There are 2 basic types of cartoonists, each exemplified by the illustrations above.
The one on the left is by T.S. Sullivant, the one on the right by Milt Gross.
Almost every cartoonist since the early days has a style based on a variation of one of these, or some combination of the 2.
CARICATURE or CONSERVATIVE CARTOONST.S. Sullivant represents the kind of cartooning that is based on interpreting real life. His style is caricature. He keenly observes what things really look like and then changes their proportions to create a funny version of life. His animals have anatomy. His scenes follow the rules of perspective.
This I would call the conservative cartoon approach, because he is not creating anything from scratch and has strict rules and disciplines based on actual observations in nature that he adheres to.
I love and envy highly skilled conservative art.
Animation cartoonists that lean towards the conservative representational style are Chuck Jones, Milt Kahl and Ken Anderson.
CARTOONY or RADICAL CARTOONSMilt Gross is the opposite of conservative. He is radically creative. His drawings are made by design and invention and don't represent what things actually look like. He defies anatomy and perspective and just arranges all his elements purely upon what is pleasing to the eye. He is a master creator and designer.
Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Jim Tyre and the Fleischers are animators that lean towards the more cartoony and wacky style.
EARLY COMIC STRIPS
Most early cartoon art followed the conservative approach, but somewhere near the end of the 19th century pure cartoons were invented, or maybe they evolved from caricature. I need a comic strip historian to help me here.
Some early comic strips, like the Katzenjammer Kids and Mutt and Jeff are pure cartoons, in that the characters are made of balls and tubes and simple, non-anatomical shapes.
Here's a nice page from Cliff Sterret who falls mostly in the cartoony/designy school of cartoonists.
Look how cool the cat is!
Note how it looks nothing like an actual cat. This is an important point!
I'll talk a lot about that in more articles.
Other comic strips like The Yellow Kid or Little Nemo are more representational like Sullivant's work.
Some strips, like The Kin-Der-Kids by Lionel Feininger are a combination of the two, in his case leaning towards the representational style, but with elements of cartoon-abstract design.To see more classic comic stips go to Andy's Early Comics Page:
This post is the first in a continuing series about the history, forms and traditions of cartoon styles.
Animated cartoons grew directly out of the rules and styles of comic strips and then developed some new ideas of their own and became what I think of as the most creative art form in history.
Keep abreast of these articles if you want to be able to better grasp why you draw like you do.
Shane Glines at Cartoon Retro has the most amazing collection of Milt Gross' comic books.
Milt Gross' style really evolved over the years.
He's mostly known as a comic strip artist, but in my opinion his best work is in comic books which he did in his later years.
It's really rare for an artist to get better as he ages, but Milt kept improving right up to the end of his life.
Go sign up at Cartoon Retro now to see some of the greatest cartoon art ever!
Here's some interesting Milt Gross, stuff that's earlier and not as designy or wacky as the comic books but still pretty fun.
Thanks to Clarke Snyde for some great links!
Especially this one: