— COMIC RELIEF The Boondocks, the syndicated comic strip that’s a little like an African-American Doonesbury, is headed for bigger things: Crown editor Chris Jackson has just signed the strip’s 27-year-old creator, Aaron McGruder, to a four-book deal. The house plans to publish The Boondocks Omnibus a year from this fall, followed by Huey’s Hate Book (an illustrated collection of all the things the title character can’t stand); a graphic novel, Fight the Power, which McGruder is working to develop into a film with Reginald Hudlin (The Ladies Man); and an essay collection, Profits of Rage. ”We’re catching him at just the right time,” says Crown editorial director Steve Ross. ”[H]e’s maintained his position as a voice of dissent even at a time when other voices have quieted.”
— SWEET TARTT DEAL Donna Tartt, who took 10 years to follow up on her best-selling first novel, The Secret History, is making up for lost time. The British publisher Bloomsbury has just paid a rumored 1 million pounds for rights to her new literary mystery, The Little Friend, which Knopf will publish here in the fall.
— ALL IN THE FAMILY Joe Pantoliano, the character actor with a penchant for playing likable lowlifes (Memento), and not-so-likable lowlifes (Ralphie in The Sopranos), will be telling the story of his early years in Hoboken, N.J., where his mother ran numbers and his Mob-connected stepfather did time in jail. ”It’s not a celebrity memoir,” says Brian Tart, editorial director of Dutton, which will publish Who’s Sorry Now: The True Story of a Stand-up Guy in September. ”It’s just the story of him growing up…literally in a real-life Soprano family.” Though Ralphie’s fate on the series is a secret, Tart isn’t worried that he’ll get whacked before the book can take off. ”You never know when his day is due, but he is a big part of the season,” he says.