Analysing A Cartoon #

Questions to consider

— What is a cartoon?

— Are there different kinds of cartoons?

— Why are cartoons so popular?

— Are cartoons always funny?

— What skills do you need to be a cartoonist?


A cartoon is generally a sketch or drawing that comments on topical issues in an interesting, novel or lateral way. It may be humorous, cynical or critical.

Cartoons and comics have often been dismissed as infantile, naïve or simplistic, however in recent years the work of major cartoonists like Leunig, First Dog on the Moon or graphic novels like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis have raised the legitimacy and seriousness of the graphic cartoon.

Cartoons communicate instantaneously through graphics, symbols and stereotypes because a picture can be worth a thousand words.

There are many different kinds of cartoons such as: Political, historical, domestic and social…..

Cartoons are so popular mainly because they comment in a very subjective, personal and persuasive manner a forceful view point.  They can be irreverent, anti-authority; mocking pomposity and pretence.  They often use wit, humour or self ridicule to be inclusive and sweeten the messages.

**Technique:  **

**          See also: Language of Visuals**

Analysing a cartoon:

Write about each, including the following information.

(a) A statement of the subject (story line) the cartoonist is commenting on.

(b) The message the cartoonist is trying to convey on this subject. (Purpose)

(c) An analysis  of the visual techniques noting any unusual features.

Everything in the frame speaks to us and we need to learn how these elements affect us and create meaning for us.   Secondary motifs such as clutter, other photographs in the background – everything - all props - add to our impression.



Characters used, Caricatures or Stereotypes

Caricatures are exaggerations or enlarged features to identify individuals.  In Political cartoons distinguishing features such as hair styles, noses, chins, or any other distinctive individual trait is highlighted.

Gaze,  eyes:

-direct – set and deliberate,  determined, canny ……
-averted -  surreptitious, furtive, lack of confidence……

 -uplifted  diffidence, pathos, supplication isolation, loneliness

-vacant –  absent, bewildered,  alienated,  unwitting,  comatose


-Demand – overbearing, narrow, defiant,  mean spirited,  brutal

-Offer,         Suggestive, Open, inviting,


-Confident -  self-assured or arrogant?

-Defeated-     downcast – humiliated,  sad

For an image of the Mona Lisa see:

**Facial ** **Expression:  ** soft/hard,  welcoming/threatening 

Fashion – Costuming, Clothing styles, period pieces, material, neatness, grooming and appropriateness.

Body Language:  deportment,   Stance,  gestures,  arms, 


**     Humour**/joke, subtlety  See:  Language of Satire/Humour


Colour, Black and White, White on Black, texture,  materials,   - muted colours or intense vivid fluorescent colour. Pale or saturated loud colours.

  • Spectacle includes colour, and graphics and language. 
  • Borders: Framing,  Centred, off-centre,  marginalised, focussed, blurred, 
  • Perspective,   
  • Horizontal or level drawings, 

These are neutral views and make us equal to the characters. 

  • Frontal depictions.  as long as the character is looking past the artist we are induced to accept and identify with the character.  When the character looks at us and talks to us, all illusion of immediacy and drama is broken.  We now know that we are not voyeurs watching real action.
  • oblique (profile) views
  • Create the illusion that the character is unaware of us or the cartoonist.
  • High (Overshots overhead),  Make the characters look diminutive and we are encouraged to look down on them condescendingly.
  • Low angle (Undershots)   Make the characters look larger than life and we look up to them perhaps in admiration.For illustrations see:

*   Distance,  Panoramic or establishment shots,


Panoramic views are used to establish the overall scene and provide orientation.

Other distant views can be used to detach us from the characters or to indicate their isolation or loneliness.


  • Space and Depth:  Cartoons can build on complex fields of depth and space that allow for multiple perspectives in constituting meaning. Because of the depth, from the foreground to the picture horizon, picture may convey multiple layers of orientation and context. 

(d) Your evaluation of the success/failure of the cartoon, explaining why you are influenced the way you are.  If the cartoon fails to communicate in ten seconds, it hasn’t worked for you.