A cartoon is a form of expression, or communication, that refers to several forms of art, including humorous captioned illustrations, satirical political drawings, and animated film.
Cartoons, whether in animated or print form, are a part of the daily lives of millions of people throughout the world. They encompass a broad range of subject matter that can be humorous or serious, realistic or fanciful, purely entertaining or bitingly satiric. People of all ages and backgrounds enjoy some form of cartoons.
The word “cartoon” is derived from either the Italian word cartone or the Dutch word karton, which are both words describing a strong, thick or heavy paper, or pasteboard. These illustrations were originally done on a sturdy piece of paper as a preparatory study or modello for a finished work, such as a painting, tapestry or stained glass. Artists way back then used cartoons to form frescoes, to precisely link the components of the composition when painted on damp plaster over several days, which is referred to as giornate.
The concept originated in the Middle Ages, and first described a preparatory drawing for a piece of art, such as a painting, fresco, tapestry, or stained glass window.
In the 15th century, the invention of the printing press with movable type enabled written and pictorial matter to be reproduced in quantity. From the 16th to the 18th century, news of all kinds reached the general public by means of heavily illustrated printed broadsheets, flyers, and pamphlets. Many of the illustrations were early forms of the editorial cartoon.
In the 19th century, beginning in Punch magazine in 1843, cartoon came to refer – ironically at first – to humorous illustrations in magazines and newspapers. Then it also was used for political cartoons and comic strips. When the medium developed, in the early 20th century, it began to refer to animated films which resembled print cartoons.
Cartooning in the United States began during the colonial period. The early American cartoons, like the European, dealt with political and public issues. Benjamin Franklin is credited with creating the first American political cartoon.
Cartoons were used extensively to comment on the issues and the progress of the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln was a favorite subject for cartoonists. Following the war, new magazines of wit such as Puck (founded in 1877) and Judge (founded in 1881) provided outlets for hundreds of cartoonists.
In 1922, a newspaper editorial cartoonist Rollin Kirby won the First Pulitzer Prize for his cartoon “On the Road to Moscow” (1921). He went on to win a couple more Pulitzer Prizes for his works “News from the Outside World” (1924) and “Tammany” (1928). In 1927, Dr. Seuss began selling cartoons to magazines and other various publications.
The world’s most famous animator, Walt Disney, began making short animated cartoons based on children’s stories in 1923. In 1928 he introduced Mickey Mouse in the first animated sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie, which became an immediate sensation. Throughout the next decade, Disney would add such elements as carefully synchronized music (The Skeleton Dance, 1929), Technicolor (Flowers and Trees, 1932), and the illusion of depth with his multiplane camera (The Old Mill, 1937), a device that allowed for animated cels to be photographed against a three-dimensional background.
In 1923 Walt Disney started to make short animated series that were mostly based on fairy tales and children’s stories. In 1934, he released The Wise Little Hen, a film which was based on the fairy tale The Little Red Hen. It also saw the debut appearance of Donald Duck.
The 1930s to 1950s saw the rise of popularity of animated films, which led this period to be called as the Golden Age of American Animation. It gave rise to the now-legendary cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Betty Boop, and many others.
In the 1980s, cartoon was shortened to toon, referring to characters in animated productions. This term was popularized in 1988 by the combined live-action/animated film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, followed in 1990 by the animated TV series Tiny Toon Adventures.
For years limited-animation shows were relegated mostly to Saturday-morning children’s fare. This situation changed with the premiere of Matt Groening’s The Simpsons in 1989. Praised by many critics as among the funniest shows in television history, The Simpsons was noted for its satiric social commentary and absurd humor. It was also an inspiration for other prime-time cartoons that appeared in the 1990s, such as Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head and Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park.
The success of television cartoons led to the virtual disappearance of animated shorts produced for theatrical release. Animated feature-length films, however, flourished, especially after the release of Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989), regarded by many as the studio’s best animated feature in decades. Other Disney blockbusters followed, including Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), and Lilo & Stitch (2002). The development of computer animation was the single greatest advancement in the form since the time of Blackton and McCay and resulted in feature films of astounding visual sumptuousness. In 2001 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences added a new Academy award for best animated feature film. The first recipient of the award was Shrek (2001). Other major animated features were Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999), A Bug’s Life (1998), Monsters, Inc. (2001), and Finding Nemo (2003).