What Exactly is a Cartoon?
A cartoon is any of several forms of illustrations with varied meanings. The term has evolved from its original meaning from the fine art of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, to the more modern meaning of humorous illustrations in magazines and newspapers, to the contemporary meaning referring to animated programs.
A cartoon (from the Italian "cartone" and Dutch/Flemish word "karton," meaning strong, heavy paper or pasteboard) is a full-size drawing made on paper as a study for further drawings, such as a painting or tapestry. Cartoons were typically used in the production of frescoes (Italian paintings on plaster or walls), to accurately link the component parts of the composition when painted onto plaster over a series of days.
These types of cartoons often have pinpricks along the outlines of the design. A bag of soot was then rubbed over the cartoon, and 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 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-aggrandising posturing of Westminster politicians.
Modern gag cartoons, found in magazines and newspapers, generally consist of a single drawing with a caption immediately beneath or a speech balloon. Many consider New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno the father of the modern gag cartoon. Gag cartoonists of note include Charles Addams, Gary Larson, Charles Barsotti, Chon Day and Mel Calman.
Editorial cartoons are a type of gag cartoon found almost exclusively in news publications. 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 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 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, Steve Bell.
An animated cartoon horse, drawn by rotoscoping from Edweard Muybridge's 19th century photos. 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.