Out of the Inkwell was a major animated series of the silent era produced by Max Fleischer from 1918 to 1929. The series was the result of three short experimental films that Max Fleischer independently produced in the period of 1914–1916 to demonstrate his invention, the Rotoscope, which was a device consisting of a film projector and easel used as an aid for achieving realistic movement for animated cartoons. The Rotoscope would project motion picture film through an opening in the easel, covered by a glass pane serving as a drawing surface. The image on the projected film was traced onto paper, advancing the film one frame at a time as each drawing would be made. Fleischer's younger brother Dave Fleischer was working as a clown at Coney Island, and served as the model for what was to become their first famous character that later evolved as "Koko the Clown."
Out of the Inkwell began at the Bray Studio as a monthly entry in The Bray Pictorgraph Screen Magazine produced for Paramount from 1918, and later for Goldwyn from 1920 to 1921. In that same year, The Fleischer brothers started their own studio, and in 1923, the clown who previously had no name came to be known as KO-KO when animation veteran Dick Huemer became the new Director of Animation. Huemer, who began his animation career with the Mutt and Jeff cartoons in 1916, brought the influence of the short and tall companions to Out of the Inkwell with the creation of a small canine companion named Fitz, who would later evolve into Bimbo in the sound era. Huemer redesigned the clown for animation, which reduced the Fleischer's dependency on the Rotoscope for fluid animation. He also defined the drawing style with his distinctive inking quality that the series was famous for. But it was the interaction of the live action sequences with the artist/creator, Max Fleischer and his pen and ink creations that was the foundation of the series. Typically, the cartoons start out with live action showing Max drawing the characters on paper, or opening the inkwell to release the characters into "reality."
The Out of the Inkwell series ran from 1918 to mid 1927, and was renamed The Inkwell Imps for Paramount, continuing until 1929. In all, 62 Out of the Inkwell and 56 Inkwell Imps films were produced within 11 years. The Inkwell Imps series was replaced by the "Talkartoons" in 1929, and Koko was retired until 1931, appearing as a supporting character with Bimbo and Betty Boop. Koko's last theatrical appearance was in the Betty Boop cartoon, Ha-Ha-Ha (1934), which was a remake of the silent Out of the Inkwell film, The Cure (1924). Koko had a brief cameo in his only color theatrical appearance in the "Screen Song" entry, Toys will be Toys (1949).
In 1950, Stuart Productions released a number of the Inkwell Studios Out of the Inkwell cartoons, and a selection of the Paramount Inkwell Imps cartoons to television. In 1955, the Inkwell Imps, along with 2,500 pre-October 1950 Paramount shorts and cartoons were sold to television packagers, the majority acquired by U.M. & M. TV Corporation.
In 1958, Max Fleischer reactivated his studio in a partnership with Hal Seeger, and in 1960 produced a series of 100 Out Of The Inkwell five-minute cartoons. In the new color series, KoKo had a clown girlfriend named KoKette and a villain named Mean Moe. Larry Storch provided the voice for KoKo and all of the supporting characters.