Cartoons vs. Caricatures – What is the difference?

In this short post, I would like to differentiate between cartoons and caricatures, and then discuss the gray area that lies between the two.

I’ll begin by reaching out for my Merriam Webster Collegiate dictionary – Tenth Edition. Yes, I do it the old way…lug that bulky tome to my table and then patiently flip the pages until I find the word that I am looking for!  I find the word “caricature” – in the first column of page 173. Let me pick the definition for you.

“A caricature implies a ludicrous exaggeration of the characteristic features of a subject.”

And now I flip a couple more pages to find the term cartoon.

“A ludicrously simplistic, unrealistic, one-dimensional portrayal/a preparatory drawing.”

As you can see, a caricature exaggerates the characteristic features of a subject (person, place, or thing,) whereas a cartoon is a simplistic, unrealistic, one-dimensional(?) portrayal (of what? – anything, even that of an abstract concept.) Notice the elements missing from a cartoon – a “real” subject, whose features are being exaggerated, also notice the additional element of simplistic rendering.

So exaggeration of the defining features would lead to a caricature – ex: caricature of Bill Clinton, with his nose, his jaw, his florid complexion – all exaggerated, leading to his picture becoming a funnier version of the subject’s likeness.

Icon President Bill Clinton - Cover Art and Two Page Spread done for Talk Business and Politics Magazine.

And a simplistic rendering of anything (including a subject: person, place, thing, concept) would be a cartoon – ex: the following cartoon drawing includes cartoons of three persons, a few objects, and presents a concept.

Toony Pretzels Cartoon of a doctor operating upon a patient while a nurse looks on - Theory vs. Practice

 

But then a caricature of a person may be rendered simplistically enough to be called a cartoon too, and hence the confusion. For example, the cartoons of Ajit Ninan published in The Times of India are not just simplistic renderings, but they also exaggerate the characteristic features of the politicians to poke fun on them. While they are still cartoons (simplistic rendering,) they are also caricatures of specific subjects.

Hope this boring post has managed to clarify matters 🙂

Now hop to my art gallery here to enjoy some colorful caricatures.

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6 comments on “Cartoons vs. Caricatures – What is the difference?

    • You make a valid point. The only explanation for the change in the meaning of the term cartoon is “time.” Over time, rough sketches, preparatory drafts came to be known as cartoons (rough drawings made on cartons or packing material, because paper was expensive,) and then rough simplistic drawings made on any material began to be called cartoons 🙂

      • Hah! They weren’t meant to be. They were his sketches, his rough drawings. And his crooked people aren’t funny because they are realistic renditions of real people. When real people get bent out of shape, they aren’t funny, they are in pain…they convey pain.

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