Cartoonist Aaron McGruder sees himself as “a satirist and an entertainer.” The creator of “The Boondocks” didn’t want – and certainly didn’t expect – to be considered a leading advocate for the black community. “I’ve done nothing to earn that title of being spokesman for anybody, other than tell some jokes and draw some pictures,” McGruder said.
Speaking about what his work on “The Boondocks” actually accomplishes, he explained, “I don’t think it really makes a difference, to be honest. I think we’re past that point where someone can get on and say something and wake people up.”
Is the self-described “angriest black man in America” modest, jaded or just realistic? Regardless, the disparity between how he and the rest of the country views his work is clear.
McGruder shrugs off the idea that he’s doing much more than keeping readers entertained through politically and socially charged humor – judging his success by whether he keeps getting paid. “I personally don’t want to mislead people into thinking that I’m a political leader or that my show or my strip is a political movement. It’s not.”
In the eyes of fans and critics, however, McGruder has done far more than just make them laugh. “The Boondocks” runs in more than 350 papers nationwide, but its controversial and blunt humor have led to dozens of editors banning it from their papers. The strip has served as a platform for McGruder to take on racism, U.S. foreign policy and public figures ranging from Santa Claus to R. Kelly. When U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requested he include her in his strip, he readily complied, writing a series of cartoons in which Huey and Riley try to spark romance in Rice’s life. “Maybe if there was a man in the world who Condoleezza truly loved, she wouldn’t be so hell-bent to destroy it,” Huey says. That particular storyline convinced The Washington Post to suspend his strip for a week.
McGruder suggests that a lack of black political leadership in the country may be why so many readers are eager to assume that his satire on current events and race relations makes him a leading voice of black America. “I really shun the idea that I have some kind of job or some kind of leadership role to play. It used to be we had politicized entertainers and then actual political leaders,” McGruder said. “James Brown could make a political song, but he wasn’t a political leader and no one mistook him as such. With the void in black political leadership, we’re too quick to turn to entertainers to fill that void, and that’s not necessarily the best move to make.”
On Nov. 6, McGruder will take on a new role as executive producer of the animated series, “The Boondocks,” bringing the comic strip to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. It’s a plan that has been one of McGruder’s goals since the beginning.
“For six years we had one deal after another fall through,” he said. “The strip is what keeps the property alive and we were eventually able to find the right home for it.”
Moving from newspapers to late-night cable television has provided McGruder with more creative freedom in both his strip and the show. “Self-censoring is always a part of it. You’re just using common sense,” he said.
Although indifferent to the public perception of his strip and his show, McGruder quickly dismisses those who perceive him as unafraid of controversy. “There’s nothing I’ve ever put out that a white corporation hasn’t permitted you to see,” he said. “This whole idea that I’m some crazy, fearless guy isn’t coming from me. It’s coming from everyone else, but there’s no validity to it.”
Besides providing the opportunity to earn from DVD sales, McGruder sees the show as a chance to shift toward storytelling, inevitably toning down some of the political commentary and attacks on public figures that have been largely responsible for both his strip’s success and its controversy. “The show allows us to just tell stories about the characters for a half hour,” McGruder said, “and that’s something I always wanted to do.”
It is difficult to predict whether the animated series will provide McGruder with more airtime to continue his attack on American society, or whether the show is just a new distraction and income source for a cartoonist trying to hide that he’s losing interest and running out of things to comment on.
“I don’t really have much to say anymore. I’ve got nothing to say, to be honest with you, because there isn’t anything I could say that would make a difference,” he said. “There’s a lot of political commentary in (the show), but if I could get in front of a microphone and tell America something – It wouldn’t be anything. I do the show so I don’t have to do that kind of thing, at least that’s the hope – that the work speaks for itself.”