rudolph ising

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Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid

1 in 132 of Looney Tunes (1929-1939)
animated short film history
Release: May 1929
Country: USA
Director: Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising

“Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid was a short film produced to sell a series of Bosko cartoons. The film was never released to theaters, and therefore not seen by a wide audience until 2000.

Rudolf Ising is thinking of ideas for a new character, until he draws a blackfaced person, who comes to life. The new character introduces himself as Bosko, and he speaks, sings, dances and plays the piano before Ising sucks him into his ink pen and pours him back into the inkwell. Bosko pops out of the bottle and promises to return.

In 1927, Harman and Ising were still working for the Walt Disney Studios on the series Alice Comedies. Hugh Harman created Bosko in 1927 to capitalize on the new ‘talkie.’ Harman began thinking about making a sound cartoon with Bosko in 1927, before he even left Walt Disney. Hugh Harman made drawings of the new character and registered it with the copyright office in 1928. The character was registered as a ‘Negro boy’ under the name of Bosko.

After leaving Walt Disney in the spring of 1928, Harman and Ising went to work for Charles Mintz on Universal’s second-season Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons. April 1929 found them moving on again, leaving Universal to market their new cartoon character. In May 1929, they produced a short pilot cartoon, Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid, that showcased their ability to animate soundtrack-synchronized speech and dancing. Bosko became the star vehicle for the studio’s new Looney Tunes cartoon series.

 This short is a landmark in animation history as being the first cartoon to predominantly feature synchronized speech, though Fleischer Studios’ Song Car-Tune ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ was the first cartoon to contain animated dialogue a few years earlier. This cartoon set Harman and Ising ‘apart from early Disney sound cartoons because it emphasized not music but dialogue.’

In his book, Of Mice and Magic, Leonard Maltin states that this early version of Bosko, ‘was in fact a cartoonized version of a young black boy… he spoke in a Southern Negro dialect… in subsequent films this characterization was eschewed, or perhaps forgotten. This could be called sloppiness on the part of Harman and Ising, but it also indicates the uncertain nature of the character itself.’

Although Harman and Ising based Bosko’s looks on Felix the Cat, Bosko got his personality from the blackface characters of the minstreland vaudeville shows popular in the 1930s. In keeping with the stereotypes of the minstrel shows, Bosko is a natural at singing, dancing, and playing any instrument he encounters. In early cartoons, Bosko (voiced by Carman Maxwell) even speaks in an exaggerated version of black speech (however, this was only in the first cartoon. All later cartoons would give him a falsetto voice). Despite the parallels between Bosko and the blackface performers, Ising in later years would deny that the character was ever supposed to be a black caricature, and rather claim he was supposed to be ‘an inkspot kind of thing.’

According to Terry Lindvall and Ben Fraser, Bosko and Honey ‘were the most balanced portrayals of blacks in cartoons to that point.’

The short was considered lost for many decades, with only the film’s Vitaphone soundtrack still in existence.”

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Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid is available on YouTube.