Aaron McGruder Sounds Off on <strong><em>The Boondocks</em></strong> - Season 2

The creator of the show discusses the delayed Second Season, the possibility of a Boondocks feature film and more

Recently The Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder took part in a conference call to discuss the show. Based on the comic strip, Huey and Riley move away from the city and out to the suburbs with their irascible grandfather. As you can guess there is clash of generations in this bitingly, satirical show. During the call McGruder discussed the highly anticipated 2nd Season, the reasons for its delay, as well as what fans can expect.

Aaron McGruder: Hello. Hello.

Hey Aaron. How's it going man?

Aaron McGruder: It's going well. How are you?

Hanging in there. Hanging in there crazy day with the kids WB folding shop you know.

Aaron McGruder: Oh really.

Yes.

Aaron McGruder: I didn't know anything about that.

It just broke.

Aaron McGruder: Wow like the whole thing just done.

Yes I guess so. But getting to the point man which is you. I guess probably the key question is initially the second season of Boondocks was going to be starting around January or a little, you know, much earlier this year.

Aaron McGruder: Yes.

What happened?

Aaron McGruder: It just took us longer to finish the show than we thought that's all. It's animation and, you know, we wanted to get it right so. It took longer.

Was there...

Aaron McGruder: It was a more interesting story.

Was it like production trouble or...

Aaron McGruder: I think that'd be a good way to put it yes. I mean it's a very complicated show to do. And, you know, it goes at a certain point to three countries and, you know, and really, you know, it's one of those things like if it's bad it's really bad so you got to get it right. You know, so we just, you know, we took the time and got it right.

Okay. So follow up quickly now obviously you've had some changes in personnel. Who's still there? Who's new that's contributing?

Aaron McGruder: I'm a little unsure. Are you talking about cast or crew or...

Crew primarily like is (Lashon) still there for instance or...

Aaron McGruder: (Lashon) well the show has wrapped. I mean I won't say the show is wrapped but all of the preproduction work is done. So we're - the only crew that's on now is post production.

Got you. But was there any significant new contributes to the show as far as cast and or as crew is concerned?

Aaron McGruder: The biggest - I mean that's a tough question. Okay there we go. Now I understand. Yes the - okay so that's - okay basically what we did, you know, we didn't feel like we were entirely happy with the way the animation worked this year. I mean in season one. And so we tried to make some adjustments this season. Some of them worked. Some of them didn't.

We tried working with like Madhouse in Japan that didn't really work out the way we had hoped. And so ultimately I don't think anything they did actually ends up on the screen. But the major shifting I did was essentially I had two guys on my team (Carl Jones) and (Sung Kim).

And they really I kind of just gave them the reins to develop the visual look of the show. And so, you know, it's hard because the production is so big, you know, there's so many people who worked so hard on it that, you know, when you start talking about something you feel like you leave others out.

But, you know, I would say, you know, (Sung) and (Carl) really kind of shaped the visual aspect of the show towards a place that was much closer to what I wanted it to be.

And I was wondering now back when you first started The Boondocks, what was your initial goal? Like did you set out to shake things up intentionally?

Aaron McGruder: No the goal was a job.

Okay.

Aaron McGruder: And, you know, to do the kind of thing and the kind of humor that I wanted to see and I kind of felt like it wasn't out there very much which was, you know, a kind of black political satire kind of thing. And I think when you go down that road and if you do it with any success I think shaking things up just kind of comes with the territory.

But I don't think it really starts with the goal of shaking things up. I think you just like oh I got an idea and I think it's funny. And I kind of want to share it with people.

But did you expect the reaction that you got like controversy wise?

Aaron McGruder: No because I didn't expect the strip to end up being as big as it was as quickly as that happened you know what I mean. I think in order to start trouble someone has to like even know who you are.

And I didn't really think, you know, that kind of thing takes a long time in comics even if you're incredibly lucky. You know, so I think when the trouble started early that was a little bit of a surprise.

Right on. I just have one more quick question. Now the animation series uses the N word quite a lot. I was just wondering what's your stance on the headlines surrounding that word even in music?

Aaron McGruder: Well, you know, what's my stance on the headline? You know, I use the word in the show because I'm a bad person.

Fair enough.

Aaron McGruder: And so, you know, I cannot in any way defend what I do.

Good answer.

Aaron McGruder: There you go.

Right on. Actually just one more quick one. Now I saw that Snoop's going to be in it, Little Wayne, (Mosstaff), Cedric and a bunch of other people. What happened to (Samuel Jackson)?

Aaron McGruder: He's in it.

Is he okay I didn't see him listed.

Aaron McGruder: Well, you know, we try to be really respectful of (Sam) and not put his name out there.

Okay.

Aaron McGruder: You know, like we didn't promote it, you know, in the first season either. But yes he's in an episode this season.

In terms of storytelling from season one to season two of the animated series, how did that change? And what did you learn in terms of telling stories from season one that helped it more the stories you tell in season two?

Aaron McGruder: Well here's how big of a change there was. When we finished the last script of the first season none of us had actually seen the first episode come back from overseas yet. So we had written the entire season blind essentially. None of us knew what the show looked like.

Right.

Aaron McGruder: So just knowing what the show is obviously played a huge role in how we shaped season two. I think we got much better control over the animation which really allows you to tell the stories in the proper way. When you're fighting with the animation or the animation is controlling you, you're limited to what you can do. And so I think that was a big deal.

I think we looked at season one and looked at what worked and what didn't and, you know, just tried to just make it a better show all around. So I do think the storytelling is much better. I think the pacing is much faster. And the show is much funnier. So I'm all around really pleased with it.

How many episodes are in season two?

Aaron McGruder: Fifteen.

Fifteen okay. And if there is an order for a season three will you be able to get that one on the air faster than season two given what you've learned?

Aaron McGruder: You know what that's totally not up to me, you know, the first step is someone has to order it. We can't. So, you know, let season three happens, you know, if it happens then it has to start with someone ordering something.

Okay. And lastly how much did the show have to do with the ending of the comic strip? And is there any chance that once the show is done you would restart the comic strip?

Aaron McGruder: You know, I do think the show played a pretty big factor in me having to walk away from the strip because I didn't want to do both badly. And the first season I tried to do both and it took a huge toll on me so. So that's the first question.

The second part of the question is yes I constantly play with the idea of coming back not to newspapers but to online wireless or something. And it's something I kind of I think could happen.

And, you know, whether it happens after the show or even maybe while the show is still running it just kind of depends on, you know, what I can, you know, how many hours I can go without sleep. I don't know.

Why wouldn't you do it for newspapers?

Aaron McGruder: Because I can't meet their schedule.

Oh okay.

Aaron McGruder: You know, seven days a week is just too much. And, you know, they don't let you go okay I'll just do it for two or three.

Right.

Aaron McGruder: They kind of make you do all or nothing so I can't meet that kind of deadline situation.

Not even a weekly for Sundays?

Aaron McGruder: A weekly perhaps but as of now I just feel like, you know, however it happens it has - if the ship were to ever come back it would kind of have to be under my terms. So yes at the point I was over the last year and a half when I was working on the show I couldn't have even handled the weekly.

I wanted to ask if you found there was greater freedom on television even though it's, you know, a basic cable station? And how does that influence the stories you tell?

Aaron McGruder: Greater freedom as opposed to the newspaper?

The newspaper strip yes.

Aaron McGruder: Yes there absolutely is much greater freedom. And so, you know, there's the freedom of storytelling that comes from animation and having all these people work for you then you can kind of go way beyond the scope of what a strip can do.

And then in terms of just content I mean the newspapers are a very conservative and very sanitized medium. So, you know, just in terms of the expression of ideas we're allowed a lot more range on television. So, you know, I mean the impact is kind of I don't know I mean it just is what it is. The show is a pretty different thing from the strip and I think at the end of the day, you know, like a lot of the stuff that we did last season particularly like the MLK episode.

It would have just been totally beyond the scope of a newspaper strip you know what I mean like. You're limited, you know, you're limited with not having the - we're not seeing it come to life, you know, like you can on TV.

My first question was that 2006 episode of The Return of The King was kind of controversial with Al Sharpton. Did that affect you as a creator? And will there be any controversial storylines this season?

Aaron McGruder: Well you'll be happy to know that there will be absolutely no controversial storylines this season. We went in a totally different direction with the show. So we - okay yes you know what like I said, you know, Al came after the show and I'm a big supporter of Al. So I also went after the show but unfortunately the whole second season, you know, we had to write that.

And that's all written now. And now I feel terrible about it. Because now it's coming on and can't change it. But I'm so, you know, honestly it depends on what you think is controversial like some people thought the Martin Luther King episode was controversial. I didn't think so.

Yes.

Aaron McGruder: You know, so everyone draws that line in a different place. There may be some episode that some people think are controversial if they're sensitive to that kind of thing. But, you know, for me, you know, I don't know it's hard for me to say.

And my other question was, has there been a storyline or idea that adult has said no to or do you pretty much have free rein to do what you want?

Aaron McGruder: I have free rein to do what I want. They've never said no to anything.

I wanted to ask you how topical you can get with your series. You get an idea today or something happens today. How fast can you turn that around and get it to TV? It's a real long time isn't it?

Aaron McGruder: It's over a year.

Oh does that make you shy away from specific topical things or...

Aaron McGruder: It's amazing how we write these things and then, you know, it takes a year, year and a half. And then as they're coming out I don't know that some how they all sort of become relevant again. We did an episode on snitching, you know, we've done a lot of stuff.

We've, you know, gangs delicious part two. You know, I think there's a lot going on socially and politically whatever that has kind of for one reason or another they've become news stories recently. So I feel like even though we wrote it a long time ago it's all going to feel really on top of things.

Is it a different approach to writing you have to have than you had for the comic strip? Do you have to like look at things in a broader way?

Aaron McGruder: You do. I mean in that sense it's obviously different because you have to be careful about what specific items from the news you try to play off of. But on the other hand the approach is essentially the same.

You've got to come up with an idea and you know the turnaround time and you have to say okay no matter what happens in the world this has to be funny a year from now or a year and a half from now like. And with the strip it was like seven days. With the show it's like a year, year and a half but the rule is still the same.

You got to kind of sit down and think okay everything in the world is totally different a year and a half. Does this still make sense? And that's kind of the litmus test. But yes you certainly you've got to be bigger and you got to talk about broader ideas, things that are more evergreen. You know, what I mean it's certainly not as topical as the strip is.

When you talked about some of the things that are different season two from season one as far as the pace thing and so forth, are there some other things? Do they go farther a field from a neighborhood or how - what other major things are different?

Aaron McGruder: You know what I mean it's so hard to describe. I mean the show goes so many different places and it's, you know, and it's a lot of the season is just really different. I mean I know that doesn't really answer the question in a very eloquent way.

But I think as we've got more comfortable with the animation, you know, I think we got more ambitious in terms of some of the scope of what we were doing and some of the - but a lot of the action sequences there's a lot of fighting in the show this year. But then a lot of the comedy I think is more sophisticated because we can get better performances out of the characters with better animation.

So we did - I mean I think in the first season we tried to push things in terms of what you're supposed to be able to do on TV. And I think some times we succeeded and some times we didn't. And I think we succeed a lot more often in season two.

Okay. I wanted to ask you if you were disappointed that Boondocks didn't usher in a whole new generation of comic strip artists to newspapers that, you know, that would come after you. I mean a lot of newspapers had to struggle to replace Boondocks with something similar. There wasn't anything similar.

Aaron McGruder: There were a couple of strips that, you know, some papers picked up, you know, that I don't know if they're similar or not. I don't really feel any big disappointment that there wasn't a whole bunch of copy cats to replace me. You know, I kind of - I did the strip. And I didn't real comic strips very often and so once I got out of it I didn't really think about it.

And does the show consume all your time? Or you have some other projects coming up, some other things coming up?

Aaron McGruder: I mean I've been working on some other stuff but the show has consumed almost all of my time for the last three years.

So I want to ask you because (unintelligible) had a similarly sort of controversial show. And, you know, in the end - one of the reasons why he left is because he become dismayed with the fact that what he intended to be critiques and satires of the African American state were in part being viewed out of that context and instead being taken as jokes and as sort of perpetuating preexisting stereotypes. So is that a concern for you with the Boondocks?

Aaron McGruder: I think that's a slight over simplification of the (Chappelle) situation.

Yes.

Aaron McGruder: I believe he had concerns about the direction of the show and he was not in a supportive environment where he could work out those concern and be happy with the show he was doing.

You know, from the outside looking in that's how I kind of took it that, you know, I mean as creators particularly when you're doing this kind of thing. You're always thinking about does this cross the line? You know what I mean, is this smart and racially funny? Or is it - or is this some coon shit that I'm doing? You know, you got to be on top of that and that's natural. So, you know, I kind of feel like it's, you know, it's all about your support system and your team and your partners and your network.

And, you know, you've worked these things out. And, you know, when you're in a supportive environment creatively shows don't have to end because of these kind of issues. You know what I mean?

Okay. And also in a 2004 interview with (Need Up) magazines you stated that you're not this political leader that people are looking for and that you did not sort of want to be a political leader. So however the Boondocks, you know, whether you like it or not it is, you know, political and it does provoke a lot of thought. So is there ever a point where you imagine the Boondocks may become too big for you to handle considering that people do look towards it as a source of sort of enlightenment and commentary?

Aaron McGruder: I know exactly know what you mean by too big for me to handle. I mean...

Anything that - well you don't want to be looked at sort of as a political leader you say in the interview.

Aaron McGruder: Yes I don't. Oh I'm not. I can't figure out why anybody would.

Yes but I mean they do look - but the show does make a lot of, you know, serious commentary that can be taken in the political manner so.

Aaron McGruder: Hey George Carlin makes political commentary. When, you know, elect him to office well maybe I would actually. But I mean he's not a politician. He's not a political leader. He tells jokes. You know, (Gary Junot) tells political jokes.

There's a whole bunch of people who have the, you know, the job of telling political jokes but that doesn't make them political activists or political leaders or political anything other than political humorists if anything.

Okay.

Aaron McGruder: So, you know, for me it's not even I think it's the vacuum that exists in particularly black political leadership that would make anybody look at somebody like me and want to elevate me to that status.

Okay. And in the same interview you also stated that you never felt accepted within the world of cartoonists especially at the Ruben Awards where Bill Keane sort of had some digs with you. So...

Aaron McGruder: Remind me to never mention that again because they asked about that forever. It really wasn't that big a deal.

No but I mean but now that you moved into the television world do you feel like an outsider? Or has there been more acceptance of you and your work?

Aaron McGruder: I don't know. I mean look that was I mean when I was - I don't mean that quote was in what 1999, 2000 maybe 2000 like it was like a year into my career. And cartoonists are a very odd bunch and the show was a very kind of I think shocking thing to the world of - not the show I'm sorry the strip.

The strip was pretty shocking to the world of comics. And, you know, a bunch of 70, 80 year old white dudes are - were not exactly sure what to make of it I think. But the show is, you know, is what it is. I mean I don't know if there's any real community. I feel like, you know, have been or accepted into. But I do think the show has been well received.

And I think, you know, it's been, you know, well respected in town. And I think I mean the Peabody was a nice recognition. So I mean I feel like we've, you know, we did a good show last year. And, you know, but, you know, I don't know. It's an interesting question. I'm not exactly sure if that's the way to answer it.

Okay. And in light of the recent ongoing debate on hip hop for its content, what are your views on the state of hip hop, you know, post Don Imus controversy? Because the show, you know, has dealt a lot with the hip hop issues in the past.

Aaron McGruder: You know what I think that my feelings on hip hop are simply that I wish it were just better. I don't get too much into what kind of words anyone is saying as much as the quality of the work. I think if you're an artist and you're putting out art and you're putting out work you believe in.

I think that naturally solves a lot of the problems that, you know, we're talking about in terms of the content of the music and all of that, you know. I think it's all about, you know, it's all about art. It's all about doing - I think it's, you know, positive stuff, positive music can also suck.

So to me it's about good music, you know, creating good art and to me that's the most important thing. I get mad when I hear, you know, rappers who can't rap or producers who can't make beat. You know what I mean like that's what frustrates me.

I could care less, you know, I mean what people are saying is what they're going to say. And I think it's real easy to scapegoat the youth to a certain extent and forget that this language has been part of our community for a long time way before rap music so you know.

And earlier you seemed to express some sort of regret over the The Return of The King episode. But were you - was that serious regret or were you being a little sarcastic? I wasn't sure.

Aaron McGruder: I actually don't remember what I said but I'm sure I was not being serious.

Okay. So now there's no regret over that. Are there any strip episodes that you look back on and think maybe I went too far with this joke or I wish I could have clarified something so that, you know, you don't want people to get the wrong message? Any...

Aaron McGruder: No I look back and I go man that scene looks terrible. I wish we could have - I wish that could have been drawn better. I don't look back on the writing and regret like the jokes or anything.

Okay cool. And you also you're work can be very for the cause I said and you never seem to shy away from discussing your own political views. So what are your views on the current presidential...

Aaron McGruder: Oh I actually do shy away now from discussing my own political views.

Oh now you do okay.

Aaron McGruder: Oh yes.

What brought that change?

Aaron McGruder: I just kind of felt like it made more sense to put all my views in my work. And I didn't need to be running around saying stuff that's not funny. You know, anyone can just have an opinion. What's the big deal? What makes my opinion any different than anyone else's?

So you sort of shying away from becoming too much of a personality?

Aaron McGruder: Absolutely.

Yes. Okay. And also can we still expect a film based on The Boondocks? Because I heard that was in the works to come out.

Aaron McGruder: Working on it but, you know, we'll see.

It was funny when the - when (Arkelly) has hid 20 part I think that was 22 part trapped in the closet. One of the first things I thought was man I wish Boondocks was on right now so he could make fun of this. Are there ever any - has there been things I guess or have there been things where you sort of wished oh man I wish we could do this right now even though, you know, it's a year and a half ago that you wrote for a second strip for the second season? Have there been things where you like I wish I could, you know, do something on this now?

Aaron McGruder: Yes those moments happen. But more often than not it's kind of like well it's kind of like, you know, we wrote this episode called the N Word. And after we wrote it the Michael Richards thing happened and then the Don Imus thing happened.

And, you know, we didn't have to change anything. You know, it just stayed really funny and it's like the news - all of these news events just kept kind of making the episode we had already written funnier. Because it was all kind of coming to life and playing out after the fact and that happens a lot.

You know, so, you know, for the most part we've been really happy that what we did write a year, year and a half ago is really, really relevant right now. And I think, you know, as you see the episodes roll out you'll see like they all seem like we wrote them a couple of weeks ago.

I was just wondering you mentioned that there'd be more fighting scenes in the second season. And I noticed a few of them in the first I thought they looked really great by the way. I was just wondering what was your inspiration? Like do you have a favorite type of animator that you draw from?

Aaron McGruder: I mean yes I mean I think, you know, we looked at Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop: Le Film.

Cool.

Aaron McGruder: You should make this work for, you know, black comedy. It would be a remarkable thing. And we didn't get anywhere near as close as wanted to in the first season. But I mean if you've seen the animation the second season it's a big step up and then that gives the freedom to pull off sequences that you know has some visual impact you know.

So we went in that direction because, you know, we felt like we were able to kind of pull it off we - I was impressed with some of the fight sequences of season one. And knowing how much we learned I kind of felt like we could really push that in the second season. And we did and it worked out real well.

Right on. Do you have any favorite animation shows that are on the air right now?

Aaron McGruder: No.

Really you don't like anything?

Aaron McGruder: I'm not saying I like it. I'm saying that I don't really watch any TV. I watch The Office, you know, and I watch, you know, The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. And those are like the three shows that I watch regularly and I don't really have much time for anything else. When I'm going to do a lot of catching up though when the show wraps actually and I'm going to go buy a bunch of DVDs of shows I've been meaning to watch and watch them.

The Boondocks is currently airing at 11:30 PM ET/PT on Adult Swim.

Dont't forget to also check out: The Boondocks