Though he has offended readers for years, Aaron McGruder never fails to be surprised by the outrage "The Boondocks" sometimes generates -- and expects more controversy now that the comic strip is coming to television as an animated series.
"I've never been able to predict what people are going to get mad at," McGruder said. "I've tried and I've always been surprised."
Some viewers will probably be mad at McGruder when "The Boondocks" premieres on the Cartoon Network on Sunday night. Based on the syndicated comic strip that has been banned in some newspapers, the show focuses on the adventures and political musings of 10-year-old Huey Freeman, an afro-wearing, self-styled African-American radical, and his foul-mouthed, 8-year-old gangsta wannabe brother, Riley, as they adjust to living with their grandfather in the predominantly white Chicago suburb Woodcrest -- the boondocks, in their eyes.
McGruder's strip, which is carried by more than 350 newspapers, has not veered away from controversy since its launch in 1999. Fans and critics of "The Boondocks" loved and hated the strip for the same reasons: its cutting-edge humor and unapologetic, sometimes unpopular, views on various issues, including race, politics, the war on terrorism and the Sept. 11 attacks.
After Sept. 11, "The Boondocks" generated a heated backlash when Huey suggested that the U.S. government's -- particularly the Reagan administration's -- past relationship with Osama bin Laden laid the groundwork for assaults. Newspapers such as New York's Newsday and the Daily News refused to carry the strip, while The Dallas Morning News opted to take "The Boondocks" off the comics page and put it in the paper's Living section. In 2003, The Washington Post also chose not to carry "The Boondocks" when, in a series of strips, Huey and his dreadlocked best friend, Caesar, concocted a plan to get Condoleezza Rice a boyfriend, thinking that would change her support of the war in Iraq. And last year, several newspapers refused to carry the strip when, to Huey's dismay, Granddad became enthralled with an African-American version of "The Apprentice" called "Can't A N---a Get a Job?"
Through Huey and other characters, McGruder, 31, has been an equal-opportunity critic. Rice, President Bush, Queen Latifah, Cuba Gooding Jr. and African-Americans in general have all been the object of Huey's wrath, for self-hatred, narrow thinking and bad TV-watching habits, among other issues.
"He's been pretty wide-ranging in the people he's gone after," said Mark Naison, a professor of African-American studies at Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y. "I like his targets. People like him, Dave Chappelle, and [New York Times] columnists go after people, not matter how unpopular, and take them to task on issues they believe need to be dealt with. That's what I like about it ['The Boondocks']."
"The Boondocks" doesn't lose any of its bite on the small screen.