Walter Lantz’s second “Lil’ Eightball” episode, Silly Superstition (1939), offers a more defined protagonist than in The Stubborn Mule, but there is little improvement over the first film. In Silly Superstition, Eightball more clearly appears as “Lil’,” because he is depicted as a child via the appearance of his mammy-like mother.
The cartoon begins with him running out of his run-down wooden shack, and his mother–in bandanna and apron, of course–steps to the front porch to warn him about the superstitions she believes. He laughs it off and tries to convince his pet dog to agree with him. The dog, incidentally, has prominent white lips, because Eightball and his mother do, too. Apparently, by cartoon logic, African American people own African American dogs.
Anyhow, after the African American identities of the leads are established, the cartoon continues with a series of mishaps that come from Eightball’s disobedience. He walks under a ladder, and a tall building crumbles. He lets a black cat cross his path, and a lion appears and chases him. As Eightball runs away bug-eyed and scared–another stereotypical African American trope–it is up to the dog to immobilize the lion and then scare it away. Eightball then realizes his mother was right and chuckles his annoying chuckle in amusement.
The cartoon gives more attention to visual ethnic signifiers than to audible ones. Eightball spends way more time speaking grammatically correct sentences than minstrel-type dialect. He does ask, “Is you a dog or a mouse?” and “Is you chasin’ me because it’s Friday the 13th or just because you’re a lion?” The music score also adds to the ethnic construction, for passages of Stephen Foster’s minstrel song “Oh, Susannah” play throughout the film.
Typically a cartoon star has years of prominence before becoming a second-banana in his or her own series. Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop and Leon Schlesinger’s Porky Pig started out with strong characterizations before their even funnier co-stars like Grampy and Daffy overshadowed them. Eightball, however, took a back seat to his dog after just the series debut. Nevertheless, Lantz decided to give the star one more try.