Apr 13, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - The Weekly Graphic Novel: Week 42 - The Boondocks: Because I Know You Don't Read the Newspaper, 2000


I can't for the life of me remember how I came across The Boondocks. I think I may have seen an ad or two for the cartoon, and then stumbled across a collection at a thrift shop one day. I'm so glad I did. In the introduction, Aaron McGruder thanks Berke Breathed, creator of Bloom County, and The Boondocks is in many ways both the spiritual successor to that strip and the logical extension of Breathed's style of political consciousness into the African-American point of view. Mr. McGruder is angry, just as Mr. Breathed is, but where Bloom County's anger is often directed at politicians and their numerous gaffs, The Boondocks straight up takes aim at not just the politicians but also the society that suffers them. Huey Freeman, proxy for Mr. McGruder, is a voice we should be listening to. And while the cartoon has had a bit more popularity than the comic (I actually just watched it for the first time last night), it doesn't quite achieve the levels of political discourse that the comic does. Huey's occasional rant or book chapter is often played for laughs, but they're laughs beneath which burns a harsh truth: to be Black in America is to be ignored and marginalized, regardless of where you live and who you are.

This first collected volume of the series introduces us to the major and minor characters. Huey is our focal point, but his brother Riley is as important to the story. Riley, in grade 3 or 4, is a full-on wannabe gangsta who has no time for his brother's high-minded politics. For Riley, success in life is about "platinum jewelery with ICE!!" McGruder navigates an interesting dichotomy with Riley, at once acknowledging the importance of Hip Hop culture to the experience of African-Americans, but also noting the damage that its inflection by Capitalist discourse can cause. Mixed in with these two young men are Jazmine, a mixed-race little girl who refuses to be Black or White, her father Thomas and her mother Sarah, who are suburban and liberal, but not liberal enough for Huey, and, of course, Robert Freeman, grandfather and caretaker of Huey and Riley.

Let me be very clear: I love The Boondocks. The comic, that is. I'm still undecided about the cartoon. I've loved Bloom County since I got my first collected edition for my 16th birthday, and to see that level of social critique leveled at the treatment of African-American people, in a newspaper strip, is inspiring to say the least. The only downside is that there's so little of it for me to read.


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