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Truth, news, and a place called Blackland

Aaron McGruder comes into your house each morning as the creator of ''The Boondocks," the edgy comic strip starring the radical 8-year-old Huey Freeman, his brother Riley, and Granddad, in which he sends up African-American icons from Robert Johnson, former owner of cable network BET, to Condoleezza Rice. His new book, ''Birth of a Nation," may gain him entrance to even more homes.

Named for the incendiary 1915 D. W. Griffith film about the Ku Klux Klan, the graphic novel that McGruder published earlier this year -- along with movie writer/director Reginald Hudlin (''House Party") and illustrator/author Kyle Baker -- tells the story of how, after massive voter fraud, East St. Louis secedes from the United States and becomes a country called Blackland. Some events bear more than a slight resemblance to those of the real-life 2000 presidential election, in which African-American voters were kept from the polls by such barriers as having their names erroneously posted on lists of alleged felons.

McGruder, 30, who is in Los Angeles preparing an animated version of ''Boondocks" for the Cartoon Network, discussed how ''Birth of a Nation" came about, his concerns for young voters, and the future of Huey and Riley.

Q: Talk about the division of labor between you and Reginald Hudlin, who is from East St. Louis, and Kyle Baker.

A: Me and Reg sat down and came up with the idea and laid out the story and then I went off for what seemed liked a couple of years -- it was actually a week or so -- and [wrote it and] handed off the script to Kyle, who drew it.

Q: How hard was it to work with someone else's drawings? It was originally going to be a screenplay?

A: It was wonderful. I didn't really have a lot of time. I was working on the [Cartoon Network] show. Once the [''Birth of a Nation"] script was written, I'd gotten things in my head visually and that was weird. There wasn't any real kind of collaboration visually. Timewise it's just not feasible. . . . I don't draw fast enough.

Q: What does making a graphic novel let you do that a daily strip doesn't?

A: Not having to draw. I looked at it as a movie. The decision to turn it into a graphic novel was made after the script was written. It is easier to write. I think of myself as a much better writer than artist. . . . And also the amount of space you have to develop characters and tell jokes. . . . It's much more liberating for storytelling.

Q: The animated version of ''Boondocks" is due out in October 2005. Have you seen the characters move? What is it like?

A: We're getting things back from overseas [animators] in the spring of next year. . . . We did a six-minute pilot last year. I've seen them and it's weird. The voices are good. I can't say too much about who the voices are.

Q: Did you talk to Matt Groening (''The Simpsons" creator) about animating your characters?

A: He had some good advice. He's the guy who changed the game. He was very helpful. I think what's remarkable about him -- he's still doing [the comic strip] ''Life in Hell" -- he has a passion for the medium. More of a passion than I have.

Q: I wonder if you saw Jon Stewart on ''Crossfire" two weeks ago. Tucker Carlson was giving him a hard time for asking softball questions of politicians, and he pointed out that the CNN anchors are the political journalists and he's an entertainer.

A: I didn't see it. I heard about it. . . . When I hear the term ''fake news" I think of CNN. When I did Aaron Brown's show [''NewsNight"] after the first [presidential] debate, I said, ''It's a shame that you can turn on the news and not have anyone say the obvious, that the president is kinda stupid."

Q: Where do you see yourself in the spectrum of entertainers and would-be journalists who have become the leading source of political information for Americans?

A: There is no longer any difference between news and entertainment. The reason why these comedy shows are so popular [is that] there aren't very many progressive Democrats left. The way that Howard Dean was handled [by the press] is an interesting study. . . . These guys come along and tell jokes about how ridiculous the right wing is and how wishy-washy the left wing is. I think with [''Boondocks"], people read it and think that they are not crazy, and at a bigger level, that's what ''The Daily Show" does. Somebody says what they are thinking.

Q: Do you hear from older generations of fans? I imagine that many people must be amazed sometimes that black anger can now be found in mainstream sources like daily papers.

A: Are people surprised to find good honest black anger? I'm constantly surprised at what I am allowed to do and say. I'm amazed that anything gets printed. . . . I've got mostly older fans because of newspaper demographics, but I don't think it's the black-anger thing. It's that information is tightly controlled. I think most people who live in America are not used to hearing the truth.

Q: In ''Birth of a Nation" and in your recent ''Boondocks" strips, you seem to be concerned with both the notion that everyone's vote counts and the implication of young people not understanding they should vote.

A: No one should say people shouldn't vote. But . . . high-profile Democrats and black leaders have an obligation to make sure the system is fair before lecturing young people about voting. Tell people the truth.

Q: Have you ever met any of your satire subjects in a dark alley? Condoleezza Rice or Puffy/P. Diddy?

A: Mostly people are nice. Some aren't. I'm not going to say who.

Robin Dougherty, a writer and critic, lives in Washington, D.C. Her column appears every other week. She can be reached at

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