The Art of Comics & Cartoons: Graphics, Superheroes and Illustrations

Are you a Marvel fan? Do some of your best childhood memories come from books like Tintin, Batman or Archie? Is one of your favourite books as an adult a Maus album? If so, we invite you to jump in the swirling black hole and lose yourself in our latest article!

Comics and cartoons are mistakenly considered to be for kids only. Some are simple, designed to elicit a quick laugh. Still,  many comics are written for an adult audience, with in-depth storytelling, dark plots and complex artwork. While some are simple, designed to elicit a quick laugh, others push the envelope with cultural, social or political commentary. To really understand comics and cartoons, let’s do a deep dive into the art behind it.    

First, what connects and differentiates comics and cartoons? Comics are a medium that conveys messages and ideas via an image that usually integrates text. . It is more often than not a sequence of images, not a single one, included via speech balloons, captions or onomatopoeia – the Ohhhs, Ahhhs, Pows, etc,  – which is how it delivers its dialogue, narration, sound effects and anything else that the artist wants to convey. The panels’ size and arrangement serves to change or disrupt the rhythm and emphasise one part of the story or element. As for cartoons, it is a type of illustration – more than often not realistic or semi-realistic in style – that is used to tell the story that comics illustrate. In short – comics are the medium, cartoon – the media.    

The word cartoon might ring a different bell for students of art history, but its use has morphed to mean something very different since the middle ages when it was initially employed. It was originally referred to as a preparatory drawing for large artworks such as paintings, frescos, tapestries, or even stained glass. For example, the National Portrait Gallery has a large cartoon titled King Henry VIII; King Henry VII by Hans Holbein the Younger. Upon close examination, one can see the small puncture holes made to the cartoon in the transfer process on the final surface.    

When did the term pass from this technique to what we know today as a cartoon? In the 19th century, Punch magazine, a British satire weekly,  began labelling their humorous illustrations as cartoons for the first time. Since then, they became known as political cartoons or comic strips. In the late 20th century, graphic novel and comic albums – in other words, large bound volumes – made their entrance onto the comic scene. Webcomics are the revolution of the 21st century.     

But the history of comics isn’t quite as straight of a line. Some scholars argueLascaux cave paintings are the first comics. Four countries are primarily associated with the proliferation of comics: the United States, with  Superman, Archie, or Garfield; France and Belgium with,  Asterix or Tintin and finally, Japan’s Manga. Many cultures have taken their words for comics from English, including Russian and German. . Similarly, the Chinese term manhua and the Korean manhwa derive from the Chinese characters for manga. One thing is for sure: comics and cartoons have been a mass media art form, mostly due to the way it was disseminated through newspapers and via reproducible media.    

Comics have been perceived as low art for much of its history. Then, at the end of the 20th century, the public and academics started to perceive it differently. Could it be because fine art artists brought it into their “high” art? Many visual artists have been inspired by comics, cartoons and other mainstream cultural references. Artists that aren’t doing in the art of comics and cartoons have been inspired by it through time. Bringing more mainstream cultural references and being influence by “low art” has been one of the most prolific inspiration sources. Let’s think about Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, who depicted Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on canvas, before moving on to the comic-strip ladies and gents. In recent days, KAWS, Kenny Scharf, Takashi Murakami all figure at the top of the list of well-renowned artists who have found source material for their projects in comics. Inspired? We hope so! We never know what an art form will bring to us next, but we are sure that for many years and decades to come, the art of comics and cartoons will keep entertain us and create awe feelings both in its creators and to its audience. We will be there to see it and keep being compelled.    

Roy Lichtenstein “Look Mickey”.

We couldn’t, of course, write an article that showcases the popularity and the influence of the art of comics and cartoons without mentioning a few of our adopters that are well versed in that genre! Spotlight on five of them.    

 Justin Castaneda
Comic artist and children’s book creator Justin Castaneda won the 2015 S.P.A.CE. Prize for Best Web Comic by dint of work. Among the remarkable comics, he has worked on are Aw Yeah Comics or Scratch 9.Something we really like about Justin is that every May, he provides the Chicago Public Library with colouring sheets in celebration of Asian Pacific-Islander Heritage Month.  

His work can be appreciated on his .art website or on Instagram under the handle @whenuwerelittle 

Bird and Ethan Mongin
Pretty Weird Art is described as “the love child” of  Bird and Ethan Mongin. Illustrators and storytellers, they collaborate on paintings, graphic novels, and on projects ranging from magazine illustrations to clothing design. Their love for science fiction, horror and all sub-genres of metal are perceptible in their spectacular illustrations.  

To see it yourself, follow them on Instagram under @prettyweirdartllc, or pay a visit to their website     

Nimesh Morarji
Nimesh Moraji is a talented digital comics books colourist who lives in Portugal. His Instagram account resembles a blog since he creates a real connection with his audience by putting words on his artistic process – his feedback, impressions, project, the difficulties he encountered, etc.     

His work can be appreciated on Instagram by looking into or his .art website   

Vito Potenza  
Vito Potenza is a digital artist from Milan, Italy. Working as a comic colourist for independent publishers such as Inverse Press and Squared Circle Comics, he is also interested in animation and character design projects. Last year, Vito took part in the #Inktober weekly drawing challenge on Instagram.  

Visit his website to discover more about his work to find his under @vito_potenza Instagram.  

Brad Thingvold
North Dakota resident, Brad Thingvold is particularly interested in sequential comic art. He also produces other comic style pinup work. His work mostly consists of black, white and grey shades, which comes from his childhood habit of seeing black and white family photos. His “Bingo!” comic is related to the Wild West and is currently accessible on his website.  

You can discover more about his practice on his website at or by checking out his work on Instagram under @bradthingvold.

.ART Team
.ART Team
members are global citizens with interests ranging from art history to social justice. If we had an office cat we would have called it Basquiat.