Strip Tease

I was more surprised that The Cincinnati Enquirer even ran Boondocks than I was by the paper's Jan. 4 decision to pull the caustic black-themed comic strip. Pop goes the proverbial carrot before the

I was more surprised that The Cincinnati Enquirer even ran Boondocks than I was by the paper's Jan. 4 decision to pull the caustic black-themed comic strip. Pop goes the proverbial carrot before the noses of many blacks and enlightened Others who got, no needed, Boondocks.

"Changing comics is never easy," writes Sara Pearce, The Enquirer's assistant managing editor of features, in her explanation of why Aaron McGruder's strip and four others were dropped. "Every comic has its constituency — even comics that might not fare well in surveys. Even comics that you might loathe."

Vinnie and Alex are pissed off. My mother/son upstairs neighbors are fanatical Boondocks zealots and, if not for them, I wouldn't have paid as much attention to Boondocks in The Enquirer.

They clip it. Share it. Pass it.

Explain and quote it.

A favorite is taped to the refrigerator alongside an "i love you mom!" message penciled by Alex and magnetic poetry tiles rearranged by visitors. Most days, it's the only thing for them that's worth the price of the paper.

Pearce admits her paper's all-readers' call to help pick which comics to keep and which to boot was a "highly unscientific survey." The entirety of her explanation, however, is delivered in a dead-panned-customer-relations-survey-let's-check-the-tote-board-we-keep-giving-you-what-you-want tone used by newspaper management when they're making tantamount to a paternalistic decision.

What they really mean to say is: "We're redesigning everything to snag a younger demographic and you, the reader, have made us feel OK about that." And in that way The Enquirer is giving at least 15,000 of its readers what they say they want.

And they want fluff. Escapism. Talking dogs, kids who never age and frazzled chicks who can't micromanage the make-believe of their quasi-feminist white lives.

Though Boondocks isn't an editorial cartoon, McGruder wields an editorial eye and pen filtered through a bullshit detector's lens. His black readers cackle the comic's punchlines and jabs to one another like they're standing opposite a black Appalachian clothesline. They relish McGruder's three-panel summations of B-list black stars like Vivica A. Fox and especially his unflinching criticism of your president in the guise of a postmodern, Mini-Me Michael Evans.

A recent strip torpedoed the we-already-knew revelation of Strom Thurmond's black daughter. The last-panel caveat? Complaints of being paid off with a Wal-Mart gift certificate from a relative conceived in incest who's jealous of the attention heaped on Strom's daughter.

Boondocks is a grown-up comic. It's adult-sized relief from the G-rated diarrhea in America's newspapers.

"We made the decision to drop Boondocks because we did not want to keep publishing a comic that we regularly needed to censor," Pearce writes. "Boondocks was substituted ... because it was deemed inappropriate for a family newspaper."

Family newspaper? That's code for censorship in the name of family values.

I know something about runnin' on in the face of readers' discomfort and their response to it. I vehemently opposed CityBeat's discontinuation of the potty-mouthed but wildly popular Savage Love. In opposition to Savage Love, a minority of white men got the paper yanked from key distribution sites, so we moved it to a Web-only feature.

It was a difficult compromise. Not a slash-and-burn white sale of diversity and dissension.

What makes the nuances of The Enquirer's decision so startling is we — Cincinnati and America — portend and play-act at being sick to death of racial polarization, but we turn tail when the time comes for progressiveness in prioritizing the minutiae of the colored section.

McGruder's smart-ass black comic is nourishing with its eyedropper dollops of fortified battery acid. Boondocks is honest, daring, acerbic, fresh and funny as hell. But ain't a damned thing funny about stripping the strip.

Note: If you protest the removal of Boondocks, let Sara Pearce know by calling 513-768-8330 or e-mailing [email protected]. It probably won't get the strip reinstated, but be heard anyway.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.