Choco & Boko

Rumen Petkov was a Bulgarian comics artist and animator who is considered to be one of his country's most important animation directors of all time, alongside Todor Dinov and Donio Donev. As a comics creator he is most famous for 'Choko & Boko' ('Choko the Stork and Boko the Frog') which appeared in the magazine Duga. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Petkov made various Bulgarian animated shorts, some of which won international awards. He was also the director of the first Bulgarian animated feature film 'Planeta Na Sakrovishtata' ('Treasure Planet', 1982). In the 1990s he moved to Hollywood and animated mostly TV series by Klasky-Csupo and broadcast on Nickelodeon, such as 'Dexter's Laboratory', The Powerpuff Girls', 'Cow and Chicken' and 'Johnny Bravo'.


Stills from Petkov's film 'Formula 73' (1973)

Rumen Petkov was born in 1948 in Sofia, Bulgaria. He already enjoyed drawing as a child and ranked Eastern-European animators and directors like Asparuh Panov, Konstantin Pavlov, Boris Angelov, Todor Dinov, George Chaushev and Donyo Donev as his main graphic influences. In 1967 Petkov graduated from the Sofia Art School and in 1978 he obtained a degree in Bulgarian philology from the University of Sofia. He was involved in animation from 1969 on, when he joined the Boyana Cinema Center. He directed his first animated short in 1973. From the late 1970s until the late 1980s he worked for Sofia Animation Film Studio. Petkov was the creator of the animated TV series 'Sharo', about an anthropomorphic dog who works as a detective, and his signature work 'Choko & Boko' (1979-1990). Choko is a naïve stork who always tries to prove himself by trying out professions in which he usually utterly fails. Boko is a frog whose incompetence often causes explosions. Petkov was personally involved with a comic strip version of 'Choko & Boko', which was published in the magazine Duga ("Rainbow"). Duga appeared between 1979 and 1992 and also featured the talents of such artists as Grigor Boiadjiev, Boris Dimovski, Todor Dinov, Nikolai Dodov, Donio Donev, Penko Gelev, Konstantin Georgiev, Hristo Jablianov, Hristo Kardjilov, Viacheslav Kotenochkin, Djordje Lobacev, Ilia Sarailiev, Stoyan Shindarov, Petar Stanimirov, Dimitar Stoianov, Elena Stoilova, Venelin Varbanov, Bozidar Veselinovic and Evgeni Yordanov.

Choko and Boko, by Rumen Petkov

His short 'Maymuni' ('Monkeys', 1981) was critically praised in Japan, where the Hiroshima Festival named it "one of the ten best animated films in the world." In 1982 Petkov directed the first full-length Bulgarian animated feature film: 'Planeta Na Sakrovishtata' (1982). This was a science fiction version of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic pirate novel 'Treasure Island'. 'Treasure Island' was a popular story in Bulgaria. Decades earlier the book had already been adapted into a Bulgarian comic strip by Liuben Zidarov. Petkov's idea of bringing 'Treasure Island' into space proved to be remarkably influential. In 1987 Antonio Margheriti created a live-action TV mini-series named 'Il Planeta del Tesoro' ('Treasure Planet', but translated in English as 'Treasure Island In Outer Space', 1987), starring Anthony Quinn and Ernest Borgnine. And in 2002 even the Walt Disney Company created 'Treasure Planet' (2002). In 1984 Petkov and Slav Bakalov directed the animated short, 'Jenitba' ('Marriage', 1984), which won the Palme d'Or for Best Short Film.


Still from 'Jenitba'

Despite his success Petkov felt frustrated by the budget problems and primitive working methods he had to use in Bulgaria. He therefore tried to get more involved with Western animation. Halfway the 1980s he worked on the TV specials 'It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown' (1984), 'Happy New Year, Charlie Brown' (1986), 'Snoopy: The Musical' (1988), 'Why, Charlie Brown, Why?' (1990), 'You're in the Super Bowl, Charlie Brown!' (1994) and 'It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown!' (1997), all based on Charles M. Schulz' comic strip 'Peanuts'. In 1989 the Iron Curtain was raised, which had a domino effect in Eastern Europe as many countries abandoned Communism in favor of actual democracy. Unfortunately this also meant the end of the previously state-funded animation studio Sofia. Petkov therefore moved to Hollywood, where he became a storyboard artist for three episodes of 'Garfield and Friends' (1988-1994), based on the popular comic strip by Jim Davis. Afterwards he joined Arlene Klasky and Gábor Csup's graphic studio Klasky Csupo. Csupó was of Hungarian descent and employed a lot of Eastern-European animators, so naturally Petkov fit right in. He co-animated and directed episodes of Gábor Csupó and Peter Gaffney's 'Aaahh!!! Real Monsters' (1994-1997) and Everett Peck's 'Duckman' (1994-1997). In the second half of the 1990s he mostly worked for children's series on the TV channel Nickelodeon, such as Genndy Tartakovsky's 'Dexter's Laboratory' (1996-2003), Van Partible's 'Johnny Bravo' (1997-2004), David Feiss' 'Cow and Chicken' (1997-1999) and 'I Am Weasel' (1997-1999), Craig McCracken's 'The Powerpuff Girls' (1998-2005) and Mikhail Shindel's 'Mike, Lu and Og' (1999-2000).

During the late 1990s and 2000s Petrov worked on reboots of classic animated characters, such as 'The New Woody Woodpecker Show' (1999-2000), based on the original character created by Walter Lantz, and 'Tom and Jerry Blast Off to Mars!' (2005), based on Hanna-Barbera's eponymous cat and mouse duo. During the final years of his life he predominantly worked on Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki's Christian animated series 'VeggieTales' (1993-2018). Since 1998 the veteran artist was a professor in the Arts at the CalArts University of California, where he taught lay-out and direction. Petkov was also active as a painter. During the Communist regime painting helped him express his dreams of escaping oppression. He made an entire series named 'Strangers in Love', which depicted strangers who try to escape political control and restrictions, but today the originals are rare, as most were stolen from him, or sold. His work has frequently been exhibited, among others at the Biennale in Luca, Italy. In 2016 Petkov was a honorary jury member at the Golden Kuker International Festival of Animated Film in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Rumen Petikov passed away in 2018 at the age of 70. His work influenced artists like Vladimir Nedialkov, Koko Sarkisian and Ivan Kirjakov.

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