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Western Animation: Bosko The Talk Ink Kid
Bosko, in his final Warners short, Bosko's Picture Show.

Meet the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit of Looney Tunes, Bosko, The Talk-Ink Kid, the original, all but forgotten debut cartoon character of Looney Tunes. Created by ex-Disney employee Hugh Harman of the Harman And Ising duo, Bosko is, as his name tells, a "talk-ink kid" — or more specifically, an inkblot blackface character. His first appearance was in the short pilot "Bosko, The Talk-Ink Kid" in 1929, and was noteworthy for being one of the earliest cartoons to feature properly synchronized sound and dialogue in a cartoon. However, his official theatrical debut (the pilot was never shown to the public) was in the original 1930 Looney Tunes short Sinkin' in the Bathtub.

While Bosko was initially what is now considered to be an offensive character, Rudy and Hugh shortly decided to ditch the allegedly black-stereotypical aspects of him in favor of him being more like an everyman character, from having him own his own businesses, to getting to beat up the occasional white bad guy — pretty progressive for its time, ain't it? Hugh and Rudy however insisted that Bosko was never meant to be an offensive depiction of a black person, claiming the southern voice in his early appearances wasn't meant to be African-American dialect, and that they thought of him as more of a young Jewish boy or Al Jolson type character. Whether they were sincere about that or were trying to save face remains a mystery, especially since Bosko's copyright notice describes him as a "negro boy", as well as the fact that he eventually got redesigned into a full-on black kid in his MGM shorts.

The early Bosko cartoons were very, very different from the Looney Tunes cast that we've all grown up with. Bosko doesn't have much if anything in the way of personality, with the shorts almost always eschewing plot and characterization in favor of slapstick oriented comedy or having the footage timed to a classic song — the former of which were obvious holdovers from Harman and Ising's previous work at Disney, but Harman and Ising's cartoons were noticeably more raunchy and wild (at first, anyways). However, the same could be said of every other cartoon of the time period.

Bosko was a success when he debuted and gave Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse some good competition, but it all crumbled by 1933—Hugh Harman, who was known for holding a rivalry towards Walt, began relentlessly pushing for Leon Schlesinger to increase the budgets of the Boskos, in order to gain the upper hand over Disney; Leon refused to budge, resulting Hugh and Rudy deciding to pack up and leave for MGM, taking many of their staff, and the rights to Bosko, with them — learning from Walt's debacle with Oswald, the duo wisely made sure they owned Bosko in case somebody tried to screw them over. Leon quickly assembled a new team in an attempt to compensate for this loss, and having animator Earl Duvall creating a replacement for Bosko—Buddy, who was basically a whiteface version of him. Those shorts are noteworthy, if only for being some of the dullest, blandest, and crudest cartoons to ever come out of that time period — in particular, the first short Buddy's Day Out was reportedly so bad that it nearly killed this new studio before it even got off the ground; it was Friz Freleng's timely return to the studio and reedit of the film that allowed the cartoon to receive approval, and thus allowing the studio to avoid going belly up.

At MGM, Bosko became a recurring star of Harman And Ising's Happy Harmonies series of shorts. He initially retained his inkblot design in his first two appearances; "Bosko's Parlor Pranks" and "Hey Hey Fever", but this design and his original characterization (or lack thereof) were scrapped in favor of an African-American kid with a curious personality, sharing only the original name of Bosko. While the new Boskos were lavishly animated and quite appealing, the character failed to regain any of his original popularity, and vanished altogether after a handful of shorts.

Obviously, the character has remained in limbo for many years; his cartoons very rarely air on TV, save for the earliest days of television (when the first package of Looney Tunes shorts were initially released to television) and on Nickelodeon in the late 80s and 90s; fortunately, 25 of his 37 Warners shorts have made their way into the Public Domain, and many of his cartoons have appeared in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series. The character also made a brief comeback in the Tiny Toon Adventures episode Fields Of Honey (albeit with a mild redesign to look more like the dog-esque characters of the then upcoming Animaniacs). Buddy, his ne'er-do-well successor, would also make an appearance in an episode of Animaniacs, The Warners 65th Anniversary Special, in a scheme to get revenge on the trio, who in their universe were responsible for destroying Buddy's (in real life, non-existent) stardom. (Specifically, they were brought in to spice up his boring cartoons by whacking him in the head with a mallet over and over.)


    Filmography 

1929

  • Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid: Although it was not released theatrically, it could in a sense be considered the very first entry in the Looney Tunes series.

1930: All cartoons co-directed by Harman And Ising.

  • Sinkin' in the Bathtub: The "official" first Looney Tunes short.
  • Congo Jazz
  • Hold Anything
  • The Booze Hangs High
  • Box Car Blues

1931: All shorts up to "Bosko the Doughboy" co-directed by Harman And Ising.

  • Big Man from the North
  • Ain't Nature Grand!
  • Ups 'N Downs
  • Yodeling Yokels
  • Bosko's Holiday
  • Tree's Knees, The
  • Bosko Shipwrecked
  • Bosko the Doughboy: Hugh Harman becomes the sole director of the Warners Boskos from here on out.
  • Bosko's Soda Fountain
  • Bosko's Fox Hunt

1932

  • Bosko at the Zoo
  • Battling Bosko
  • Big-Hearted Bosko
  • Bosko's Party
  • Bosko and Bruno
  • Bosko's Dog Race
  • Bosko at the Beach
  • Bosko's Store
  • Bosko the Lumberjack
  • Ride Him, Bosko!: Earliest Warner Bros. cartoon still under copyright.
  • Bosko the Drawback
  • Bosko's Dizzy Date: Also known as "Bosko and Honey".
  • Bosko's Woodland Daze

1933

  • Bosko in Dutch
  • Bosko in Person
  • Bosko the Speed King
  • Bosko's Knight-Mare
  • Bosko the Sheep-Herder
  • Beau Bosko
  • Bosko's Mechanical Man
  • Bosko the Musketeer
  • Bosko's Picture Show

1934

  • Bosko's Parlor Pranks: First appearance of Bosko in an MGM cartoon, as part of the Happy Harmonies series. Consists almost entirely of colorized Stock Footage from previous Bosko shorts.

1935

  • Hey-Hey Fever: Last cartoon to feature the original Bosko design.
  • Run, Sheep, Run: First cartoon to feature the In Name Only Bosko.

1936

  • The Old House

1937

  • Circus Daze
  • Bosko's Easter Eggs
  • Little Ol' Bosko and the Pirates
  • Little Ol' Bosko and the Cannibals

1938

  • Little Ol' Bosko in Bagdad: Last theatrical appearance of Bosko.

1990

1996

  • Space Jam: Makes a cameo as a portrait in the film.


Noteworthy shorts the character has appeared in:

  • Bosko The Talk-Ink Kid
  • Sinkin' in the Bathtub
  • Bosko's Picture Show (if only for Bosko's alleged use of the f-word)

Tropes associated with this series:

  • Agony of the Feet: Bruno the Dog encounters this when he steps on a nail early in "Bosko at the Beach".
  • Alcohol Hic: Done by a group of pigs who happened to find a bottle of booze in "The Booze Hangs High".
  • All Just a Dream: The ending of "Bosko's Knight-Mare", as well as "Run, Sheep, Run!"
  • Anachronism Stew: While it can be justified in that he is in a dream, Bosko whipping out a tommy gun on the Black Knight in "Bosko's Knight-Mare" is rather jarring.
  • Art Evolution: Bosko was initially a bit shorter, and sometimes was drawn with big frog-like lips. This was gradually phased out midway through the series run, making Bosko taller and having a more natural mouth and lips.
  • Back Stab: Bosko painfully jabs a sword deep into the rear-end of the bad guy in "Big Man From The North" during the climatic fight, but it only makes him more angry!
  • Bears Are Bad News: The recurring threat of "Run, Sheep, Run!" is the idea of a bear attacking Bosko's sheep herd—not helped by the pesky black sheep playing 'boy crying wolf'. Eventually the actual bear shows up and gives our heroes a chase.
  • Beach Episode: "Bosko At The Beach".
  • Big Friendly Dog: Bosko's hound, Bruno.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Wilbur the Cat from "Bosko's Dizzy Date" and "Bosko's Parlor Pranks".
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Bosko does this in the pilot, looking at the camera and asking Rudy Ising "Whose all 'dem folks out dere in the dark?" Rudy of course informs him that its the audience, and challenges him to make them laugh, propelling the pilot shorts antics forward.
    • "Bosko In Person" plays with this trope; the cartoon is clearly meant to be the substitute for a live stage session, which Bosko is playing for the audience, which is clearly meant to be us in real life. At one moment, Honey even waves off to us to join in on the fun!
    • Honey does this early in "Bosko The Speed King"; ecstatic over Bosko racing, she looks to the camera and tells us "Ain't he grand?"
    • Wilbur the Cat does this late in "Bosko at the Beach", asking the audience for help while drowning.
  • The Cameo: Bosko in his original design makes cameos (albeit not in person) in "Space Jam" and the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Two-Tone Town".
  • Cannibal Tribe: Bosko encounters a batch of them late in "Bosko Shipwrecked".
  • Captain Ersatz: Bosko and his girlfriend Honey could well be considered the early studios answer to Mickey and Minnie Mouse. (along with Foxy and Roxy from Merrie Melodies...) His dog Bruno is also a blatant ersatz of Pluto The Pup.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome/Demoted to Extra: Despite being the original star of the franchise, Bosko very rarely makes appearances in modern Looney Tunes artwork, and hasn't appeared in any cartoons since his redesigned cameo in Tiny Toons. Understandably, this is due to his roots as a blackface character making him an unacceptable character to put into the mainstream today. It doesn't help that his esoteric nature compared to the mainstream Looney Tunes (due to his cartoons being off the air since the 80's), not to mention his vague personality, do not make him a popular character among fans.
  • Clip Show: "Bosko's Parlor Pranks" is largely made of colorized stock footage from Harman and Ising's work on the Warner Bros. Bosko shorts, with a Framing Device of Bosko trying to take care of a bratty little cat by telling him stories.
  • Cool Horse: Bosko's horse in "Bosko's Knight-Mare", which would make a brief reappearance in "Bosko's Parlor Pranks".
  • Creator Cameo: Rudy Ising, partner of Bosko's creator Hugh Harman, plays himself in the original Bosko pilot. Rudy and other staffers also make a cameo in the ending of "Ride 'Em, Bosko!"
  • Damsel in Distress: Bosko's girlfriend, Honey, has served as this on more than several occasions in the series.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: The Simon Legree-esque villain from "Bosko's Picture Show".
  • Disney Acid Sequence: Bosko's dream in "Bosko's Woodland Daze".
  • Disney Death: Bruno gets this treatment in "Bosko and Bruno" when Bosko thinks he was run over by a train (due to him getting his foot stuck in the railway). Fortunately, it turns out Bruno hid under a hatch in the railway at the last moment, playing the fakeout for a gag.
    • Done again in "Run, Sheep, Run!" when Bosko shoots Bruno (who was disguised in a bear suit while playing a prank on the sheep). Bosko of course despairs when he discovers the true identity of his victim—thankfully, Bruno turns out to be alright, and mugs for the camera with a quip of "Hello, everybody!"
  • Dreadful Musician: In the original pilot, Bosko's awful singing annoys Rudy Ising enough to where he sucks him right back into the inkpen he came from.
    • Wilbur the Cat in "Bosko's Dizzy Date" proves to be a terrible violin player.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Understandably, if you're a modern Looney Tunes fan whos used to all of the later characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, etc., these early shorts will be quite an odd experience to see compared to the later shorts.
  • Dog Face: his look in Tiny Toon Adventures.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Done with the baby monkeys in "Congo Jazz".
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: The ending of "Congo Jazz".
  • Flat Character: Moreso with his successor Buddy, though.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Inverted; when the villain of the film in "Bosko's Picture Show" kidnaps Honey, Bosko leaps into the film and takes out the villain!
  • Gainaxing: Done by a palmtree in "Congo Jazz".
  • Gainax Ending: The end of "Bosko At The Zoo", where the Lion that was chased Bosko, a walrus and an ostrich ends up colliding with the latter two in a wall (with Bosko barely escaping)—and end up morphed together into a chimera-esque creature! Cue end of cartoon.
  • The Golden Age of Animation
  • Groin Attack: In the end of "Bosko's Store", the kitten Bosko is chasing drags barbed wire under his crotch area! More mild examples could sometimes be found in shorts such as "Box Car Blues" as well.
  • Haunted House: Featured in the short "The Old House", but subverted in that its not really haunted.
  • Hilarity In Zoos: Inevitable happens midway through "Bosko at the Zoo" when he irritates a gorilla and lion.
  • Hobos: Depending on the short, Bosko is sometimes portrayed as a homeless nomad.
  • Looney Tunes In The Thirties: From 1929 to 1933 for Bosko. Buddy took over around mid to late 1933, and was retired in 1935.
  • Mickey Mousing: Regularly done in the cartoons, and often used for gags.
  • Mime and Music-Only Cartoon: Some of the early entries in the series featured minimal to no dialogue, largely focusing on miming and musical synchronization instead.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: In "Congo Jazz", the location is clearly an African jungle—and yet a Kangaroo is among the menagerie of critters Bosko encounters.
  • Music Soothes The Savage Beast: Done by Bosko to a tiger in the beginning of "Congo Jazz".
  • Name's the Same: A 1960's Bugs Bunny short would also share the name of "Dumb Patrol", which was also the name of an early Bosko short.
  • No Ending: Taken to the utmost extreme in "Ride Him, Bosko!". Just as Bosko is hot on of the trail of the kidnapped Honey, the film goes to Rudy Ising and his animators get up and leave without resolving the Cliff Hanger, obliterating the fourth wall in a way that hints at later Warner Bros. more than contemporaneous Disney.
  • No OSHA Compliance: While the Bosko cartoons predate the OSHA, it still boggles the mind to see whole parts of a train track missing in "Box Car Blues"—as well as a piece of track missing on a mountain earlier in the short. Seeing a train track leading right into a tree (which the eponymous boxcar crashes into) may leave some heads scratching as well.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: The Black Knight in "Bosko's Knight-Mare" jumps from a castle turret from an exceeding high height and onto his horse—while he leaves a big crater in the ground from his impact and briefly flattens his horse, they are otherwise no worse for wear.
  • Off Model: One glaring example in "Bosko's Knight-Mare"; the first couple scenes of Bosko riding a horse feature an lavishly drawn, well animated realistic horse—and the scene where Bosko reaches the castle has the horse abruptly change into a lightly armored rubberhose horse.
  • Off with His Head!: In "Hold Anything", Bosko decapitates a mouse with a saw—and it's Played for Laughs! "Box Car Blues" also has a situation where Bosko is decapitated, also played for laughs.
  • Panty Shot: "Sinkin' In the Bathtub" plays Honey's gams for a gag, as her gyrating to Bosko's music causes them to fall down.
  • Pie-Eyed: Depending on the Artist.
  • Precision F-Strike: The aforementioned quote from "Bosko's Picture Show".
  • Prickly Porcupine: Bosko lands rear-end onto one in "Bosko At The Zoo".
  • Public Domain Animation: All of the shorts prior to "Ride Em, Bosko!" are Public Domain.
  • Pun-Based Title: "The Booze Hangs High" (a pun on an old play called "The Goose Hangs High") and "Dumb Patrol" (A pun on "Dawn Patrol").
  • Rhymes on a Dime: In "Ride 'Em Bosko", there's an exposition card which says "Red Gulch, where men are men, nine times out of ten."
  • Robot Buddy: The robot Bosko builds to do his house chores in "Bosko's Mechanical Man" was supposed to be this, but it goes haywire instead.
  • Rubberhose Limbs
  • Sentient Vehicle: Bosko's car early in "Sinkin' In The Bathtub".
  • Shipwrecked: Bosko winds up in this situation after his boat is sunk by a storm in "Bosko Shipwrecked".
  • Shout-Out: One brief scene inside of a tunnel in "Box Car Blues" has Bosko doing an impersonation of Al Jolson's "Mammy" line from The Jazz Singer.
  • Show Within a Show: The movie playing in "Bosko's Picture Show".
  • Stock Footage: A huge chunk of animation from the Warner Bros. shorts were retraced for "Bosko's Parlor Pranks", albiet colored. Sometimes, the original Bosko shorts would even recycled footage from previous Harman and Ising shorts, such as a scene of railway animation from "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!" reused in "Bosko's Picture Show".
    • Many of the B&W Bosko shorts would recycle footage from previous shorts—"Bosko At The Zoo" reuses animation of the monkeys from "Congo Jazz" mixed in with new animation for instance.
    • The first scene of Bosko chasing after the bear in "Run, Sheep, Run!" is traced off of a scene late in the Happy Harmonies short "Tales of the Vienna Woods".
  • Stubborn Mule: Bosko briefly rides one in "Bosko's Knight-Mare", but it quickly chucks him off into a river.
  • Surprise Party: The basis of "Bosko's Party".
  • That's All, Folks!: By all accounts, he should be the Trope Namer, as he technically said the lines first in "Sinkin in the Bathtub", but for some reason it went to Porky Pig instead.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The robot from "Bosko's Mechanical Man".

Censored ElevenThe Golden Age of AnimationPrivate Snafu
Looney Tunes In The ThirtiesThe Great DepressionSinkin' in the Bathtub
Dinky DoodleThe Roaring TwentiesThe Princess and the Frog
The BoondocksWestern AnimationThe BOTS Master

alternative title(s): Bosko; Bosko The Talk Ink Kid
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