Aaron McGruder, where art thou?
Why is it two of our nation’s sharpest black comic commentators are bailing at the top of their game?
First, television and stand-up star Dave Chappelle walked out on a $55 million contract with Viacom, suspending his top-rated, self-named cable show to travel to Africa and ultimately move back to his native Ohio.
And now it appears that Aaron McGruder, creator of the massively successful and controversial comic strip “The Boondocks,” has stopped returning calls, leaving hundreds of newspapers with some very expensive blank space.
There can be no doubt that both Chappelle and McGruder have been crucial voices in America’s media landscape, providing spirited challenges to entrenched racial stereotypes with thoroughly engaging wit and verve.
More recently, McGruder became a fixture on cable television in his own right, overseeing the adaptation of “The Boondocks” into a fantastic animated series on the Cartoon Network.
But, like Chappelle – who has popped up on both coasts for impromptu stand-up shows since his self-imposed career hiatus began – McGruder probably is not lying back too far on his haunches, with both a second season of the TV series and a feature film in the works.
The 31-year-old cartoonist and social satirist was officially on a six-month break from comics, but he hasn’t even done so much as check in with his boss, Universal Press Syndicate, to construct a new game plan.
As a result, Universal has informed its 300-plus subscriber roll of newspapers not to expect “The Boondocks” back in ink in “the foreseeable future.”
What does this all mean to you and me? Forget the primo real estate in the Sunday funnies that’s now up for grabs. This is bad for American social and political commentary.
If you’re not familiar with McGruder’s consistent body of incisive and cuttingly relevant work, you should be.
McGruder created the concept and characters for “The Boondocks” as a senior at the University of Maryland in 1997.
It was in the campus newspaper, The Diamondback, that he debuted the appearance of the seminal 10-year-old black radical Huey Freeman and his “thug life”-enamored 8-year-old brother, Riley.
Within the year the popular and influential hip-hop magazine The Source picked up the strip, and in April 1999 Universal ran the first “Boondocks” in newspapers around the country.
Many industry observers credit McGruder with revitalizing the comic strip medium – particularly the politically oriented variety, which had been in a tailspin since the halcyon days of Garry Trudeau and “Doonesbury” in the 1970s.
But now that McGruder has gone Hollywood, the funny pages got a whole lot funnier, which, in this case, is a bad thing.
Still, it’s refreshing to see such high-profile black voices making their old white bosses squirm in their Lazy Susans.
Let’s hope cats like McGruder and Chappelle continue their cultural critiquing unabated, regardless of where their muses sweep them.
But, until we see the next of these titans of the timely, we should take a few chilly afternoons to reflect on their work thus far, and watch the season DVDs of “The Boondocks” and “Chappelle’s Show.”
It might be the only “must-see TV” ever made.
Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected]