25 April 2009

Bosko Shipwrecked: The Comic Strip

When Mickey Mouse had a certain type of adventure in an early 1930s cartoon, you knew Bosko would have it, too. Though Looney Tunes' African-American boy was created before Mickey, he wasn't animated until afterward—and creators Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising mimicked Disney like crazy. If Mickey starred as a big game hunter (Jungle Rhythm, 1929), so would Bosko (Congo Jazz, 1930). If Mickey played Robinson Crusoe (The Castaway, 1931), so would Bosko (Bosko Shipwrecked!, 1931). Of course, Bosko did enjoy some pastimes Mickey didn't—Mickey was never a World War I pilot, for example, or a soda jerk. But the basic cartoon flavor was very similar.

Where Mickey and Bosko differed was in the comics.

Mickey came to newspapers in 1930 with Walt himself writing, Ub Iwerks penciling and Win Smith inking. Aimed as much at adults as children, Mickey Mouse quickly hit its stride with rich, personality-based adventure stories. But by then Iwerks and Smith were gone.
I'll deal with Iwerks later (what, David Gerstein ignore Flip the Frog?). Today we'll follow Smith, who eventually got involved with the art chores on another daily comic strip—starring Bosko.

Floyd Gottfredson, Smith's successor on Mickey Mouse, would recollect that Smith had cracked under the strain at Disney: drawing Mickey was hard enough, he felt; then Walt asked him to write it, too. Smith quit rather than do both—and indeed, the Bosko work process for Stephen Slesinger, Inc., would seem to have been in line with Smith's preferences. Walker Harman handled writing on the strip, while Robert Allen did the art at first. And the end product was simpler as a whole, too. Instead of a serial designed for all ages, Bosko aimed only at very young children. At the start (top right), it was a standalone single panel in verse—emphasizing charm more than humor.

Don't tell me. I don't need convincing. It's beautifully drawn, but weak.

Then, though, like Mickey Mouse, it began to change. First came Smith's involvement; samples suggest he began as inker/letterer, then progressed to solo artist. But then came a thematic change. Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research pages have long featured strips 67 and 68 in the Bosko series, marking the start of a continuity. While keeping verse narration, Bosko was trying—vaguely—to get somewhere. Unfortunately, these two undated, clipped strips were for a long time all we had of this ongoing story:

Today, though, I'm pleased to show you what happened next. From issue 30, Dell's The Funnies comic book reprinted the Bosko continuity in roughly consecutive order. It's from those issues that I've remounted the strips in easy reading format so we can share "Part 1" of this serial, based loosely on Bosko Shipwrecked.

Still not too hot, but historically priceless—and the further we go, the more the Win Smith of Mickey Mouse, with his classic quirks, will be immediately obvious. Anyone want to see "Part 2"?

(Thanks to Mark Kausler for Hugh Harman's pre-Smith credits information. Mark, if you'd like to add anything here, please do!)


King of [Silent] Cartoons said...

But seriously, what a wonderful Bosko image on "The Funnies" cover.

Tarkan said...

And I assume these are all in the public domain? (ahem, how much ya got?)

Andrew Leal said...

I like the art on Bruno, and the "how to draw" second tier strips are kind of cute, but yeah, the writing is no great shakes. Still, quite a find indeed! Thanks for sharing, Dave!

I still think WB should license Bosko out to adorn chocolate syrup bottles.

Joe Torcivia said...

So, as Mickey went, so went Bosko… only a scaled-down, or “poor man’s” version?

If so, I can’t wait until you unearth “Bosko Outwits Phantom Bob”… and the “Blaggard Outhouse” adventure!

Or the early-2000s Sat AM animated series “House of Vaguely Defined Cartoon Animal or Stereotypical Caricature”!

Hey, if I can’t go “all-obscure” on YOUR Blog, where can I?

Lars Jensen said...

Wow! That Funnies cover is *terrible!* What awful awful artwork. Was Bosko supposed to look like that at the time the cover was drawn? And Bruno looks like someone did a (bad) tracing of a Pluto drawing.

Anonymous said...

Hello, David----Congratulations on your new blog! I wonder where the BOSKO panel originally appeared. Are there any known newspapers that picked it up? Was it offered as a daily or a sunday? Some strips, like BUCK ROGERS, was offered with run-at-anytime serial numbers like this, as opposed to actual dates. I can't make out the syndicate name in episode #67.-----Cole Johnson.

Mark Kausler said...

The Bosko strip was originally distributed by Hugh's brother Fred, under his "Fred Harman Features" syndicate. Fred, of course created Bronc Peeler and then Red Ryder, both cowboy strips. "Bronc" was at first self-distributed. I'll never forget some years ago when my wife and I visited the Fred Harman museum in either Colorado or Arizona. The guy running it seemed somewhat ashamed that I knew Hugh Harman so well, and that I knew that Fred Harman bailed Hugh out of a few financial tough spots. I sent him some reproductions of Fred Harman Features syndicate brochures that Hugh gave to me, but the museum never contacted me again. They do have some nice reprints of early Red Ryder comic books, if you ever happen to stop by there pick 'em up. It's great to see those frame grabs from the original ending to "Hare-um, Scare-um", David! That print was in Warner's nitrate vault years ago, glad to hear that it's being cared for by a real film archive. Now they better copy it, while it's still around! (And let WARNER BROS. pay for it!)

Matthew Hunter said...

The writer seems to have had a Dr. Seuss writing style long before Dr. Seuss! Could Mr. Giesel have grown up reading this stuff?

ramapith said...

Hey Matthew,
In fact, Dr. Seuss may have been at work a bit earlier than you're giving him credit for. By 1928 he was already drawing ad and magazine cartoons, some of which even then involved his typical verse. (Source: Charles B. Cohen, _The Whole Seuss and Nothing But the Seuss_)
I hate to be cruel to Walker Harman, but IMHO Seuss was a little better at the form. (-:

Eric said...

Fantastic find. Please post part 2!!!