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). (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. Honoré 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).

With this history in view, there are various types of cartoons which different sources including Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia (2001) have highlighted, they include:

Fine art

These types of cartoons were basically blueprints used by artists to transfer their ideas from the canvases to actual pieces. They were used in the production of frescoes and also by weavers to transfer designs to their looms. Tapestry cartoons which were usually coloured, were followed by eye by the weavers on the loom.

Print media

In the sense as used by print media today, a cartoon is a work of art, typically intended to be funny. This use dates from about 1843 when the Punch applied the term to the sardonic images it contained. Cartoons were initially meant to be ironic, mocking the outrageous events of the time. Print media cartoons can also be further broken down.

Gag cartoons or single-panel cartoons, are found in all print media and they are generally made up of a single drawing with a subtitle immediately below or a speech balloon.

Editorial cartoons are a type of gag cartoons found mostly in media dealing with news and although they may be humorous, they are more serious in tone parodying recent happenings.

Comic strips, also called cartoon strips are found every day in newspapers globally. Usually they are short series of cartoon illustrations in sequence and although humour is the rifest subject matter, adventure and drama are also represented.

Motion Picture

Due to the close similarities between early animated cartoons and comic strips, ‘cartoon' as generally used today refers to motion picture cartoons. This type of cartoons are displayed on television or in cinemas and are created by showing illustrated images in swift succession to give the illusion of motion. They may or may not include synchronized sounds but most modern motion picture cartoons do.

In the past few years, it has been noticed that there is an increase in violence and other inappropriate behaviours among children who we expect to be generally peaceful. What do many children today have in common, what do they share that could be the cause of this change in behaviour? The quest for a reason, an answer has led to the main source of entertainment for children today, cartoons (Leonard Erin, Senior Research Scientist at the University Joanne Cantor, 2002).

Cartoons have become the favourite past time of most of the world's children today. Their lives revolve around everything they watch on television or read in comic books and this has been estimated to take up about 4 hours of their day (Mariam, 2009).

Normally, children start watching cartoons whilst they are very young and at the age of two or three they would have been converted to ardent apostles. This has become an issue as many problems have been discovered to have roots in watching cartoons (Stevie Hossler, 2004).


By Stevie Hossler (2004)

Children spend a total of about 13,000 hours in school from day one till graduation day. This seems like a very long time under which the influences of their teachers can be felt. However, within the same time frame children spend a total of about 18,000 hours watching cartoons. This is more than enough time for cartoons to take their effect on the children's brains, emotions and sense to feel pain.

David Satcher, the United States Surgeon General, stated in a report on adolescent violence (2000) “More aggressive behaviour ina young child's life is caused by recurrently watched entertainment that contains violence”. The American Psychological Association passed a resolution in February of 1985 due to its research findings, communicating the dangers violence on the television has on children. The major effects proved by their study are:

1. The children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others; children who watch violence do not fear violence nor are they bothered by violence in general.

2. The children are more likely to become aggressive or use harmful actions towards others.

3. When we are born we have the capacityfor motivation, experience, and training, and because of this our minds are very impressionable. Therefore, our brains' development is an active mix of nature and nurture, so it is important to choose a healthy environment for all children. This means cartoons with violence will be detrimental to a child because in general, being interactive with any environment enhances the development of a successful brain. As a result, atremendous amount of childhood involvement with electronic media can limit social interaction and may obstruct the development of a brain's social systems.”

However, some cartoons promote creativity in children making them more exposed to information that was once unavailable to people their age. Also, children seem to have become brighter and are more emphatic


BY Brandon Ybarra (2004)

Today, very many unrealistic things can be seen in cartoons; surviving gunshots at extremely close range and even coming back from the dead. Unfortunately, parents seem to be happy with these cartoons as they do not promote sex but these sorts of cartoons are not good for children.

In many episodes of Pokemon for example, brawls can be seen between the ‘Pokemon' and in the incident of the ‘death' of any of the ‘pocket monsters' they are simply reborn, they can never die. Teaching children this is relatively unhealthy as they are young and inquisitive and may not know the full implications of death. It is understood that growing children admire and most often imitate their cartoon heroes even to the extent of trying to fly like Superman or climb walls like Spiderman. Unfortunately, this is not just a cut when talking about injuries to children. Your browser may not support display of this image.


BY Chris Choma, (2004)

Cartoons are packed with many contentious matters which are not consciously noticed but do have an effect on the subconscious minds.

This is called subliminal messaging. It is defined by theAmerican Heritage Dictionaryas, “Below the threshold of conscious perception; inadequate to produce conscious awareness but able to evoke a response” (AHD, 1352). It means therefore that broadcasters are brainwashing people and more significantly children. Unfortunately, this act is not yet illegal but it is widely frowned at.

The use of subliminal messaging has greatly reduced due to advances in technology which enable viewers to scrutinize what they are watching frame by frame. Although subliminal messaging seems to have reduced, no one can be certain as only those who put these messages there are supposed to know that they are there.


BY Shawnte Ray (2004)

The delivery of auditory information to parts of the mind without an individual's actual perception is called auditory subliminal messaging. A classic example is a statement made by Meowth in an episode of Pokemon which was aired on Monday, October 11th, 2004 at 4:00 p.m. He said, “If that's the Democratic way, I am voting Republican.” Children are exposed to auditory subliminal messages which are quite common in popular cartoons. Their effects may never be discovered as they will become part of the children's lives.


BY Ben Wikox (2004)

Organizations such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have discovered from research that children who watch cartoons in which violence is incorporated are more likely to employ violence in real life. They insist that parents should screen the cartoons their children watch and also parents should act as interpreters when necessary, telling the children violence is not the best course of action.

The American Academy of Paediatrics states, “Neuroscientists have shown that external experiences notably mould a young brain” and following this they have discovered that a higher rate of cartoon viewing can be linked to lower academic achievements, particularly comprehension scores. Their humorous nature stifles the development of the left hemisphere of the brain which dominates our use of language. Television is a very quick medium, with messages shot at the viewers like lightening bolts. The minds of children have therefore adapted to obtaining such high speed information and therefore tend to refute slower forms of gaining information or thorough reading as in day to day schooling.


After watching an episode of Pokemon which was aired in December 1997, many children across the globe were reported to have suffered seizures (Warner, 2004)

It has been agreed on by eye specialist that watching television under right conditions does not cause any harm to the brain or the eyes, however, doing so in inappropriate conditions; in a dark room closer than five feet, will lead to eye fatigue and as scientific evidence also corroborates, brain damage (Adams, 1992).

A study which was carried out by the Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Centre of Seattle, Washington made known that children who watch three to four hours of cartoons daily have a 30 to 40 percent higher possibility of developing attention deficit disorder than children who did not watch cartoons (Today's Chiropractic, 2004).

From the foregoing, it can be suggested that though cartoons have some advantages to their viewer's, their disadvantages out weigh those advantages, thus, this research hopes to prove that the seemingly harmless cartoons children are exposed to and/or allowed to watch have some adverse effects on their behaviours and at the same time create an awareness of the dangers of cartoons to our communities and have these dangers checked so as to prevent an aggravation of what seems at present to be a harmless situation.


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