When we were not working we frequented the playhouses just the same. In those
days, black- faced white comedians were numerous and very popular. They billed
themselves as “coons.” Bert [Williams] and I watched the white “coons” and were
often much amused at seeing white men with black cork on their faces trying to
imitate black folks. Nothing about these white men’s actions was natural, and there-
fore nothing was as interesting as if black performers had been dancing and singing
their own songs in their own way.
—George W. Walker, “The Real ‘Coon’ on the American Stage” (1906)
This project has taken as its central object continuing cartoon characters,
the drawn versions of animals and people behind which animation studios
made their individual names, such as Disney’s Mickey Mouse, the Fleis-
cher Studios’ Ko- Ko the Clown and Bimbo, and Warner Bros.’ Bosko, Daffy
Duck, and Bugs Bunny. Appearing in cartoon after cartoon, these char-
acters served as living trademarks for their makers, and all were min-
strels. These trademark minstrels, these living commodities, have much
to say about the political economy of American commercial animation
in its formative stages. These ’toons weren’t merely modeled after min-
strels; they were, rather, performing minstrelsy in a different modality.
They were and are one more facet in a much larger matrix of racialized
and racist performances that works to situate blackness and whiteness in
a fantastic relationship with each other. That matrix has included other
blackface performances, such as those by white nineteenth- century min-
strels; black blackface minstrels of the late nineteenth and early twenti-
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