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A cartoon is a form of art with diverse origins and even more diverse modern meanings.

In its historical original meaning, a cartoon is a full-size drawing made on paper as a study for a further artwork, such as a painting. However, cartoons were typically used in the production of frescoes in order to accurately link the component parts of the composition when painted onto newly applied fresh plaster over a series of days. Cartoons by great painters such as Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci are highly prized in their own right.


Nowadays a cartoon is a humorous drawing of some description. This usage dates from the 1840s when Punch magazine applied the terms to satirical drawings in is pages. The first of these parodied frescoes in the then-new Palace of Westminster. The original title for such drawings in Punch was Mr Punch's pencillings and the title 'cartoon' was intended to be ironic - these were still essentially line-art drawings in pencil and/or ink.

Over time, more cartoons in Punch made other satirical points and, eventually, came merely to be humorous drawings, usually (although not always) with a punchline caption at the bottom. Many early examples of these are reproduced on the Punch website and are impenetrably obscure by today's standards.

The modern understanding of cartoon falls into two further categories - comic strip and animated cartoons.

Comic strips are found daily in newspapers worldwide and are frequently compiled into books. Comic strips are either individual drawings or a series of (usually) three drawings side-by-side. Each square of a strip is referred to as a 'cell'. Cartoons in this sense include Peanuts, drawn by Charles Schulz, Garfield, by Jim Davis, or Dilbert by Scott Adams, although there are literally hundreds of others. Some comic strips retain a satirical and even literary edge, such Doonesbury by Garry Trudeau. Additionally, graphic novel tie cartoon-like illustrations to a novel-like plot and word-count.

Animated cartoons are usually shown on television or cinema screens and are created by drawing thousands of individual drawings which are shown rapidly in succession to give the impression of movement. In this meaning, the word cartoon is often shortened to toon, which may be a corruption of Looney Tunes. Toon was popularized in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Toons are often anthropomorphized animals used in non-serious fiction. It is not generally used to in reference to anime characters. A major distinction between the two is the squash and stretch mannerism of American cartoon characters.

See also