Aaron McGruder is an African American comic strip author best known for writing and drawing "The Boondocks," which appeared in many American newspapers from April 1999 through March 2006.
McGruder was born May 29, 1974 in Chicago and was raised in Columbia, Maryland. From grades seven through nine, he attended a Jesuit school that he has since described as "very white." He started drawing at an early age and in his teens decided he wanted to be a professional cartoonist. He went on to the University of Maryland (UM), graduating with a degree in African American Studies.
McGruder got his first opportunity to produce a comic strip under Jayson Blair, who was then the editor of UM's student newspaper Diamondback. During his junior year in 1997, McGruder started distributing packages of "The Boondocks" to newspaper editors across the United States, in hopes that he could spark their interest.
The cartoon's central character was Huey Freeman, a ten-year-old militant student whose name was derived from Black Panther Huey Newton. McGruder once told Ben McGrath of the New Yorker that Freeman was possibly "the blackest character ever to be popular in mainstream media, other than maybe Chuck D and Flavor Flav." McGrath later wrote that the Freeman character showed an "unnatural familiarity with the precepts of socialist black nationalism."
The supporting cast in "The Boondocks" included eight-year-old Riley Freeman, billed as an aspiring "gangsta"; Caesar, Huey's best friend; Jasmine DuBois, a mixed-race girl, and her parents and grandfather.
In 1997 McGruder attended a convention of the National Association of Black Journalists, where Harriet Choice, a Vice President with Universal Press Syndicate, was scouting minority talent. Not long after McGruder gave her some samples of his work, Universal signed him to a contract and, on April 19, 1999, launched "The Boondocks" in 160 newspapers. Later that year, McGruder moved to Los Angeles where he continues to reside.
In his interpersonal relations, McGruder makes it clear that he has no desire to keep a low profile. "I'm ready to fight outside work," he says. "If someone wants to come up and start a political conversation with me, it can quickly turn into an argument." He is particularly hostile to emulators, warning them to "get off my d*ck, leave my sh*t alone."
After 9/11, McGruder focused his scorn not on the Muslim hijackers but on the rekindled patriotism of Americans. He did not deal in any way with Islamic themes. He publicly called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a "murderer," blaming her allegedly poor diplomatic skills on a defective love life. McGruder was seated near Rice at a 2002 NAACP Image Awards event. When accepting his prize, McGruder stepped to the podium and publicly denounced the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as a conspiracy between the Bush administration and oil companies to clear out the Taliban so they could install oil pipelines across the country.
In its heyday, "The Boondocks" was published in some 300 newspapers nationwide. By early 2006, however, McGruder had outsourced the task of drawing the cartoon to Boston artist Jennifer Seng, explaining that he was a better writer than artist. March 27 of that year marked the final published appearance of "The Boondocks."
A popular speaker on the college lecture circuit, McGruder is now a very wealthy man -- a fact that does not square with the rebellious self-image of socialist black nationalism supposedly marginalized by corporate America. "Anytime your checks are signed by the white man, you're not leading the revolution, and that's me included," McGruder once told black radio host Tavis Smiley. "My checks are signed by the white man." "I always wanted to get rich," he said on another occasion. “… I wanna live very, very well. The world sucks when you're poor. It's f*cking deplorable. But I don't think it means you have to be part of the f*cked-up system of oppressors and leaders just by virtue of making a lot of money."
In 2002 McGruder was asked by the Green Party to run for U.S. President on its ticket. But he was forced to decline the offer, for at age 28 he was too young to serve.
McGruder is a great admirer of California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who he specifically praised in one of his comic strips. At Lee’s request, McGruder in 2002 accompanied her on a trip to Cuba where he had a friendly meeting with Fidel Castro. When the cartoonist returned to the U.S., he gave glowing accounts of the great things the Cuban dictator had accomplished.
Today McGruder exercises what he calls A Right to Be Hostile, the title of his best-selling "Boondocks" collection. The foreword for this book was written by Michael Moore. McGruder has also affirmed his inalienable "right to be a nigger."