A cartoon is a graphic that tells a comic and/or satirical story in one image – usually with a punch line. Originally, no words were used for the picture joke. Picture stories over several panels are called comics. Cartoons are mainly published in daily newspapers and magazines.
The term cartoon comes from the French carton = cardboard and originally meant designs for frescos and tapestries drawn on cardboard.
The cartoon has a broad tradition in US and British newspapers. Renowned magazines like The New Yorker (founded in 1925) adorn each issue with a large number of cartoons and employ their own cartoonists.
The British satirical magazine Punch (founded in 1841) printed the first cartoons in today’s sense. Punch also coined the term cartoon in the English language, which was at first meant ironically, but then became a regular term for humorous drawings. Dialogues between the protagonists were printed below the drawing. Punch’s cartoons not only dealt with politics, but also picked up – often in a very concise way – “hot” social issues, situation comedy and everyday conflicts.
This is the difference between the cartoon and political caricature and the insulting portrayal of individuals (whose tradition can be traced back to antiquity): a cartoon can also transform every aspect of social life into a concise, funny pictorial narrative; as a comic drawing it has its own entertainment value and is not only valid as a commentary on current events or as political criticism. In this way it forms an art form in its own right.
Accompanying texts and dialogues of the protagonists in cartoons are usually kept very short and pointed and are printed above or below the picture or inserted into speech bubbles. Usually cartoons are drawn and written by one person, but there are also teams of draftsmen and copywriters who work closely together, for example Katz and Goldt or Greser and Lenz. The range of content of cartoons is very broad – it extends from simple word games to comic treatment of daily politics and drawings whose comedy is based on ironic quotations from pop culture. A special category are also the cartoons on scientific topics and facts as they are designed by the American cartoonist Sidney Harris.
As in comics and cartoons, elements of graphic art itself can also become the subject of the story and the object of comedy in cartoons. Cartoonists often develop an individual graphic style that gives them recognition value and helps them find a position in the highly competitive market.