Cartoon: Concept, Characteristics, Elements and Examples

We explain what a comic strip is, its characteristics and the elements that make it up. Also, how to make one and several examples.

The comic is made up of a series of drawings that, read in order, make a story.

What is a comic strip?

The cartoon or comic is a form of artistic expression and a means of communication that consist of a series of drawings, with or without accompanying text, that read in sequence make up a story or a series of them. They are usually framed in vignettes, which are boxes adapted in form and style to the narrative or humorous content of the story.

The comic strip is a form of expression that is quite widespread in the history of humanity, going back to pictorial forms of narrative representation such as the present in Egyptian hieroglyphicsBut it acquires its real power through political humor, prevalent in Western societies since the time of the Roman Empire.

The cartoons of political humor represented the powerful or the rulers in rude or daring situations, so they were often anonymous and practically illegal. However, the invention of the printing press and lithography would allow its massification along with newspapers.

Despite the fact that many assigned it a rather secondary place for years, the comic has managed to survive the times and become today the Ninth Art.

There have been great and renowned cultists of this genre, both in Europe and in the Americas, among which the Americans Will Eisner and Art Spiegelman, the Argentines Oesterheld, Franquin, Trillo, Breccia and Altuna, or contemporary illustrators such as the Scandinavian Jason, stand out. the Italian Milo Namara or Guido Crepax, among many others.

Characteristics of a cartoon

Comics can be accompanied by text and other typical comic-language signs.

The comic strip is made up of a sequence of vignettes or images that may or may not be accompanied by text, as well as icons and other typical comic-language signs, such as movement lines or text balloons. All this makes up a story and gives it various levels of meaning.

Cartoon can be given on paper or digitally (the calls Webcomics), and is often the work of collaborations between writers, cartoonists, colorists and designers, whose cooperation is reminiscent of that of film professionals.

Elements of a cartoon

A cartoon comprises and articulates the following elements:

  • Bullets. The boxes in which the action (and illustration) of the story takes place, and which serve to separate it from the rest of the content on the page. Between one vignette and another it is considered that a time interval elapsed, which can be long (years) or very short (seconds) at the author’s convenience.
  • Illustrations. Drawings that convey to the reader what is happening. These can be of diverse nature, from simple and cartoonish drawings to pseudo-photographic illustrations and of enormous realism.
  • Text balloons. They do not always appear in the comics, but they serve to encompass the dialogues of the characters and make it clear who says what. They are also known as fumetti or sandwiches.
  • Own icons and signs. Comics use their own symbology that constitutes their language to represent movement, emotions, etc. These types of signs are conventional (you have to learn what they mean) but they constitute a fairly universal language. There is a Japanese side (heir to the manga) and a western and more traditional side.

How do you make a comic strip?

It takes a lot of practice to master comics.

The steps to create a comic are, in principle, simple, but methodical. Like everything in life, doing it with mastery will require practice, but we can order them into three great moments:

  • Conceptualization. The first step, as always, is to sit down and think about what we want to tell and how. What kind of story do we want to tell? With what kind of drawings do we want to tell it? What and how will the protagonists, the antagonists, and what is the script to follow? Everything must be sketched and practiced until each character is mastered.
  • Creation. Once we know what to do, we can start by labeling the sheet, that is, organizing the bullets on the sheet according to the style of our narrative. A more conventional one will require panel after panel at a ratio of two or three per page, while a more avant-garde one may break the narrative flow or use the entire page. Once that is done, we must add the illustration we want to each panel: tell what happens.
  • Revision. Once the story is told, we must add the minimum details: the signs that clarify the situation, the text in the speech bubbles, the support text, etc. It is time to check that the action is logical and that no clarification is necessary to follow the narrative thread. Then we can add textures and other more decorative aspects.

Cartoon examples

Some famous comic books and graphic novels are:

  • Garfield, comic strip created by Jim Davis.
  • MAUS, famous two-volume graphic novel by Art Spiegelman.
  • Frank, cartoon drawn by Jim Woodring.
  • The everlasting, created by HG Oesterheld and Francisco Solano López.
  • X Men, comic series created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
  • Akira, manga created and drawn by the Japanese Katsuhiro Otomo.