Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Jonathan W. Gray


african american literature, contemporary literature, 90s literature, cartoons, black comic strips


This paper will construct a literary analysis of The Boondocks comic collections—syndicated from 1999-2006—that will demonstrate Aaron McGruder’s use of the theoretical concept of Black agency, as it relates to literature, birthed from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and the contemporary #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. Not existing in a vacuum, Aaron McGruder’s comic strip is an important result of and reaction to Black literary thought produced during the 1920s and 1960s movements. Furthermore, The Boondocks is a precursor to the publishing industry’s #WeNeedDiverseBooks countermovement. The connecting thread between each distinctive movement and McGruder’s work is the centralization of Black agency and Black authorship. The rallying cry for Black Americans to create, produce, and consume art and literature about themselves is one that can be heard throughout the eras. This paper will focus on The Boondocks as a work that answers that call, as literature written for and by Black America—a work of freedom, or as singer-songwriter Solange puts it, a work that is for us, by us (“F.U.B.U”)—and will argue that McGruder’s work is one that employs Black agency, as well as properly engages blackness.

To do so, this paper will first outline a brief history of innovative Black comics. Secondly, it will investigate the literariness of The Boondocks by contemplating its use of Black agency as it relates to the reclamation, domination, and decentralization of White space—metaphorical and otherwise. Understanding the tradition of comic strips such as Doonesbury, this paper will also legitimize The Boondocks as culturally specific highbrow political literature and fundamental sociopolitical discourse for Black audiences. Lastly, examining literary theory produced by Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement figures, and the artistic/corporate initiatives of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, this paper will delineate areas of confluence by outlining the elements of McGruder’s work that fit into each tradition. The aim of the paper is to broaden the scope of Black literature by motioning for the inclusion of Aaron McGruder into larger body of African American literature examined in the academy and to interconnect literary movements that center blackness in an attempt to progressively change the narrative on and off the page of today’s mass publications.