News-Antique.com - Jul 10,2008 - Geppi’s Entertainment Publishing & Auctions has announced that its Hake’s Americana & Collectibles unit has privately sold an “Out of the Inkwell” original pen and ink production art Sunday page featuring Koko the Klown, for $42,000.
According to John K. Snyder, Jr., President of Geppi’s Entertainment, “As the information age continues to advance knowledge of the significant older characters to today’s history-hungry audience, characters like Koko the Klown may well represent some of the most advantageous buys in the realm of vintage pop culture collectibles. The more our past is documented, the higher the demand for rare, high-grade pieces is going to go.”
When one looks at the history of animation, one finds the Fleischer animation studio playing a major role. In 1921 Max Fleischer, often considered one of Walt Disney’s few real rivals in the world of cartoon animation, founded Out of the Inkwell Films, Inc. which eventually led to a deal with Paramount Pictures and, later, a name-change to Fleischer Studios. With the creation of this company came the creation of many favored animated stars, such as Betty Boop, Bimbo, and Pudgy, not to mention the adaptation of Popeye from comic strips to cartoons. But without Inkwell Films’ first star, those beloved favorites may have have never appeared. That star was Koko the Klown.
Before Inkwell’s founding, Max Fleischer had worked for Bray Productions, the leading animation house of the World War I era. There he introduced the world to a new animation technique called rotoscoping, which involved creating especially realistic movement by drawing animation on top of frames from live action film. From this technique came the 1918 premiere of the part live-action/part animation “Out of the Inkwell” series of shorts, featuring none other than Koko the Klown. The “Inkwell” series’ success led to Fleischer’s decision to go independent, taking Koko with him.
Many have long believed that the animated clown was always known as Koko, but in the beginning the character was only known as “The Fleischer Clown” or just simply “The Clown.” As this clown evolved, it began to have slimmer features with a larger head. The third and final clown design was revised by Dick Huemer, who had previous experience animating the cartoon hit, Mutt and Jeff. It was Huemer who also coined the name Koko. Huemer was able to convince Fleischer to move away from the rotoscope animation and instead work with the “in-between” animation process, allowing Fleischer to increase production output.
Koko maintained his own animated series through 1929, but was afterward only seen with Betty Boop. In this role he co-starred in the Betty Boop production Snow-White (1933), where Betty stars as Snow White and Koko, voiced by Cab Calloway, sings “St. James Infirmary Blues.” This cartoon short along with other memorable Koko the Klown moments is available for public viewing at youtube.com.
Through his animated golden age, Koko was generally known as Koko the Clown. The definitive spelling “Klown” came about when Koko became a comic strip character in 1934.