“I didn‘t have qualms,” McGruder says of his decision to address the aftermath of September 11, “but I really had to be prepared to lose my career. Because this was such an unprecedented thing going on, nobody could predict how people would react to seeing strips like these. It was just a risk.”
Were McGruder an older, more entrenched cartoonist, the risk of losing his career might have been stifling; even Garry Trudeau was strangely noncommittal for the first month or so after the attacks, as if he had to feel out the territory before he could react. Risk, however, resides at the very heart of “The Boondocks,” which takes chances by its mere existence, as a black strip in an overwhelmingly white medium, where politics is often less important than a good one-liner, and controversy only sells up to a point. This, too, is part of the dynamic, the way the strip keeps pushing up against its own limitations, even as it accommodates the expectations imposed by its commercial form.
“Look,” McGruder says, “I was talking with a friend of mine just last night, and he put it very succinctly. He said, ’We‘re born into this world with an inheritance. We come in carrying part of what went on before us, and black people inherit a war. We inherit a struggle. You can choose either to be a part of it or not to be a part of it, but it’s there, it‘s yours.’ And so I think that, at the end of the day, that‘s what I’m doing. I‘m conscious and aware of an ongoing struggle, and I’m making a definitive choice to be on one side. I still have a job, and I‘m still going to be funny, and I’m still going to be aware that people don‘t want to hear me preach. But at the same time, I recognize the power of this medium, and I’m going to do what I can.”