Colleagues praise 'Boondocks,' aren't surprised it may have ended

'Boondocks' reaction

Dave Astor,
NEW YORK -- Are people surprised that "The Boondocks" strip may now be on permanent leave?

"I can't say I'm surprised," replied "Non Sequitur" cartoonist Wiley Miller of Universal Press Syndicate, which announced Monday that Aaron McGruder's 1999-launched comic will not return to newspapers for the "foreseeable future."

Alan Shearer wasn't surprised, either. "All the signals were there," said the editorial director/general manager of the Washington Post Writers Group.

What were some of those signals? Miller noted that McGruder -- who spent a lot of time dealing with the attention "The Boondocks" elicited -- began using art and writing assistants on the strip. And McGruder devoted much of his creative energies to "The Boondocks" TV show that has been picked up for a second season.

"I'm sorry 'The Boondocks' isn't coming back, but I wasn't surprised. Aaron seemed pretty focused on the TV show," said Geoff Brown, associate managing editor/features at the Chicago Tribune.

"Aaron's got a lot to say, and if he feels he can say it more effectively and more comfortably on television, then more power to him," said cartoonist Darrin Bell, who creates "Candorville" for WPWG and co-creates "Rudy Park" for United Media.

(Miller said that if he were a newspaper editor, he'd replace "The Boondocks" with "Candorville.")

Bell told E&P that "creating a daily comic strip isn't for everyone," so it's not surprising when someone with other options gives it up. He explained that newspaper readership is declining, the fees papers pay syndicates for comics remain low, space for comics is shrinking, and comics readers write to papers a lot more often when they're angry than when they're pleased.

The WPWG/United cartoonist added that, while he loves doing comics, "the incessant deadlines are grueling. It's nothing compared to having to work in a coal mine, teach school, or drive a bus every day, but it's demanding."

Houston Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen agreed, especially in the case of topical cartoonists like McGruder. "It's difficult to keep the momentum when you're doing strips off the news and off the trends," he said.

"'The Boondocks' is a brilliant strip that stands out in a sea of sameness," added Cohen, speaking of McGruder's creation in the present tense. "It's edgy and often speaks to an audience newspapers are striving to include."

He added: "The guy often tested newspaper editors' patience and forced discussions we probably wished we weren't having to have. But that was a good challenge."

Brown said of McGruder's comic: "I was one of its biggest defenders for its sharp satire on race and celebrity, and among its sharpest critics when it slid into off-color humor and epithets -- that is, when those things substituted for satire. On balance, though, it was the first fresh thing in comics in years."

"Aaron's strip was groundbreaking," said Bell. "It shattered the notion that African Americans on the comics page had to be tame and non-threatening in order to appeal to white readers. It demonstrated that the country's come far enough, and newspaper readers are sophisticated enough, to appreciate hearing from minorities with provocative views on the comics page."

Miller said "The Boondocks" was a "terrific strip. It had a voice I thought was desperately needed in the comics."

What if "The Boondocks" TV show, which runs on the Cartoon Network, doesn't last much longer? Miller said McGruder is a "bright and talented guy" who would find another creative outlet.

McGruder could always resume "The Boondocks" for Universal, but Miller wondered if some newspaper editors might hesitate to welcome McGruder back.

Universal syndicated "The Boondocks" to more than 300 print and online clients -- with fewer than half publishing reruns of McGruder's comic during the sabbatical.

The Chronicle has been using "F Minus" by Tony Carrillo of United rather than "The Boondocks" repeats, while the Tribune has been using "Watch Your Head" by Cory Thomas of WPWG.

Shearer of WPWG said newspaper editors shouldn't publish reruns of "The Boondocks" or any other comic, and should also think twice about using so-called "legacy comics" passed down to other cartoonists.

"Editors are not giving new ideas enough of a chance in comics," said Shearer. "It's the one area of the newspaper where editors are shirking their responsibilities as editors."
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