first was Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). After his first viewing of George Lucas' galaxy far, far away, McGruder become one of many children his generation to have a life-long obsession with the film (not unlike Jersey-borne filmmaker Kevin Smith). The second was Hip-Hop. The uniquely African-American musical style became to new generations what jazz and the British invasion had been years before. As the civil rights movement ended and Reaganomics took over, Hip-Hop became the only viable, uncensored outlet for Black youth to express themselves unchallenged. The third was comics. Not just the "funny books" containing the adventures of Superman and Spider-Man, but comic strips. Aaron's tastes over the years ranged from the funny-yet-true child's POV as shown by Charles M. Schulz with "Peanuts" to, eventually, the irreverent humour of Berkeley Breathed and Bill Waterson "Bloom County" and "Calvin & Hobbes" (respectively) to the biting political satire of Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury."After graduating high school, McGruder enrolled in the University of Maryland where the budding artist found his first widespread outlet for his creativity. After fellow UofM student Frank Cho (author of the cult comic "Liberty Meadows") graduated in the mid-90s, the school newspaper, The DiamondBack, was left without a leading comic strip. The paper's lead editor, Jayson Blair (who would later court his own controversy with his infamous run at The New York Times), doubted that anything would grab as much attention as Cho's work. Aaron gladly volunteered for the job, creating a strip that would combine elements of his own life with an all-around "Hip-Hop perspective" of world events as told through the eyes of young Black children wise beyond their years. With that, "The Boondocks" premiered in The Diamondback and became an instant hit, introducing UofM students to Huey Freeman, an afro-sporting, self-appointed revolutionary (named after Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense); Riley Freeman, Huey's unapologetic "gangsta"-wannabe younger brother; and Jazmine DuBois, a bi-racial girl with little more control over her racial identity than her own fussy hair.With the help of fellow student and aspiring DJ, Rhome Anderson, McGruder began showing the strip on the internet. The strip achieved enough popularity to the point where in 1998 it received its first national print publication in the pages of the Hip-Hop magazine "The Source" for three months straight (details of why it was removed vary). After graduating UofM with degrees in Afro-American studies, McGruder and Anderson courted several offers to publish the strip in national newspapers before finding an agreeable one with Universal Press Syndicate. The strip made its national premiere April of 1999 with the largest debut for a new comic in a record 160 papers nation-wide. The strip immediately caused controversy. Everything from the characters' (anime-influenced) designs to the handling of the bi-racial Jazmine seemed to stir the ire of someone no matter where the strip was published. Some Blacks claimed it was stereotypical and derogatory; many whites claimed it was outright racist, hurtful and divisive. Parents found such common strip activities like the boys being spanked by their Grandfather and young Riley's bullying of other children undeserving of print space alongside such veteran "G"-rated fare as "Garfield" and "Peanuts". Even fellow UofM alum Frank Cho--whose strip "Liberty Meadows" was taking heat for its blatant sexual content and toilet humour--called McGruder's strip "racist and hateful."Yet for all the angry resentment, the positive response to the strip was equally-strong. In fact, many papers struggled with whether or not to drop the strip because of strong following. Many fans celebrated its genuine Hip-Hop references and championed it as a long-silent voice for the Black community now having the opportunity to be heard. The characters were championed for the way Aaron had the characters ask questions from "Why are there no good Black TV shows?" to "Why is Black History Month in the shortest month of the year?" McGruder himself seemed to take it all in stride frequenting the late-night rounds on such series as Politically Incorrect (1993), BET Tonight with Ed Gordon (1998), and 20/20 (1978) among others.Over the years, the strip's controversy and popularity have only continued to grow. McGruder has had his characters speak on everything from exploitative rap videos, the NRA, Black conservatives, and inter-racial marriage to such trivial pursuits as lawn-mowing as a form of illegal child labour and the surge of rappers as movie stars over the past ten years. The strip is constantly a hot topic with several paper often moving it out of the "comics" section to "Editorials" and some removing it from the paper altogether. Recognizable personas from BET founder Robert L. Johnson to conservative columnist Ward Connerlly have publicly condemned the strip (and have often found themselves the subjects of its jibes). Right-wing "avengers" often criticise the strip's constant "attacks" on George W. Bush.Nothing seemed to escape the wrath of the Freeman brothers, not even McGruder's beloved "Star Wars". In the weeks leading up to the highly-anticipated released of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999), Huey and Riley were shown lining up in eager anticipation. After the film was released, the boys expressed reactions felt by many life-long fans when they skewered the movie and its supposedly racist character Jar-Jar Binks. Ironically, the strip found one of its biggest fans in that film's co-star, Samuel L. Jackson. In late 2001/early 2002, the strip found itself with more controversy than usual (if that's at all possible) when, after the attacks of 9/11, McGruder swayed away from mainstream opinions of the country and had his characters criticise every thing from the mainstream media's cheerleader-like support of war and Bush to the false patriotism of flag-wavers in light of the attacks. The strip was pulled from several major papers (particularly in New York). Rather than back down from this position, McGruder satirized his "banning" by pretending the strip was being replaced with mock characters in the form of a US flag and ribbon. Many assumed that the strip has actually been canceled and that the new "patriotic" comic was permanent, unknowing that McGruder himself was proving his point all the more.In the years since its introduction, the strip has gone through minor changes: Rhome Anderson is no longer involved with the strip; several new characters have been added; McGruder has compiled two books of collected strips (with a third due late 2003); he's gotten the opportunity to meet his influential heroes, including Garry Trudeau and he is currently teaming up with filmmaker Reginald Hudlin in an attempt to get an animated version of "The Boondocks" off the ground. Love him or hate him, Aaron McGruder finds himself in that great pantheon of classic satirists: his opinion may not be yours, but he has a basis from which he speaks that makes his a voice worth listening to. Were his strip nothing more than senseless rambling (something he himself has often joked about), it wouldn't have nearly gotten the amount of attention it has. It is a sharp perspective from someone whose generation is constantly said to have none. You needn't agree, but you'd do best to give it a listen.

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