“Respect My Craft” – Aaron McGruder

In this consumer-based industry, it can be easy to forget the years of hard work that the people in the business put in. Behind every panel, it takes a skilled writer, artist, inker and colorist to make the product complete. Hush Comics’ weekly article “Respect My Craft” will dive into the history of these comic book greats that will hopefully give a new perspective on how the men and women behind the pen (or stylus) contribute to the collective awesome-ness of comic books, or at least give you a reason to invest in their work.

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Name: Aaron McGruder

Profession: Writer & Artist

Notable Work: The Boondocks

“When I pass, speak freely of my shortcomings and my flaws. Learn from them, for I’ll have no ego to injure.” – Aaron McGruder

Before he was the stone that the builder refused, Huey Freeman was just a figment of Aaron McGruder’s imagination. Similar to his characters in “The Boondocks,”  McGruder hailed from the South Side of Chicago and moved to a predominantly white town as a young boy. His stay in Columbia, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore, gave him a good look at race relationships in America. A young McGruder found his identity through Hip-Hop, Star Wars and comic strips, inspiring him to draw comics. 

During his college career at the University of Maryland, McGruder was a cartoonist for a student-run newspaper called The Diamondback, which published the very first “Boondocks” strip in December 1996. Aaron was getting paid more than double what the other cartoonists were being compensated, a whopping $30/strip. The Boondocks began as a campus cartoon strip, and after only a couple issues, sky-rocketed to fame after it appeared in Hip-Hop based magazine, The Source. Soon after, the series was picked up by the Universal Press Syndicate, joining the company of such legendary comics as “Garfield” and “Calvin & Hobbes,” in December of 1998. It was a quick rise to fame, as McGruder was only in his mid-twenties, and a well-deserved one.

McGruder used the characters in “The Boondocks” to create a sort of yin-yang in Black culture: Huey Freeman, the Afro-centric philosopher and freedom fighter (named appropriately after revolutionary Black Panther Huey Newton), as well as Riley Freeman, the radical wannabe-thug, and Grand-dad Freeman, who represents the old-school mentality. With them, McGruder wrote an ensemble cast with various cultural and political backgrounds. Using different relatable social situations, “The Boondocks” painted a hyperbolic, yet accurate, picture of what it’s like for many minorities living in white communities.

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McGruder began to publish trade-paperbacks of The Boondocks., the first of which was named Because I Know You Don’t Read the NewspaperMcGruder had begin to focus on writing, and hired artist Jennifer Seng to help with the art in 2003. The series became so popular that, by 2004, over 300 major newspapers nation-wide were publishing “The Boondocks”. One of the aspects that made the series so beloved was McGruder’s tendency to speak freely when it came to socio-political issues.

From 9/11 conspiracy theories that outwardly criticized President Bush to attacking BET (Black Entertainment Television), nobody was safe from being called out. And as “The Boondocks” garnered more and more attention, McGruder got more and more liberal with his messages. Not all agreed with McGruder’s approach to such touchy subjects, though, as many black and white critics felt that he was trying to provoke racial tension instead of commenting on it. It could be that those who were harsh against McGruder just couldn’t understand the satirical nature of his work, but whatever the issue, the controversy just kept getting louder and louder.

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After almost a decade of written features, Aaron McGruder began to pitch the idea of an animated television sitcom of The Boondocks. However, the shocking subject material made it difficult for the series to be picked up by network television.  Luckily for us, Cartoon Network picked it up in 2005 and put it in their Adult Swim time-slot. This would prove to be a match made in White Heaven, as it gave him the freedom he needed to tell even the most controversial of stories.

Throughout The Boondocks‘ initial three-season run from 2005-2010, McGruder wrote episodes that satirically ripped into everybody: R. Kelly, BET, and even Santa Claus weren’t safe from criticism. Taking up twenty plus minutes per show also allowed McGruder to include a much deeper cast, which consisted of some hilarious guest spots, and was bursting at the seams with social commentary. To boot, a lot of the show’s content was somewhat based off the strip, expanding on funny moments and making them funny episodes. The anime-inspired fight scenes were also amazing, as McGruder clearly had some Samurai Champloo inspiration. More over, what made the series so relatable is that it felt so natural. The character archetypes all interacted how you would expect, but was written so well that you never really knew what crazy thing would happen next.

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What I really loved about how McGruder wrote The Boondocks is how it never felt like it had an agenda; it just asked really good questions that made readers/viewers think. We could laugh at the stereotypes or see the sad satire of American culture for what it was – it really depended on how the consumer absorbed the material. To this day, “The Boondocks” comic strip remains the only comic series picked up by the Universal Press Syndicate that has a black creator or a mostly black cast. It’s an award-winning and fan-favorite television show that serves as a cracked mirror for lack & American culture that we know we want to do better than what is portrayed.

For better or worse, after the run of nearly ten years, McGruder’s “Boondocks” has pointed out a lot of the flaws in how mainstream media portrays African-Americans, while criticizing African-Americans for exploiting those flaws. In the same way Dwayne McDuffie used Milestone Media to build up the positive black image, Aaron McGruder used “The Boondocks” to tear down the negative black image. Thus, I can define Aaron McGruder in three words: “Maaaaaan, F*** BET”

Checked out his bibliography and still want more? Check these books out:

BIG news here everybody; it looks as though The Boondocks will be returning for a fourth season, debuting April 21st, 2014, after an almost four-year hiatus.

Birth of A Nation is a graphic novel about what it would be like if East St. Louis (dubbed Blackland) were to secede from the nation. This is “All Black Everything” in it’s truest incarnation. McGruder co-wrote this book along with Reginald Hudlin (Who is the Black Panther? review coming soon!).

McGruder also was on writing duties for Red Tails, a film about the Tuskegee Airmen. It was a little too Hollywood for my taste, but it’s worth a shot if you’re interested.

How Much Does Hush Comics Love Aaron McGruder?

Aaron McGruder has a special place in my heart. A big part of my late-teens were spent watching and reading The Boondocks. McGruder’s work did more than entertain me; it educated me. His rise to stardom was so quick, the gravity of his accomplishments may slip by casual fans. More importantly, he shared his message with no filter – from the return of Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr. to white privilege to fried chicken shortages, McGruder was never afraid to talk about the serious issues.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib

Graphc Novel Review – March: Book One

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Graphic Novel Review: MARCH: Book One

Collecting: March: Book One (original graphic novel)

Original Release Date: 2013

Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

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Characters: John Lewis, Dr. Martin Luthor King, Jr.

Writer: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin

Artist: Nate Powell

SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):

Storyline – 8
Art – 7
Captivity and Length – 6
Identity – 8
Use of Medium – 8
Depth – 7
Fluidity – 8
Intrigue/Originality – 7
The Little Things – 9
Overall awesomeness – 7

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A lot of people may not recognize it, but the graphic novel medium, when used correctly, can become a form of literature more descriptive than a novel or moving than the art. In March: Book One, the first of a trilogy leading up the March on Washington in 1963, we are fortunate enough to get that experience. What impressed me so much about March is that it was written by comic book novices. And who would have thought that one of the most powerful comic books (graphic novel, technically, but you get the jist) in 2013 was written by a United Stated Congressman?

Of course, John Lewis may be a comic book novice, but he’s no stranger to the Civil Rights Movement. Making up one of the “Big Six” in the Movement (a list that consisted of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and four others that each contributed to the Movement), John Lewis is the only one living. He is the Democratic Representative of Georgia and has quite the colorful tale to tell in this black and white autobiography.

So where do we start on our march to freedom? Well, we start at the chicken farm. Lewis begins his story of non-violence and racial tension by explaining his love for chickens. It came off as odd and unexpected, but ultimately won me over as an honest sentiment that foreshadows his love for all livings things – as well as offering some very adorable panels. The way he wanted to save all the chickens, make sure they all got fair treatment, named them and even tried to baptize them was a true ode to childish innocence and naivety.

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March reads more like a memoir, taking breaks to revisit the current time to move the story along. It’s a method that works for the first few chapters, but ultimately becomes a little too much like a cliché television special for my taste. However, the way the story is presented, you can’t help but get sucked into the time. One of my favorite anecdotes in March is when he snuck off in the morning to run and catch the bus to go to school. The way he deliberately disobeys his father to go to school instead of help at home was a choice made with a gravity that a lot of younger readers can’t really grasp. Lewis’ trip up North with his uncle Otis was also eye-opening to just how different the two regions were in the 1950s.

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Much of the visualization can be credited to the fine art of Nate Powell who captures the essence of the moment fittingly for each scene. The shading is perfect, and there is incredible detail when warranted. Even the way that onomatopoetic words are displayed and lettered add to the ambience of the moment.

The story really starts to kick into high gear when Lewis goes to college, and joins a Non-Violence group preparing themselves for marches and sit-ins by testing each others’ tolerance levels. It’s an amazing part of the Movement that I had never even considered previous to reading MarchIf you’ve studied African-American History, you know that sit-ins were an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement – but these people, most of which were courageous young adults, literally took turns berating and humiliating each other to see if their resolve for non-violence was strong enough. It’s unreal to imagine college kids banding together to do something like that today, and makes me appreciate every liberty I have.

Overall, March bridges a gap in perspective of the Civil Rights Movement that has formed between writing and film, with great recounts from Lewis that is complemented by the beautiful simplicity of Powell’s art. It falls a bit short in the sense that it doesn’t exactly have a clear direction, and the partitioning can seem a bit choppy with a lack of transitions. Luckily, Lewis’ story is so captivating and earnest that it pretty much writes itself. In the grand scheme of the book, those shortcomings are more like rough edges around an otherwise great read. It’s the best (albeit maybe the only) graphic novel portraying Black History I’ve read, and would recommend it to anybody who would like a different perspective of the Movement.

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I hope you enjoyed the review. I’d just like to point out that none of the pictures in this work are mine, and should all be credited to the good folks at Top Shelf Productions.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib

Diggin’ Through the Crates: A Tribe Called Quest “Award Tour”

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Artist: A Tribe Called Quest

Song: “Award Tour”

AlbumMidnight Marauders (1993)

 

Lyric: “I have a quest to have a mic in my hand/ without that, it’s like Kryptonite and Superman.”

Character Reference/Meaning:

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to change it up a little bit and look at some of the artists that really contributed to the culture inside and outside the booth. Well, today I am here to try to bring back some of those hip-hop glory days by introducing A Tribe Called Quest to D.T.C. with their song “Award Tour.” Released more than twenty years ago, “Award Tour” has withstood the test of time with it’s catchy hook, jazzy beat and wise lyrics. Released off the Hip-Hop classic album Midnight Marauders in 1993, “Award Tour” was smack dab in the middle of the Native Tongues movement.

The Native Tongues were a group of progressive Black groups and artists (namely Tribe, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, Mos Def, and much more) that often collaborated in their work. Hip-Hop has had mega-groups like this before, but in the commercialist explosion of the genre in the late 1980’s, it was hard finding a groups with a positive message. A Tribe Called Quest embodied the movement, with songs about racial equality, treating women with respect, and having good, clean fun. Oh, and did you know that Phife Dog and Q-Tip, two of Tribe’s founding members, are huge nerds??

He might be Superman on the mic, but off of it? I can tell you this for a fact: the only thing weaker than Superman drowning in a pool full of Kryptonite is an MC without his mic. Without such tools, a person of poetry who has lyricism crawling through their bones is powerless to change the world around them. However, let’s switch it up and take a look at the rapper that does possess the almighty mic. A power so strong that Thor and his hammer can only wish to idolize it, a bond so deep and true that Superman’s X-ray vision can’t see past the first few layers, a passion so unrelenting that Poison Ivy can’t help but to succumb to its desire. To the rappers that started revolutions and what it meant to be a hip-hop mastermind that spoke to and for the people, that is what hip-hop heads view a rapper and his mic as. And that is exactly what Phife is saying in this particular lyric.

Only with that ability to make music and share it does he feel powerful, whether it be to make music that others relate to, or to shine a light on issues that other previously couldn’t relate to. All of this sounds dramatic and over the top, but I guarantee you, it’s fact for those individuals out there that can recite every line to “Award Tour.” It sounds an awful lot like being a superhero to me. For those of us who are unfortunate enough (or fortunate depending on how you look at it…those are scary places sometimes) to live in Metropolis, Gotham City, or any other city or planet thriving with super-beings, sometimes that music playing in our heads is our Superman. Everybody has their Superman; you just need to go discover what it is. For some it is their family and friends. For others it is music, movies, and books. And in this case of Phife Dog and the lest of A Tribe Called Quest, it’s being able to have the mic in their hand. What is yours?

Written by Evan Lowe and Sherif Elkhatib