The term has evolved over time. The original meaning was in fine art, where cartoon meant a preparatory drawing for a piece of art, such as a painting or tapestry. The modern meaning refers to both humorous illustrations in print and animated films. Even more recently, there are several contemporary meanings, including creative visual work for electronic media and animated digital media. When the word cartoon is applied to print media, it most often refers to a humorous single-panel drawing or gag cartoon, most of which have typeset captions rather than speech balloons. The word cartoon is sometimes used to refer to a comic strip.
A cartoon (from the Italian "cartone" and Dutch word "karton", meaning strong, heavy paper or pasteboard) is a full-size drawing made on sturdy paper as a study or modello for a painting, stained glass or tapestry. Cartoons were typically used in the production of frescoes, to accurately link the component parts of the composition when painted on damp plaster over a series of days (giornate).
Such cartoons often have pinpricks along the outlines of the design; a bag of soot was then patted or "pounced" over the cartoon, held against the wall to leave black dots on the plaster ("pouncing"). Cartoons by painters, such as the Raphael Cartoons in London and examples by Leonardo da Vinci, are highly prized in their own right. Tapestry cartoons, usually coloured, were followed by eye by the weavers on the loom.
In modern print media, a cartoon is a piece of art, usually humorous in intent. This usage dates from 1843 when Punch magazine applied the term to satirical drawings in its pages, particularly sketches by John Leech. The first of these parodied the preparatory cartoons for grand historical frescoes in the then-new Palace of Westminster. The original title for these drawings was Mr Punch's face is the letter Q and the new title "cartoon" was intended to be ironic, a reference to the self-aggrandizing posturing of Westminster politicians.
Modern single-panel cartoons or gag cartoons, found in magazines, generally consist of a single drawing with a caption immediately beneath or (much less often) a speech balloon. Newspaper syndicates also distribute single-panel gag cartoons, such as Bill Holman's Nuts and Jolts and Grin and Bear It, created by George Lichty.
Many consider New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno the father of the modern gag cartoon (as did Arno himself). Gag cartoonists of note include Charles Addams, Gary Larson, Charles Barsotti, Chon Day and Mel Calman.
Editorial cartoons are found almost exclusively in news publications and news websites. Although they also employ humor, they are more serious in tone, commonly using irony or satire. The art usually acts as a visual metaphor to illustrate a point of view on current social and/or political topics. Editorial cartoons often include speech balloons and, sometimes, multiple panels. Editorial cartoonists of note include Herblock, Mike Peters, David Low, Jeff MacNelly and Gerald Scarfe.
Comic strips, also known as "cartoon strips" in the United Kingdom, are found daily in newspapers worldwide, and are usually a short series of cartoon illustrations in sequence. In the United States they are not as commonly called "cartoons" themselves, but rather "comics" or "funnies". Nonetheless, the creators of comic strips—as well as comic books and graphic novels—are usually referred to as "cartoonists". Although humor is the most prevalent subject matter, adventure and drama are also represented in this medium. Noteworthy cartoonists in this sense include Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson, Scott Adams, Mort Walker and Steve Bell.
Because of the stylistic similarities between comic strips and early animated movies, "cartoon" came to refer to animation, and this is the sense in which "cartoon" is most commonly used today. These are usually shown on television or in cinemas and are created by showing illustrated images in rapid succession to give the impression of movement. In this meaning, the word cartoon is sometimes shortened to toon, which was popularized by the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Although the term can be applied to any animated presentation, it is most often used in reference to programs for children, featuring anthropomorphized animals, superheroes, the adventures of child protagonists, and other related genres.
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A cartoon is a drawing. The word "cartoon" has been used in several different ways.
The oldest meaning is a drawing that is a full-sized design for a finished artwork. The cartoon might be a drawing for a painting that was going to be put onto a wall or ceiling in fresco. The cartoon would be pinned against the wall and its design marked onto the plastered of the wall. Cartoons were also made to design tapestry. The most famous cartons are a set by Raphael which show the "Life of St Peter". The cartoons are in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The finished tapestries belong to the Vatican and were made for the Sistine Chapel.
In the 1700s, artists such as William Hogarth often made sets of humorous (funny) drawings that were about political subjects, such as poverty, elections, war and riots. The drawings were made into prints and were sold cheaply. These prints were not called cartoons at that time, but they led to the idea of modern political cartoons in newspapers.
A political cartoon does not always show people. Sometimes it may show a country as a person, an animal, a monster or a baby. For example, Britain might be shown as a woman holding a baby Australia in her arms. Russia might be shown as a bear. The United States might be shown as a Bald Eagle.
Political cartoons often showed real politicians or other famous people. One way to make these characters easy to recognise was to make some of their features bigger or smaller. So, if a politician had a round nose and a big chin, then the artist would make the nose rounder and the chin bigger. There are many modern cartoon artists who do "portait cartoons" or "charicatures".
Political cartoons were often drawn to show several different stages of the same story. Many of Hogarth's famous political cartoons do this. From this came the idea of telling funny stories in a series of pictures. Comic strips are a type of "cartoon" that is published in newspapers, but they are usually just called "comic strips". Some of the earliest comic strips are The Katzenjammer Kids (1897) and Ginger Meggs (1921). Sometimes they represent animals like Garfield. Later comic strips from the 1950s onwards show superheros such as Superman and The Phantom.
Comic strips posted on the internet are web comics. While most web comics look just like comic strips, many web comics use the new technology of the internet. Some use animation and sound for special effects. Some web comics take up much more space than newspapers want to print, and most offer a large collection of earlier strips for new readers, so longer stories can be told. Many webcomics are published (shown to people) by independent artists.
From the beginning of the movie industry, some artists began experimenting with making drawings that seemed to move. These moving drawings also became known as "cartoons". They often depict animals rather than humans. They were often just for fun, but sometimes, particularly during World War II, were used for political reasons, just like the cartoons in newspapers. Walt Disney and Warner Bros both made famous cartoons. Famous cartoon characters are Felix the Cat (1922), Mickey Mouse (1928), Bugs Bunny (1940) and Popeye(1929).
At first, movie cartoons were quite short. When a person bought a movie ticket, they would see a news program, two or three cartoons (in black and white) and a movie. Walt Disney then got the clever idea of telling a long story as a "cartoon". The first one that he made was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937). Movie cartoons (called "animations") soon became a popular type of entertainment. Modern animated movies are created using digital media, rather than hand-drawn cartoons. They include Toy Story (1995) and Shrek (2001).