The word “cartoon” began in the middle ages as a word for a preparatory drawing done before a painting. In the 19th century, with the rise of regular newspapers and magazines, the word began to be used to refer to the quick sketches done for these periodical publications. The term was coined in 1843 by the British magazine “Punch”, whose cartoons set the standard for cartooning until after World War II. Cartoons could be drawn quickly, fitting the tight schedule of regular publications. A slower drawing might look more serious and formal, but a quicker drawing would often appear casual and silly. Publishers and artists began to exploit this tendency to silliness by using cartoons as light-hearted comic relief from the grave matters of the daily news. The original (and most common) use of humorous cartoons was for political and social satire.
In the 20th century, the rise of film led to the appearance of animated cartoons. Early animated movies were similar in style to the editorial cartoons of the periodicals, and their humorous manner won them a ready audience in young children. When television became the standard amusement of the modern world, cartoons on television became the most common diversion of children. Children’s cartoons were typically shown during the day (and especially on Saturday mornings), but the 1960s saw the rise of sitcom cartoons like The Flintstones which were broadcast in primetime. Most of these programs were short-lived, however.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that prime-time television cartoons reappeared, with the emergence of The Simpsons. These new prime-time cartoons were notable in being directed at a more adult audience (or, in the case of Beavis and Butthead and others, an adolescent audience). Cartoons like The Simpsons were satires in the tradition of the cartoons in “Punch”, and have become increasingly popular in recent decades.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Do you have favorite cartoons? Are they movies, TV shows or in print?
Why do you think cartoons are so appealing to young children?
Do you think it’s odd for cartoons to be marketed to adults?
Cartoons are a simple and expressive way of telling a story visually, and so they have broad applications from newspaper editorials to feature films.