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Boondocks Comic Strip Goes On Hiatus

The Boondocks, the black comic-strip family living in white suburbia, are going on vacation.

Aaron McGruder, the cartoonist behind the strip syndicated in about 350 American newspapers, said Tuesday he would take about six months off beginning in March.

"Every well needs occasional refreshing," he wrote in a letter to be sent to editors of newspapers carrying the strip. "I hope that this fall you will agree that the time away from the demands of deadlines has served the strip, your readers and me."

McGruder offered no further explanation and declined interviews. His editor at Universal Press Syndicate, Greg Melvin, said McGruder simply needed a break.

"Deadlines are hard on everybody, but deadlines are especially hard on creative people," Melvin said. "When six months have passed, hopefully his batteries will be recharged."

The last new comic before the hiatus will appear March 26. Papers can run old "Boondocks" strips or a replacement until it returns in October.

"The Boondocks" has been distributed by Kansas City-based Universal Press since April 1999. It touches on racial issues, pop culture and politics as it chronicles the lives of Huey Freeman, his little brother, Riley, and their eccentric grandfather, who moves them from south Chicago to the suburbs.

The strip's frequent criticism of everything from the Bush administration and post-9/11 policies to TV network BET has made it a source of controversy.

A few papers temporarily pulled the strip for its attacks against the war in Iraq. And last year, several papers dropped it for a few days because of an offensive ethnic slur.

"I'm not afraid to explore issues that have not been explored before. It's not my desire to offend anyone, but it happens," McGruder told CBS News correspondent Hattie Kauffman in 1999.

"You can talk about race in a way that might provoke some people," said Melvin, who edits 20 features for Universal Press. "He was willing to talk about race and popular culture and politics in a way that really hadn't been done for people of his generation."

Race is a touchy issue, McGruder admitted in the 1999 interview, and humor is a good way to address it. It allows people to let their guard down and rethink some issues.

"Certainly it's been done effectively by standup comics; Chris Rock and Richard Pryor have addressed race in an effective way," McGruder said.

No topic has appeared off-limits for the strip, from finding Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a boyfriend to lampooning musician R. Kelly.

Three consecutive recent strips poked fun at Vice President Dick Cheney's recent hunting accident, including one in which Huey's dreadlocked friend, Michael Caesar, offers, "I dunno ... maybe we're being unfair to the vice president ... I mean, if you really think about it, most days he doesn't shoot anybody!"

McGruder created "The Boondocks" in 1997 while attending the University of Maryland. When it went national two years later, it became Universal Press' third-strongest launch of a strip, behind "For Better or for Worse" and "Calvin and Hobbes," according to company spokeswoman Kathie Kerr.

Since 2003, McGruder has relied on illustrators to draw his comic, focusing his own efforts on the strip's writing and his animated series on Cartoon Network.

The decision of 31-year-old McGruder to temporarily pull his strip is not unique among cartoonists. "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau and "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoonist Bill Watterson are among others who have taken sabbaticals. Watterson later ended the strip.

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