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What are cartoons?

According to Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary (1948), a cartoon is an amusing drawing in a


newspaper or magazine, especially one that comments satirically on current events. Also, it defines
animated cartoon as a film made by photographing a series of gradually changing drawings, giving
an illusion of movement.
An animated cartoon is a short, hand-drawn (or made with computers to look similar to something
hand-drawn) film for the cinema, television or computer screen, featuring some kind of story or plot
(even if it is a very short one) (Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia, 2001).
AudioEnglish.net (2000) defines animated cartoon as a film made by photographing a series of
cartoon drawings to give the illusion of movement when projected in rapid sequence.
Then, Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia (1994) claims that originally, a cartoon was regarded as a
full-size drawing used for transferring a design to a painting, tapestry, or other large work. The
encyclopaedia also claims that it was in the 19th century that the term acquired its popular meaning
of a humorous drawing or parody.
Cartoons are not simply animated, sketched or drawn figures as unfamiliar viewers may think, they
are comic constructions, ranging from mildly humorous to savagely satirical, based on current
happenings and/or people's lives (Webster's Dictionary, 1972).
This is where the problem comes in. What are cartoonists making children feel is
funny
, trivial or even of no consequence? Before the advent of the word cartoon in its modern sense in
the 19th century, all sorts of
funny
and/or awkward drawings were referred to as caricatures. (Microsoft Encarta Online
Encyclopaedia, 2004)
The most famous figure of early times for the world of cartoons is William Hogarth' created in 18th-
century Britain. Honor Daumier, a French man, introduced text to his cartoons to convey their
unspoken thoughts in the 19th century. Following this, Britain's punch became the leading source of
cartoons in the 19th century and then The New Yorker' took the lead for the Americans (Britannica
Concise Encyclopaedia, 1994).
According to Museum Broadcast Communication (2008), cartoons as we know them today generally
evolved in the teens', however, their growth was stifled by the fact that for every second of
animation, about 25 scenes had to be drawn. This made production tedious and uneconomical.
Nonetheless, Earl Hurd revolutionized the insipid industry of the era by designing the cel (a sheet of
lucid celluloid) patented with Bray Studios Inc. The cel provided cartoonist with new light; they only
needed to redraw the part of the cartoons that moved.
Studios also discovered ways to simplify the process of animation by initially departmentalizing the
steps of the process of making the cartoons and then using storyboards (little drawings of scenes
that represented different sections in the cartoon) to plan cartoons. Thus, something similar to a
production line was formed for producing animation, making it much more economical.
Furthermore, Jerry G. Butler states that the animated cartoon industry was born with Krazy Kat
created by the American George Herriman. This was followed by Pat Sullivan and Otto Mesmer's
Felix the
cat
which was the first series of the animated cartoon industry; the majority of the first animated
cartoons were adapted from comics, following their earlier popularity with readers.
Walt Disney, one of the early producers, was one of the first to use new technologies and devise
competent modes of cartoon production. His Steamboat Willie(1928) was the first notable cartoon
with harmonized sound and also hisFlowers and Trees(1932) was the first to employ the tri-colour,
Technicolor procedure which became the industry's primary colour scheme of the time.
The major reason for the success of the cartoon industry according to the Museum Broadcast
Communication (2008) was an effective distribution system. Before sound was introduced to
cartoons, they were produced by smaller studios with restricted theatre access. Later on, major
studios such as MGM and Warner signed distribution deals with these smaller studios gaining their
distribution rights and greatly increasing the distributing power of these smaller studios. Some major
studios even went on to produce their own cartoons, as the standard way of exhibiting films at the
time included cartoons.
Jerry Butler says that cartoons started emigrating to television around the late 1940's when Van
Beuren (a smaller studio) started selling its shows to early programs for children like Movies for
small fry. Disney was one of the first major studios to follow this trend posting The Mickey Mouse
Club to television. Thereafter, the other major studios joined in.
Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopaedia (2004) says that concurrent with the vital changes for the
film studios, there were also changes in the aesthetics of the cartoons that were made. Hitherto the
1950s, cartoonists in particular those working for Disney strived to achieve naturalistic figures so
much so that they transformed dancer Marge Champion into Snow White'. However, World War II
and post World War II art movements including Pointillism cast off this natural style to nurture an
approach that stressed abstract line, shape, and pattern. United Productions of America (UPA) was
at the fore front of this revolution, with its first achievement coming with the Mr Magoo series in 1949
followed by its Gerald Mcboing Boing which won an Academy Award in 1951; truly setting this new
style into motion.
According to Wikipedia, UPA's style featured flat perspectives, imaginary backgrounds and strong
primary colours all with "limited" animation. UPA's cartoons were simply flat in backgrounds of wide
fields of colour; squiggles suggesting clouds and trees.
Also, Wikipedia says that crucial for the progress of television cartoons, was the limited nature of
UPA's creations summarized as, the amount of movement within the frame was greatly reduced, the
motions are often repeated. A character chattering his teeth, for example, might contain only two
distinct movements which are then repeated without change. Thirdly, limited animation uses less
individual frames to embody a movement. Full animation might use 24 discrete frames to represent
a movement that takes one second;however, limited animation might cut the number in half. The
result is a faintly jerkier movement.
Wikipedia noted that UPA's changes in animation which appeared to have been aesthetically
inspired, also made good business sense. Flattened perspective, abstract backgrounds, strong
primary colours, and limited animation result in cartoons that are cheaper and quicker to produce.
When animators began creating programs specifically for television, they quickly adopted UPA's
economical practices but did away with their aesthetics in the process.
The first successful, designed-for-television cartoon was Jay Ward and Alexander Anderson's
Crusader Rabbit initially distributed in 1949. Network television cartooning which came along eight
years later had its first cartoon series developed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, the most successful
producers of television cartoons. The Ruff and Ready Show was the first made-for-TV cartoon to be
broadcast nationally on Saturday mornings; its popularity helped to establish the practicality of
Saturday morning network programming. Hanna-Barbera'sThe Flintstones(1960) was prime-time's
first successful cartoon series but also its last until the debut ofThe Simpsonsin 1989. With these first
well established cartoons, the characteristics of the made-for-TV cartoons were laid down
(Toontracker, 1996).
UPA-style aesthetics (especially limited animation) were mixed with narrative structures that were
developed in 1950s television makingthe final trait of the made-for-TV cartoons an emphasis on
dialogue asdialogue in themade-for-TV cartoons oftenre-states that which is occurring visually. In
this way, television's roots in radio are revealed. There is a reliance on sound in, for instance,Tom &
Jerrycartoons in which there is no dialogue at all, made-for-Television cartoons are often less
visually oriented than theatrical cartoons from the "golden era." (Museum Broadcast Communication,
2008)
Television cartoons in the 1990s were dominated by the phenomenal success of Matt Groening'sThe
Simpsons, which thrived after its series first appearance in 1989. Its success was principally
responsible for the creation of the FOX network and the launching of one of the largest
merchandising campaigns of the decade. (The Simpson's Bios, 2009).