When The Boondocks, a sometimes irreverent and brash comic strip, debuted in newspapers last year, the insular world of national cartoon syndication witnessed the birth of one of the most critically acclaimed and potentially lucrative comic strips.
The brainchild of 25-year-old Aaron McGruder, the strip now runs in approximately 220 newspapers. With two precocious African American boys from the big city who have been unwillingly transported to the predominantly white suburbs to live with their grandfather as the main characters, The Boondocks is laced with political and social satire from a distinctly hip-hop perspective.
When it was first syndicated nationally by Universal Press Syndicate in April 1999, it appeared in approximately 175 newspapers-making it one of the largest new releases in syndicated comic strip history. Within the past century of daily syndicated newspaper comics, there have only been nine African Americans-including McGruder-whose work has run in U.S. papers.
At the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Chicago in 1997, McGruder met an executive from Universal Press Syndicate and presented the strips that had run in The Source, a hip-hop entertainment publication, and his college newspaper, The Diamondback, from the University of Maryland in College Park.
Shortly after, McGruder signed a five-year syndication contract with Universal Press Syndicate that gives him almost complete ownership of his work. Universal Press retains the “paper rights” to The Boondocks, which include products like greeting cards and calendars, but McGruder owns the copyrights, which gives him exclusive control of how and where his work can be used. They also insure that he will be compensated for any present or future use of his work.
Kathie Kerr, director of communications of Universal Press Syndicate, one of the eight major comic strip industry leaders, says that her company was interested in The Boondocks because “the editors were blown away by the artwork.” She also believes that in addition to the Japanese “anime” style in which the strip is drawn, “it brought a sense of diversity to the comic pages, and its consistent humor appeals to a younger audience that newspapers want.”
Because of the phenomenal success of The Boondocks, McGruder and Universal Press are set to release a book this year, and are in negotiations to produce a calendar that will feature the best of the satirical comic strip. McGruder is also in discussions with Home Box Office for a one-hour pilot, which could possibly bring an animated version of The Boondocks to the airwaves by 2001.
McGruder foresees establishing a formal production company later this year to handle the burgeoning merchandising opportunities of the comic strip. “The Boondocks has had a very strong start in a very shaky business. It is time to take it to the next level,” says McGruder. “If you are pursuing art, you have to be prepared to handle it like a business, a commodity. You have to be able to sell it.”
According to industry insiders, The Boondocks has significant earning potential over the next few years. Neither McGruder nor Universal Press Syndicate will reveal details of