Comic Strip: The Boondocks

The Boondocks is a newspaper comic strip created by Aaron McGruder, which was published by the Universal Press Syndicate from 1999 to 2006. All of the comics can be found here. It was adapted into an animated television series of the same name that aired intermittently on [adult swim] from 2005 to 2014.

The comics are centered around the lives of the Freemans, a black family from inner-city Chicago, Illinois who move into the mostly white suburb of Woodcrest, Maryland. The main protagonist is Huey Freeman, a smart yet cynical little boy who is a far-left-wing political activist, constantly railing against problems affecting the black community. His little brother is Riley Freeman, a juvenile delinquent who imitates gangsta rap culture too closely. The two boys are being raised by their single grandfather Robert Freeman, a grumpy old man who takes a disciplinarian approach to parenting.

Other important characters include Huey's best friend Michael Caesar, another black kid who is also a newcomer to Woodcrest. Even though he didn't appear until a year into the comics' run, Caesar quickly became a co-protagonist to Huey, and often provided additional commentary to Huey's rants. There's also the multiracial Dubois family; Tom Dubois is a successful black lawyer married to a white woman (Sarah), whose moderate left-wing beliefs clash with Huey's radicalism. Jazmine Dubois is Tom's biracial daughter and Huey's only other friend, whose overwhelming naivete makes her believe everything she is told by adults.

Most of the comic strip's humor was very satirical and topical in nature. Aaron McGruder used the comic as a vehicle for his social views, covering a lot of then-current news events on African-Americans and the United States in general. His favorite subjects of mockery were annoying black celebrities and right-wing politicians (especially the George W. Bush administration). Unsurprisingly, this comic strip attracted a lot of controversy, but also a lot of popularity over the years.

Not to be confused with The Boondock Saints.

Tropes used in the comic strip:

  • Abusive Parents: Granddad Freeman falls into that gray area between "corporal punishment" and "abuse", though his ham-handed approach to it leans towards the latter but also falls under Hilariously Abusive Childhood, though his actual abuse tends to be more his failings as a parental figure and role model, as his instances of physical punishments is usually well deserved.
  • Adorably Precocious Child: Completely intentional in the case of the brothers, and often played for laughs.
    • There was a strip where Huey is declaring dramatically from a hill to his new neighborhood things like, "My knowledge of self shines boldly in the face of the beast!" A little old lady interrupts, calling him "just a big ole cutie pie."
      Little Old Lady: Young man, you are so adorable I would love to just take you home with me.
      Huey: I bet you would... Maybe have me sitting around your house being docile like a bad '80s sitcom, huh? Do I look like Gary Coleman or Emmanuel Lewis to you? Am I supposed to use cute little slang and be your little black stuffed doll? Well, this is one black man who will not be demasculinized. I'm nobody's pet Negro. Is that understood?
      Little Old Lady: What was that, sweetie? My hearing isn't what it used to be.
      Huey: Oh, never mind...
    • There is a whole Sunday strip where Riley practices intimidating "thug shot" expressions, but fails because he is adorable.
  • Art Evolution: The art style became progressively better and cleaner.
  • Aside Glance: The most common type of gag. Something satirically odd or goofy happens, and instead of commenting the characters mug the camera and let the joke lie as is.
  • Author Appeal: McGruder is One of Us and a self-proclaimed nerd.
    • Especially when it comes to Star Wars. As a result, the comic and (to a somewhat lesser extent) the show are chock full of Star Wars references, and Huey himself is a fan. His status of an Author Avatar for McGruder's interests was lampshaded, sometimes.
    • He also enjoys anime, and in the show it shows to say the least.
  • Author Tract: Aaron McGruder doesn't make any of his opinions subtle. Also see Take That.
    • He really doesn't like the George W. Bush administration and their policies. From 2001 and onward, the comic almost never forgot to harshly criticize the government of the time.
    • If there's one thing he hates almost as much as Bush, it's annoying black celebrities and media. Especially Black Entertainment Television, which he blames for dumbing down African-American culture and against whom he maintains a vendetta to this day. In the strip and the show, he's never ever missed an opportunity to deliver a seething Take That to BET.
  • Before My Time: Tom asks Huey whether he's named after Huey Lewis, and Huey actually responds, "Before my time." The subversion comes in the fact that Huey has just given an erudite lecture on Black Panther Huey Newton, who is older than Lewis.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Lots and lots of jokes lampooning the newspaper editing and censorship process - there are countless series of gags in the strip where the papers "remove" The Boondocks from syndication in favor of something ridiculously propagandist, saccharine or overly "child-friendly", or just downright strange. So much so that one of these gags is accompanied by an editorial "we mean it this time."
  • Black Comedy: This comic has a rather cynical sense of humor, especially with some of the dialogue. But nowhere near as much as the TV series.
  • Break the Cutie: Good God, Jazmine. As if she was designed for this trope...
  • Broken Aesop: The comic once had the moral that video games don't make one more violent... the show, however, states that BET makes you a retard. McGruder clearly has a distaste for what BET considers "black" entertainment.
  • Brutal Honesty: This is a trait of all of the Freemans, although they all do it in different ways.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: When Robert punishes Riley by forcing him to see Halle Berry's Catwoman movie, Riley doesn't take it well and tries to have Robert arrested on child abuse charges.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Huey Freeman.
  • Demoted to Extra: Following 9/11, this happened to everybody except Huey and Caesar. Jazmine was hit hardest by this, with a two-year absence.
    Jazmine: I guess you were too busy sitting here and making mean-spirited comments about the world to realize we hadn't seen each other for two years!!
    Huey: By the way, did you hear that "Meth And Red" got canc-
    Jazmine: AARRRGH!!
  • The Ditz: Cindy in the comics. She's ignorant about everything.
  • Flanderization: Tom DuBois was initially a posh but intelligent middle class lawyer that Huey could have conversations with, but over time the comic exaggerated his foppishness and the "Desperate Democrat" aspect of his character, until finally settling on a mix of both.
  • Foil: Several, most to Huey.
    • Huey and Riley. He is bright like Huey but doesn't want to care about the big picture.
    • Huey to Caesar - Caesar being a character of Huey's brains and insight but who does not share his sense of self-righteousness (which is greater in the comic than it is in the show), leading to them playing off one another.
      • On that note, Caesar to Riley, though less so because they don't interact as much as either character does with Huey - Caesar shares many of the same interests as Riley, but does not seek to emulate some of the more "ignorant" aspects of black culture and instead as a contrast symbolizes the positive aspects.
    • Huey and Jazmine, Huey being cynically Wise Beyond His Years and Jazmine being an innocent child to the point of being naive.
  • Free-Range Children: In the comic, Huey, Riley, and Caesar are able to go wherever they want and do quite a bit without supervision (though there isn't much to do in Woodcrest).
  • Follow the Leader: Inverted. McGruder has stated that what drove him to take the book into a hardline left political direction was a conversation he had with Garry Trudeau over the issue of the September 11th Terrorist Attacks. Trudeau told McGruder that he was going to wait until around December before he would begin incorporating the terrorist attacks and the political fallout the attacks would have upon America. This led to McGruder deciding to immediately incorporate 9-11 and the political fall-out into the comic strip, since no one else was doing this.
  • Gonk: Uncle Ruckus, even more so than in the show.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Huey. He's smart and has good intentions in building a greater American society, but can be downright cynical about it.
  • Hypocritical Humor: All the time, from pretty much everyone - most commonly it comes from Riley or Granddad and is lampshaded by Huey, or it comes from Huey and is lampshaded by Caesar. Occasionally, it's directed at McGruder himself or the newspaper editing process.
  • Innocent Bigot: Common in the early days of the comic, where everyone from the Freeman's neighbors to the principal of Huey's school knew next to nothing about African Americans, and often said or did things that were humorously ignorant while trying to be polite (his teachers, for instance, thought renting a bunch of black movies was adequate preparation for dealing with a black student). Eventually, this gag was streamlined down to Cindy McPhearson, before she was phased out of the comic (to be ultimately changed into a different kind of character in the show) and the gag more or less along with her.
  • Insufferable Genius: Huey, particularly more so in the comic as time went on.
  • Issue Drift: Somewhat noticeable in the comic's run, though it started in earnest fairly early.
  • Jerkass:
    • In the comic Huey often shows more jerkassish traits - from self-righteousness to callousness to downright arrogance at times: in general comic Huey is very wise but also very full of himself. Due to the majority of the other characters being retooled to show more of those traits themselves in the show, Huey's negative traits became more subdued so he could foil the others more effectively.
    • A notable instance for Granddad would be when Huey confesses that sometimes he feels like nobody listens to him, only to have Granddad yell, "How many times do I have to tell you to shut up?! I can't hear the people singing badly on Idol!"
  • Lazy Artist: Compare and contrast these two strips.
  • Less Embarrassing Term: A strip has Granddad defending his "Man-Bag" (similar to a purse) as being manly in a strip introducing the Unusual Euphemism "Brokeback", for something of dubious masculinity.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: All the kids. Even if you don't count the comics, Huey's been ten since the Bush administration.
    Caesar: Another Presidential Election...
    Huey: Yep.
    Caesar: Can you believe it's been four years since the last one?
    Huey: Yeah...
    [Beat]
    Caesar: Funny, seems like we haven't aged a day...
    Huey: Stop that.
  • Only Sane Man: Michael Caesar in the comic, since Huey is more exaggerated there.
  • Precision F-Strike: All the time. Whereas in the show the characters curse all the time, in the newspaper comic they can't get away with that too often, so McGruder saved particularly strong words for particularly good punchlines, to great effect.
  • Professional Slacker: In one comic plotline Riley decides to spend the entire summer literally not moving from in front of the TV. Huey responds with disgust, asking if Riley's trying to become the world's laziest Negro. Riley states that he is unwilling to go to the effort of signing the forms for that.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The creator is from Oakland Mills High School in Howard County, known to be the most "ghetto" school in the county.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni:
    • Riley and Huey, respectively.
    • Also Caesar and Huey, respectively.
  • Running Gag:
    • IT'S REVOLUTION TIME!!!
    • There's also Huey's intermittent attempts to get out of mowing the lawn, Huey being generally horrible at video games, Granddad being out of touch with today's society (or computers), Caesar's intentionally terrible jokes (and Huey's appropriate response), Riley's yearly rages against Santa Claus, etc.
  • Self-Deprecation: This strip mixes with Hypocritical Humor and a splash of Who Would Want to Watch Us?.
  • Shout-Out: Many pop culture references, including:
    • In a series of "80s-centric" Boondocks strips, Granddad threatens to take away Huey's Bloom County books. Bloom County, of course being a highly influential comic strip that mixed pop culture and politics that has considerably influenced The Boondocks.
    • This strip gives a nod to Peanuts, featuring Cindy pulling a Lucy on Riley (leading Huey to comment that Riley should read more). A later strip gives a nod to Calvin and Hobbes in a conversation between Huey and Caesar.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Definitely further on the cynical side, though there are several moments of idealism shining through.
  • Smart Ball: In the strips where Riley impersonates Huey, Jazmine is the only one who isn't fooled.
  • Spiritual Successor: The comic strip to Bloom County.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: Both this and the animated series make regular use of this trope.
  • Take That: The Boondocks is full of these, see Author Tract.
    • One whole storyline revolves around Huey trying to have Michael Bolton murdered. At least one hitman implied that he'd love to do it, if only Huey could pay him enough to cover the expenses (he couldn't). And don't get Huey started on Jar Jar Binks.
    • Condoleezza Rice was a frequent target of the comic, which was at her own suggestion after Aaron called her out at the NAACP image awards. Basically, she was dismissing Aaron as he was a non threat, not being a political leader or anything.
    • There was also a Take That againt Vivica Fox and her fans that was extended to the point of being a type of Running Gag.
  • Title Drop: Caesar on December 11, 2001. In a Christmas Carol, to boot.
  • Two-Way Tapping: In early strips, Huey's politically-charged phone conversations would often be interrupted by wiretapping agents asking him to repeat what he just said, as there was too much to write down in one go.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Huey and Caesar.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Played with hilariously here.
  • Your Mom: Caesar thinks he's perfected these into an art form, much to Huey's continued annoyance. For fun, he tends to spring them in the middle of otherwise normal conversations.
    Caesar: "Well Huey, congratulations on making it to another year on planet Earth!"
    Huey: "Thank you, Caesar. Same to you."
    Caesar: "Oh, and before I forget, congratulations to your moms - I heard she got that part as the stunt monkey in the "Planet of the Apes" sequel."
    Huey: "Goodbye, Caesar." [Slams the door in his face.]
    Caesar: (shouting through the door) "I heard she ain't gonna wear a costume or nuthin'!"
  • X Meets Y: The Boondocks can be described as Peanuts meets Bebe's Kids.