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GlyphGryph
Jun 23, 2013


There seemed to be some interest in having a thread talking about the early days of animation, their descent from minstrelry, and the preponderance of superbly racist nonsense pushed by a widespread appetite in the public for superbly racist nonsense.

I love talking about early animation poo poo, so I am making a thread for it.

This OP will hopefully be better at some point, resource suggestions welcome.

Did you know that one of Tex Avery's cartoons, fully of gross caricatures, got pulled and censored because it wasn't racist enough and had the gall to depict black people as heavenly beings and a bunch of religious folks got angry because they saw it as blasphemous. True story!

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Pick
Jul 19, 2009



Nap Ghost

A lot about animation history and where inspirations come from is doomed to remain an unknown. However, what's kind of surprising is that anyone even cares enough about it for it to gain mainstream attention, since animation history used to be for seriously wedge nerds.

Right now there's still a fight about whether Betty Boop really was Esther Jones, or primarily Esther Jones inspired. I think yes, however a lot of people are really comfortable drawing specific patterns outside of the context of how common aspects of her design are. Part of being honest is sometimes saying, "it was probably a lot of things that the creator saw mushed together, but he didn't say exactly and didn't really write much down. There's good reason to think it's mostly this, but there's also a chance it wasn't."

Pick
Jul 19, 2009



Nap Ghost

Also the commonness of the Betty Boop argument always surprises me because almost no one ever mentions that character was originally a dog so who the hell knows what that means in any context.

Data Graham
Dec 28, 2009





Since Bosko ("the Talk-Ink Kid") was more or less explicitly meant to be a black caricature according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosko, it seemed pretty straightforward to me that all the Bosko lookalikes that came afterwards (Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse the most notable, and also those Mickey-like foxes that WB did) were at best just shamelessly copying Bosko, but also harking back to the same minstrel-show tropes that Bosko was. They were all created from the same primordial soup

In any case so much of what passed for humor in those days (and hell, really up to just the last couple of decades) was just racial stereotypes. Chinese people/language, Jews, Africans, Arabs, it's all over everything. Popeye made its genie of Aladdin's Lamp a fey camp type, of 1930s vintage, which is trippy as hell


Anyway I'm idly wondering whether the current cultural momentum will carry far enough for the rumblings to start about Disney retiring Mickey.

Bootleg Trunks
Jun 12, 2020




Do you think God lives in Heaven because He, too, lives in fear of what He's created here on Earth?


Bootleg Trunks posted:

Tiny toons straight up remade Honey and Bosko into what would become the Animaniacs


Pick
Jul 19, 2009



Nap Ghost

Data Graham posted:

Since Bosko ("the Talk-Ink Kid") was more or less explicitly meant to be a black caricature according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosko, it seemed pretty straightforward to me that all the Bosko lookalikes that came afterwards (Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse the most notable, and also those Mickey-like foxes that WB did) were at best just shamelessly copying Bosko, but also harking back to the same minstrel-show tropes that Bosko was. They were all created from the same primordial soup

In any case so much of what passed for humor in those days (and hell, really up to just the last couple of decades) was just racial stereotypes. Chinese people/language, Jews, Africans, Arabs, it's all over everything. Popeye made its genie of Aladdin's Lamp a fey camp type, of 1930s vintage, which is trippy as hell


Anyway I'm idly wondering whether the current cultural momentum will carry far enough for the rumblings to start about Disney retiring Mickey.

The first appearance of Bosko was 1929. The first appearance of Mickey Mouse was 1928. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was even earlier, in 1927.

Data Graham
Dec 28, 2009





poo poo, really? For some reason I thought Bosko was like a decade earlier or something


Why do I always think I know enough basic facts to shoot from the hip on some topic I've been marinating in my whole life

Pick
Jul 19, 2009



Nap Ghost

Actually it does look like Bosko was in development in 1927 as well but hadn't debuted. These people probably all knew each other also. But certainly Oswald and Mickey couldn't be capitalizing on riding on the popularity of an un-debuted character. So there could still be a mix of inspirations also drawing from racial notions existing at the time, but it's not a clear-cut progression.

Anyway, I do find some claims suspect, like about the use of gloves. Earliest Mickey Mouse and Oswald don't have them:







But there's a good reason they would add them. The gloves make their hands much easier to see, especially as they cross in front of the body of the character.

Pick fucked around with this message at 02:53 on Mar 4, 2021

Data Graham
Dec 28, 2009





What seems obvious regardless is that they're all cribbing off each other, like there's only one possible kind of character design they can think up. Giant clomping shoes, that iconic face silhouette, etc

Some of it a nod to the technical limitations of the day, sure, but lord knows there's a lot of different kinds of characters under the sun they might have thought to draw.

Who makes a mouse black anyway

Data Graham fucked around with this message at 02:54 on Mar 4, 2021

Pick
Jul 19, 2009



Nap Ghost

Data Graham posted:

What seems obvious regardless is that they're all cribbing off each other, like there's only one possible kind of character design they can think up. Giant clomping shoes, that iconic face silhouette, etc

Some of it a nod to the technical limitations of the day, sure, but lord knows there's a lot of different kinds of characters under the sun they might have thought to draw

Who makes a mouse black anyway

Their alternative would have been essentially a white silhouette. It can be done but it's going to lose some volume, because you can communicate volume in where there's crossover between the shaded and non-shaded areas and how it moves as, for example, Mickey's head rotates. This is also why gloves and shoes often have a "ring" at the verge; it allows really obvious and easily-to-communicate volume.



You can tell the angle Mickey's hand is at easily by the ring around the gloves. An animator will be drawing rings like this anyway to keep track of volume as they do roughs. (And it's also on his shoes of course.)

It's like why Superman has red tights in the comics, too. It's because the artist is drawing the "box" of the hips anyway; it exists because those guidelines are already in the pencils. But it doesn't make sense to keep it--which is why many live-action versions don't--because no one has to draw him.

I'd say however the #1 inspiration for Oswalds and etc is Felix the cat. He really is from way earlier. Felix the Cat is from 1919.

Pick fucked around with this message at 03:00 on Mar 4, 2021

Pick
Jul 19, 2009



Nap Ghost

That said, mickey mouse sucks and belongs in the trash bin of history.

GlyphGryph
Jun 23, 2013


Pick posted:

The first appearance of Bosko was 1929. The first appearance of Mickey Mouse was 1928. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was even earlier, in 1927.

It's worth mentioning that while this was true, Bosko was absolutely designed before Mickey, Hugh Harmon designed Bosco was he was still at Disney (back when Disney worked under Universal) and there's no way Walt wasn't familiar with him. Who knows what would have happened with him if Disney hadn't been fired and Harmon pushed into a strictly "marching orders only" mode before founding his own studio.

But I think Disney is clearly a legally-distinct-Oswald-the-Rabbit (since Disney lost the rights to Oswald when he got fired from his own company), and Oswald in turn was clearly based on Felix.

One thing I found particularly interesting was how quickly Warner Brothers decided Bosco was... inappropriate. After an initial introduction where he had a clear stereotypical southern black accent, and being registered with the copyright office with a description that he was a "little negro boy", they stripped him off the accent almost immediately, scrubbed any reference to what he was, and started claiming he wasn't anything more than an "inkspot" as his design subtly shifted to be less of an obvious stereotype.

GlyphGryph fucked around with this message at 04:12 on Mar 4, 2021

Origin
Feb 15, 2006



I remember Bosko being run on Nickelodeon.

Dreylad
Jun 19, 2001


I have to wonder how much American intellectual property laws affect this stuff, because if you couldn't keep mickey mouse under copyright for 90 years or whatever it's been there might be more incentive to devise new characters more often.

Mr. Fall Down Terror
Jan 24, 2018


Dreylad posted:

I have to wonder how much American intellectual property laws affect this stuff, because if you couldn't keep mickey mouse under copyright for 90 years or whatever it's been there might be more incentive to devise new characters more often.

there are shitloads of obscure and forgotten characters, it's not a good idea to measure their success against the survivor bias of some of the most popular cartoon characters of the 20th century

like disney has ensemble shows in a gamemasteranthony-esque (happy birthday!) rotating revue just to keep their more recognizable characters fresh and in the public mind

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cwn7GhXd-M

and these are just the recognizable ones, let alone characters in the back of the warehouse tier like horace horsecollar or mortimer mouse

Mr. Fall Down Terror fucked around with this message at 16:37 on Mar 4, 2021

Owlofcreamcheese
May 22, 2005

I've spent decades reading Covid-19 articles, far more than you have. That makes me more of an expert than you ever can dream of.

Buglord

I feel like the technologies available impact what characters exist more than people think about. Like more than stealing designs it feels like every mass produced 1920s cartoon is going to star a little stylized guy painted in pure black and pure white. I think if you were designing a character with 1920s limitations you'd make something like a mickey mouse or a bosco by default. you aren't going to include shading or color tones or detail. So weird little squat guy with big jointless arms and legs is pretty much the way to draw things thats realistic.

it's like how disney bought animation xerox copies and instantly just made 101 dalmatians, the most brain dead direct "what movie plot can we use a black and white only xerox machine to make"

Data Graham
Dec 28, 2009





It seems far from obvious to me that the thing to do when you're fighting with primitive technology is "all-black paint-bucket-fill character". That kind of thing is notoriously difficult to make read well, especially if you have hands passing in front of bodies etc, which is part of why well-defined silhouette gesture poses became so important so early I guess.

Gertie the Dinosaur was based on outlines and light fill after all. They could have made it easier on themselves

i say swears online
Mar 4, 2005

medio de fonte leporum surgo amariter




popeye is like eighteen months younger than bosko, that was quite the leap in animation technology if blackface characters only existed because of limitations on the medium

Pick
Jul 19, 2009



Nap Ghost

i say swears online posted:

popeye is like eighteen months younger than bosko, that was quite the leap in animation technology if blackface characters only existed because of limitations on the medium

Popeyes cartoon debut was 1933 so I don't know what you're talking about. That's again after Mickey and long after Felix.

Alterian
Jan 28, 2003



A topic I can contribute to!

Edit: Sorry. I had the wrong Blackton racist animation.

Early animation is ripe with racism.
Lightning Sketches from 1907 By James Stuart Blackton, the guy who is said to have created the first "film animation" is super racist. You can find it on youtube.

I took a history of animation class and there is so much. Has anyone seen Pinocchio recently?

Alterian fucked around with this message at 17:23 on Mar 4, 2021

Gameko
Feb 23, 2006

The friend of all children!

Watching "What's Opera, Doc?" recently, I was suddenly struck by the fact that Bugs Bunny did a LOT of cross dressing and when he was in drag he openly flirted with people of the same sex, showed affection for them, hugged and kissed them, and always seemed perfectly cool with those interactions. I'm personally of the opinion that this was a deliberate attempt to be not just controversial but subversive by the Warner Bros. animation department.

Think about it. A bunch of hip cartoon artists drawing poo poo in the 30s and 40s...I'd totally buy that they were a lot more sensitive to gender/sex/social issues and did what they could to chip away at the establishment.

Pick
Jul 19, 2009



Nap Ghost

Some of the earliest animation was actually straight up pornographic including same sex events and animals. Can't exactly look it up at the moment but you can do a Google search if you're somewhere appropriate.

Mr. Fall Down Terror
Jan 24, 2018


Gameko posted:

Watching "What's Opera, Doc?" recently, I was suddenly struck by the fact that Bugs Bunny did a LOT of cross dressing and when he was in drag he openly flirted with people of the same sex, showed affection for them, hugged and kissed them, and always seemed perfectly cool with those interactions. I'm personally of the opinion that this was a deliberate attempt to be not just controversial but subversive by the Warner Bros. animation department.

Think about it. A bunch of hip cartoon artists drawing poo poo in the 30s and 40s...I'd totally buy that they were a lot more sensitive to gender/sex/social issues and did what they could to chip away at the establishment.

nah, there's a long history of camp and gender role switching in farce and other kinds of comedic theater. i think historically people have always thought this kind of thing was funny - if anything bugs bunny is just an amalgamation of pre-existing comedic tropes existing in theater and film of the time. and bugs isnt doing this to express his personal gender identity, he's doing it as a trickster who is fooling the dumb dumbs who can't even tell a man from a woman

Pick
Jul 19, 2009



Nap Ghost

Mr. Fall Down Terror posted:

nah, there's a long history of camp and gender role switching in farce and other kinds of comedic theater. i think historically people have always thought this kind of thing was funny - if anything bugs bunny is just an amalgamation of pre-existing comedic tropes existing in theater and film of the time. and bugs isnt doing this to express his personal gender identity, he's doing it as a trickster who is fooling the dumb dumbs who can't even tell a man from a woman

Fun fact, the expedition of the Erebus and the terror actually did have a big trunk of women's dresses for cross dressing theater. There was an AMC show that had this as a plot point and people thought that it was stupid, but that was actually a thing at the time!

Crunch Buttsteak
Feb 26, 2007

My fortune cookie says today will be Mega Awesome!

Gameko posted:

Watching "What's Opera, Doc?" recently, I was suddenly struck by the fact that Bugs Bunny did a LOT of cross dressing and when he was in drag he openly flirted with people of the same sex, showed affection for them, hugged and kissed them, and always seemed perfectly cool with those interactions. I'm personally of the opinion that this was a deliberate attempt to be not just controversial but subversive by the Warner Bros. animation department.

Think about it. A bunch of hip cartoon artists drawing poo poo in the 30s and 40s...I'd totally buy that they were a lot more sensitive to gender/sex/social issues and did what they could to chip away at the establishment.

While the Bugs Bunny thing is almost certainly just a ha ha funny yuk yuks drag performance thing, I definitely get why you would think that it might more subversive than that. Animation studios involve a lot of artists getting together to create, and artists do tend to skew towards being anti-establishment. However, they're still quite a product of their time - they might have been more liberal when it came to sexuality compared to society's standards at the time, but it was still mid-century America, so it mostly just led to sexual harassment of female employees and a bunch of old-tymey I'm-not-sure-how-consensual-this-is marital affairs. Further down the road, you have things like Fritz the Cat - sure, it was subversive, but have you ever watched Fritz the Cat? Fuckin' yikes.

I think it wasn't until the late 80's/early 90's that there were enough queer and queer-friendly people within the system to actually start making positive changes in that regard. And even then it was a fairly long process - we had to sit through a lot of queer-coded villains before we got to the point where you could depict same-sex relationships in cartoons without country-wide outrage and calls for boycotts.

Alterian posted:

I took a history of animation class and there is so much. Has anyone seen Pinocchio recently?

I actually haven't, and despite it being my favorite Disney movie as a little kid, I can barely remember anything about it. I have access to Disney+ at the moment, though, so I think I'll throw that on in the background while I'm working.

Mr. Fall Down Terror
Jan 24, 2018


the disney+ version cuts out the whole bit where pinocchio gets hosed up on booze, cigars, gambling, and vandalism

Pick
Jul 19, 2009



Nap Ghost

Mr. Fall Down Terror posted:

the disney+ version cuts out the whole bit where pinocchio gets hosed up on booze, cigars, gambling, and vandalism

Then what does he actually get punished for? Does he just turn into a furry for like no reason

Most of the Disney+ audience would probably think that was a reward

Squinty
Aug 12, 2007


Data Graham posted:

It seems far from obvious to me that the thing to do when you're fighting with primitive technology is "all-black paint-bucket-fill character". That kind of thing is notoriously difficult to make read well, especially if you have hands passing in front of bodies etc, which is part of why well-defined silhouette gesture poses became so important so early I guess.

Gertie the Dinosaur was based on outlines and light fill after all. They could have made it easier on themselves

I think the rise of inkblot style characters was driven by the invention of cel animation. You're painting characters on a transparent sheet of celluloid, so you need big shapes of flat, opaque paint to stop the lower layers from bleeding through.

IIRC Gertie was done in a single layer with ink on paper, so it had different limitations.

madlobster
Aug 12, 2003


Mr. Fall Down Terror posted:

the disney+ version cuts out the whole bit where pinocchio gets hosed up on booze, cigars, gambling, and vandalism

No, they didn't cut that out.

Only registered members can see post attachments!

GlyphGryph
Jun 23, 2013


Crossdressing for trickster archetypes is a couple thousand years old at least. Loki crossdressed all the time, wooed people of both genders, and actually got pregnant more than once.

Tricksters (and those associated with them, like actors!) are historically given a free ticket to ignore a wide variety of social rules and limitations, because by their very nature they are never really a proper part of society and thus aren't bound by its rules in the same way.

Also some of the major art players at the time were definitely subversives who probably would have pushed the envelope in a lot more ways if not for the censors and strict requirements from the top. See my story in the OP about how Tex Avery was directly punished for displaying black people too positively - that absolutely would have been worse for any sort of same sex content that couldn't be passed off as a joke in the traditional vein.

GlyphGryph fucked around with this message at 00:41 on Mar 5, 2021

Alterian
Jan 28, 2003



Dumbo is pretty bad as well. I figured that one was the one everyone knows about.

GlyphGryph
Jun 23, 2013


Dumbo is actually a really interesting discussion in its own right, since from what I understand it was one of the few films at the time that had characters that were distinctly based on caricature of black people and a specific black subculture while also being an unambiguously positive portrayal in a film that had a whole lot of bad people in it at a time where such positive portrayals were few and far between.

I have no idea what the general sentiment is on them among the black community nowadays or at the time of release though, and I haven't had much luck finding out.

GlyphGryph fucked around with this message at 00:58 on Mar 5, 2021

Owlofcreamcheese
May 22, 2005

I've spent decades reading Covid-19 articles, far more than you have. That makes me more of an expert than you ever can dream of.

Buglord

More than specifically cross dressing bugs bunny walking out in costume was like the primary thing he did. He’d be a barber or policeman or baby or old man or a waiter or whatever.



Like here is an album of 78 different outfits/characters he did. It doesn’t seem like he cross dressed more than just constantly “shape shifted” into outfits

https://www.pinterest.com/friendsofdre/many-disguises-of-bugs-bunny/

Mr. Fall Down Terror
Jan 24, 2018


madlobster posted:

No, they didn't cut that out.



weird, this was on in our house a couple weeks ago and i remember a clear edit where the other kid just suddenly turns into a donkey for no reason. maybe i had a fugue

Cabbages and Kings
Aug 25, 2004

shall we be trotting home again?



I sent this thread to my father because he's been a comics and animation nerd since the 50s. He thought it was interesting, and he gave me a couple replies I think are worth echoing here. This also caused my 75 year old dad to go to something awful dot com in a browser for the first time in his life, but I don't think he registered an account. DAD? DAD?

For one thing, he said that thinking about this caused him to reflect on the portrayal of a black boy in Walt Kelly's Pogo. The character has the racist name "Bumbazine", but, despite that, the actual depictions are a pretty radical departure from the charicatures we're seeing in other stuff here, and, additionally, he was presented positively in his actions:



It's certainly not irrelevant that Kelly was somewhat of a firebrand who was not afraid to interject controversial things into a newspaper comic. He got a fair amount of heat for a character named Simple J Malarky who is 100% Joe McCarthy.



I have a wealth of Pogo, but I don't have anything real early, and Bumbazine is news to me. Simple J Malarky strips were a useful escape during Trump times.

However -- Kelly also did "Our Gang Comics" which has a more clearly racist depiciton. My dad also pointed out that even though the whole Pogo gang in general over time developed increasingly exaggerated southern accents, what we're seeing here is, explicitly, caricatured Black southern patois, and this racist.


"L'il 8-Ball" from 1940s-era New Funnies was provided to me as an example of "about as bad as [this kind of racist media] gets"



Finally, my father suggested that Tarzan is an interesting case because he was always presented very much as the White Savior Of The Savages, but, also always treated his black compatriots with respect and friendlness. My dad said that respect was something that stood out to him when he was reading these ~65 years ago.

Cabbages and Kings fucked around with this message at 13:35 on Mar 6, 2021

Dapper_Swindler
Feb 14, 2012

Shitposting 24/7 without regrets. my parents would be proud.



madlobster posted:

No, they didn't cut that out.



i think they do cut out a bit of peter pan though. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7yE8TKUB_M the song is still there and parts of the scene there but they cut like minute off. which i am ok with. because holy gently caress.

Pick
Jul 19, 2009



Nap Ghost

I think, conversely, one of the big dangers of looking at the past stuff as so horrifically bad (even where it's very bad) is a real danger of over-congratulating modern media by exaggerating a low standard of the past. A lot of media today remains appallingly racist, so it's important to show stuff like the old Tarzan media not to say "it was never a problem" but instead to make the point "we've had plenty of time to do much better than this and in many cases we have not".

Hardcordion
Feb 5, 2008

BARK BARK BARK


When I was in animation school one of my profs gave a lecture about using established visual language to convey a character's traits instantly though their design. At first it was all useful stuff to know like how hand size can imply what kind of job a character has (blue collar vs white collar). Then he let slip that to make a character design read as stupid, he would always give them Italian features. The class called him out on it and he just doubled down, arguing for the rest of the lecture. To him, racial stereotypes were necessary for truely effective and efficient storytelling because it was using something "everyone already knows" instead of taking precious seconds to depict those kinds of traits through dialogue or action.

I'm not sure what my point is in bringing this up other than maybe to offer an explanation as to why so many early cartoon characters were somewhere between blatantly and vaguely racist. Mickey, Oswald and Felix might all be animals, but they're colored black because that's the color a foolish trickster type was expected to be.

FilthyImp
Sep 30, 2002

Nope



GlyphGryph posted:

One thing I found particularly interesting was how quickly Warner Brothers decided Bosco was... inappropriate.
I wonder how much of that was backtracking so they wouldn't have audiences go "a little NEGRO?@ Why I never@"

Hardcordion posted:

I'm not sure what my point is in bringing this up other than maybe to offer an explanation as to why so many early cartoon characters were somewhere between blatantly and vaguely racist. Mickey, Oswald and Felix might all be animals, but they're colored black because that's the color a foolish trickster type was expected to be.
This made me realize that the white characters that Bugs puns on all have some kind of affectation or design that communicates they're outside of the norm -- Elmer has a speech thing and is a bumbling bumpkin, Sam is a tiny, tiny man, etc.

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Data Graham
Dec 28, 2009





Like 90% of Mel Blanc's characters have a speech impediment of some sort. I've always wondered whether that was because a) it made it easier for him to differentiate them or b) speech impediments are inherently othering and comedy signifiers, or some combination of the two.

Same with how the wide majority of early-day cartoon characters' names are synonyms for "crazy"

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