‘Boondocks’ Box Irks Some Clients

By: Dave Astor

One newspaper canceled “The Boondocks” and at least three clients ran substitute strips after seeing Aaron McGruder’s March 29 comic.

The strip featured a box, superimposed on the usual cartoon panels, that read: “In order to express the outrage and the disappointment at the situation in the Middle East, as well as an upcoming movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr. in which the actor will undoubtedly shame himself and his race, today’s installment of ‘The Boondocks’ will not be appearing. Seriously, folks. Let’s stop the madness. The Bush administration’s hunger for war, and Hollywood’s continued production of movies starring Cuba Gooding Jr.,
must be stopped.”

McGruder, whose comic appears in 250-plus papers via Universal Press Syndicate, occasionally uses text notes to readers rather than his usual characters to make points. But The Herald-Sun — the Durham, N.C.-based paper that canceled — didn’t like the cartoonist’s latest use of that satirical device. “The issue is less about content than about someone going way out of bounds to express his personal political views outside the confines of the cartoon,” wrote Bill Hawkins, vice president and executive editor of the paper. He noted that if “Blondie” used a text box to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he’d yank that comic, too.

Hawkins reported hearing from “a few dozen” readers who were disappointed or angry about the cancellation. But he also said The Herald-Sun has received “many more” negative than positive comments from readers since it bought “The Boondocks.”

A letter appearing in Poynter Online’s Romenesko area disagreed with The Herald-Sun decision. The writer said McGruder’s comic is “brilliant, acerbic, and in little need of Hawkins’ thumbs up or thumbs down,” and added: “Within the world that McGruder creates … his ‘text’ comic was consistent both in its form and content. The same tactic in ‘Blondie’ would be ridiculous and out of character with that particular strip.”

One of the papers pulling the March 29 “Boondocks” was The Boston Globe. Ombudsman Christine Chinlund quoted the paper’s editor, Martin Baron, as saying: “What I saw was not a comic strip. It was a written statement on the war. For such commentary, we have the Op-Ed page and letters. We reserve the comics page for comics.”

Chinlund wrote: “I would hate to see the comics page turned into a sea of text-based political messages. But I don’t think there’s any danger of that. Only a few strips … are overtly political. … Allowing ‘Boondocks’ the occasional use of a text note as one way to connect with readers would not threaten the integrity of the comics page.” Chinlun reported that, after the March 29 strip was dropped, “dozens upon dozens of readers called or e-mailed the Globe in protest ? an outpouring equal in passion to, and more concentrated than, any that’s been received by this office over the last year, probably longer.”

When asked for a comment about the situation, Universal Director of Communications Kathie Kerr said: “We always believe in an editor’s right to choose what’s in his or her newspaper.”

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