Friday, April 20, 2007

Holding Out Hope

Last night I attended a discussion with Aaron McGruder, the Boondocks comic strip creator, at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in San Francisco. In light of the recent media controversies, I was determined to ask McGruder about his thoughts on where things like media and free speech are in America. (Yeah, I know, a broad topic to ask a cartoonist.) But McGruder, like Don Imus (who deserved it), has felt the wrath of Al Sharpton and others who indulge in media-circus-like tactics to silence the voices who make them uncomfortable.

I'd initially heard about the McGruder event on local radio. And earlier in the week I attended hip hop journalist Jeff Chang's book release and discussion. Prior to Chang's event, I was asked to go and photograph the event for Oh Dang Magazine with a writer who was interested in a possible online/multimedia component to what he would write. Chang was to lead the conversation with McGruder, so I thought it wise to introduce myself to Chang at his own event in hopes that he would be able to give me insight on how to get an interview with McGruder.

McGruder, I've been told, has been turning down interviews ever since the New Yorker ran an unflattering article about McGruder's character. The communications company coordinating the event for the JCC also informed me that the local NPR, ABC, and NBC stations had also called them requesting an interview with McGruder. So it seemed like the only way a journalist might see and hear from McGruder is at an event like this. You're acknowledged as media, but herded with the rest of the cattle (fans and enthusiasts, that is).

I did not want to take no for an answer. I believed that somehow if I approached McGruder with a humble spirit and my campus publication press pass taped to my forehead, I'd gain his sympathy and score an interview.

I had done well, I think, to introduce myself to Chang at his event. He remembered me when I approached him as he sat just feet away from McGruder, who was signing copies of his comic strip books.

"Would you have any idea what he's up to after he's done signing books," I asked, kneeling down just below his eye level as if to signal that I know I'm asking him for privileged information.

He, of course, made it clear that he could not "broker" me an interview with McGruder. And I understood that, assuring him that I was only asking if he knew what McGruder's plans were after the crowd and book signing line had died down. And I hoped, journalist to journalist, he'd recognize my determination to get the story. He recommended I wait around until after the crowds clear. So I did.

Meanwhile, I got crowd reaction quotes and photos. I got some shots of the crowded lobby from a balcony. I even interviewed legendary Black cartoonist Morrie Turner, who came to the event to meet McGruder. And once I'd gotten Turner's picture, I was certain that the story would be great if I got McGruder to talk to me.

Once the crowd began to thin considerably, I sat near the signing table. As the last few folks waited in line, it seemed as though McGruder had one foot out the door. He appeared to be ready to go. And I got nervous. So I approached Chang, who was still sitting a few feet away from McGruder. And again, kneeling just beneath his eye level, in an act of desperation, I asked:

"Do you think you could introduce me to McGruder after he's done signing that last book?"

"Don't put me in that position, man...why don't you go ask him yourself? Be a journalist."


Chang didn't know that I'd spent most of Tuesday calling everyone I could: people who'd hosted McGruder for talks and lectures at universities and community centers in Maryland, in Stockton, Calif. and even in New York. I had been trying to reach his rep. With no luck, and a discouraging call back from a Stockton Record reporter, I still didn't give up hope.

Fact was, McGruder himself had not yet told me no. So I stood feet away from McGruder with my M-Audio recorder in my hand, my Canon Digital Rebel around my neck, and a reporter's pad and pen.

"I'm sorry, but he doesn't do press," a lady, who sat next to McGruder, said before I could move my lips to even begin introducing myself or ask McGruder for a few minutes of his time.

"I only want to ask a couple of questions," I uttered sternly, halfway stuttering.

McGruder lifts his head after scribbling his signature on the inside cover page of a Boondocks comic strip book, looks directly at me and says, "I'm sorry, man. Nothing against you, I just don't do press."

If I was a dog, my tail would have stopped wagging and I would have limped away with my tail between my legs. I had held out hope. But at least I'd heard it from the horse's mouth.

Now, what will I make of the reporting that I've already done?

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Posted by Aaron Morrison at 1:07 PM | link

Read or Post a Comment

Well dang.

At least he's consistent.

Posted by Blogger D. Sands @ 2:45 PM, April 21, 2007 #

Man, he's not fooling around.

Posted by Blogger Chris @ 8:26 PM, April 21, 2007 #
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