cartoon [Ital., cartone=paper], either of two types of drawings: in the fine arts, a preliminary sketch for a more complete work; in journalism, a humorous or satirical drawing.
Cartoons in the Fine Arts
In the fine arts, the cartoon is a full-sized preliminary drawing for a work to be executed afterward in fresco, oil, mosaic, stained glass, or tapestry. Glass and mosaic are cut exactly according to the patterns taken from the cartoons, while in tapestry the cartoon is inserted beneath the warp to serve as a guide. In fresco painting, the lines of the cartoon are perforated and transferred to the plaster surface by pouncing (dusting with powder through the perforations). Italian Renaissance painters made very complete cartoons, and such works as Raphael's cartoons for the Sistine Chapel tapestries (Victoria and Albert Mus.) are considered masterpieces.
Cartoons in Journalism
In England in 1843 a series of drawings appeared in Punch magazine that parodied the fresco cartoons submitted in a competition for the decoration of the new Houses of Parliament. In this way cartoon, in journalistic parlance, came to mean any single humorous or satirical drawing employing distortion for emphasis, often accompanied by a caption or a legend. Cartoons, particularly editorial or political cartoons, make use of the elements of caricature.
The political cartoon first appeared in 16th-century Germany during the Reformation, the first time such art became an active propaganda weapon with social implications. While many of these cartoons were crudely executed and remarkably vulgar, some, such as Holbein's German Hercules, were excellent drawings produced by the best artists of the time. In 18th-century England the cartoon became an integral and effective part of journalism through the works of Hogarth, Rowlandson, and Gillray, who often used caricature. Daumier, in France, became well known for his virulent satirical cartoons.
By the mid-19th cent. editorial cartoons had become regular features in American newspapers, and were soon followed by sports cartoons and humorous cartoons. The effect of political cartoons on public opinion was amply demonstrated in the elections of 1871 and 1873, when the power of Tammany Hall was broken and Boss Tweed imprisoned largely through the efforts of Thomas Nast and his cartoons for Harper's Weekly. In 1922 the first Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning was won by Rollin Kirby of the New York World. Other noted political cartoonists include John T. McCutcheon, C. D. Batchelor, Jacob Burck, Bill Mauldin, Rube Goldberg, Tom Little, Patrick Oliphant, and Herblock (Herbert Block).
Humorous nonpolitical cartoons became popular with the development of the color press, and in 1893 the first color cartoon appeared in the New York World. In 1896 R. F. Outcault originated The Yellow Kid, a large single-panel cartoon with some use of dialogue in balloons, and throughout the 90s humorous cartoons by such artists as T. S. Sullivant, James Swinnerton, Frederick B. Opper, and Edward W. Kemble began to appear regularly in major newspapers and journals. The New Yorker and Saturday Evening Post were among the most notable American magazines to use outstanding single cartoon drawings.
Single cartoons soon developed into the narrative newspaper comic strip, but the single panel episodic tradition also survived and thrived. It is exemplified by the work of humorists such as Charles Addams, Peter Arno, Saul Steinberg, James Thurber, William Steig, Helen Hokinson, Mary Petty, Whitney Darrow, George Price, Edward Koren, Roz Chast, the Englishmen Rowland Emmett and Ronald Searle, and the French cartoonists André François and Bil.
See studies by D. Low (1953), O. Lancaster (1964); R. E. Shikes, The Indignant Eye (1969); J. Geipel (1972); M. Horn, ed., The World Encyclopedia of Cartoons (1980); A. Wood, Great Cartoonists and Their Art (1987); V. S. Navasky, The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power (2013).