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Birth of An Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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Performance, Page 74

Stereotypical and fantastic images of Africans and African Americans were the common currency for wildness in the early twentieth century white fantasy. For example, Winsor McCay draws the stereotypical African native Impy in Little Nemo (1911). In this film, McCay converts the lightning-sketch act through which he presented Nemo on the vaudeville stage into Little Nemo (1911), weaving the act of animating into the animation itself. Having done the intense labor of animation offscreen, he now performs it for the camera. Note the vaudevillian staging conventions.

The Fleischers also wove vaudevillian themes in many of their shorts. In Ko-Ko Trains 'Em (1925), Max Fleischer argues with Ko-Ko when Ko-Ko becomes jealous of Max's attention to his young ward and her dog and tries to create a circus by training animals, then fleas. The fleas escape the animated world, infecting the "real" people watching him—offering an example of the Fleischers' vaudevillian play with the boundary between the real and the animate.

Walt Disney only drew cartoons until 1928, but always performed the animator, as when he seems to struggle over a drawing in his Newman Laugh-O-Grams (1921).
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