Webcomics come in various forms. Most comics, though, are created with 2D illustrations known as cartoons. These predate the webcomic by a couple of centuries and in their earliest form can be even traced back to the Middle Ages.
The Italian Influence
The term “cartoon” sometimes refers to an animated motion picture or a preparatory drawing for a painting, but it more commonly refers to a comical illustration. The earliest form of this humorous cartoon is the caricature, which was practised by famous Italian artists such as Annibale Carracci, Gian Lorenzo Benini and Leonardo da Vinci.
A caricature stresses the most prominent and least attractive features of its subject.
The British Influence
The father of the cartoon as we know it is widely recognised as William Hogarth, an 18th century British painter and engraver. Hogarth was a pioneer of western sequential art and became famous for his “moral works”, each containing a collection of scenes that told a hard-hitting story about contemporary society.
Other British cartoonists emerged in the 1700s. Political cartoons evolved at the hands of George Townshend, James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson. No public figure was safe from their art, including generals, prime ministers, or even King George III.
Cartoons Go Global
By the mid-19th century, cartoons were featured in major political newspapers all over the world. In America, a prominent artist called Thomas Nast helped bring down the infamous Tweed Ring, which had defrauded New York City taxpayers out of millions of dollars. Political cartoons remain a powerful means of social commentary to this day.
20th Century Children’s Comics
Cartoons were the main feature of famous 20th century children’s comics such as The Beano or The Dandy, which endured for decades. Boys’ Adventure comics of the 1950s such as Eagle or Valiant stirred the imagination of young male minds, while titles such as Bunty or Judy appealed to young girls. Today, children still love comics and cartoons.
Massively popular, webcomics are mostly made up of cartoons and have become endlessly diverse in their subject matter and scope.