Melinda Chateauvert remembers the first time she met Aaron McGruder - when he wandered into her Black Resistance Movements class, sat in the front row and gradually caught her eye as someone who was clearly reading far more than she had assigned for the class.
In fact, McGruder began giving Chateauvert books to read, even though she - as an assistant professor of African American studies - was the one supposed to be assigning the readings. Nearly two years later, when McGruder's comic strip "The Boondocks" began appearing in The Diamondback, Chateauvert was delighted to find her student had found an outlet for his passion.
"It was ... easy to tell he knew about black nationalism and had done a lot of thinking about African-American Resistance and revolutions," Chateauvert said. "At that point, he was a little Huey himself."
The "Huey" Chateauvert refers to is the protagonist of the popular comic strip that made its leap from the pages of hundreds of daily newspapers to the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim last night. In an interview from Los Angeles last week, McGruder, 31, recalled what it was like when the strip first ran in this publication.
"I remember it ran on December 3, . I don't remember what the joke was," McGruder said. "It's similar to the apprehension I'm feeling now. You know, you don't know how people are going to react to something."
That apprehension soon faded, McGruder remembers, after it gradually began to catch on .
"People really liked it, which gave me an idea that I thought it could exist on another level," McGruder said.
The strip finished its run on the campus on March 18, 1997, two weeks after someone on the paper's staff ran the word "OOPS," with no explanation, in The Boondocks space after a technical error prevented the comic from being printed. After the paper failed to run an apology, McGruder offered an explanation in his bi-weekly column.
"It never really occurred to me that anyone other than a handful of Afro-American studies majors would be interested in this little angry child with an afro and his adventures in the suburbs," McGruder wrote. After learning that people of many ethnicities were reading and finding the strip funny, McGruder expressed surprise at the reach the strip had.
"It appeared that I, who had become well known for my divisive opinions on racial issues, had created a strip that actually bridged the racial chasms in the true spirit of multi-cultural exchange," McGruder wrote. "Go figure."
But Chateauvert said just as McGruder was amazed by the appeal the strip had to people from different ethnicities when he was on the campus, the strip continues to cross both race and age barriers.
"I know a 70-year-old Jewish grandfather in Iowa City, Iowa, who reads it religiously and laughs," Chateauvert said.
As the show premiered nationwide last night, the characters took on voices and movements they never had in the pages of a newspaper. McGruder said he had been working on a number of different deals since at least 2000 to get the strip animated, and finally found a development deal he said would be true to the strip.
The life of a syndicated cartoonist, McGruder said, is "really, really tough.
"I thought I would collapse and not get to do it anymore," McGruder said. "There's times when the writing flows and you gotta find a way to fill the strip every day."
But in the end, McGruder said, "The strip has offered me more things to say intelligently than I had intelligent things to say."
Chateauvert said she looks forward to seeing the animated version of the comic strip she has come to love.
"You have to remember comedy is born out of anger and the hypocrisy of a political or social situation," Chateauvert said. "I think that's one of the things Aaron has been able to capture, but turn it in such a way not that it's just comic - he makes you laugh and think about it. You think about it three days later."
Contact reporter Kevin Litten at firstname.lastname@example.org.