“Cartooning is perhaps the least understood of all major art movements, because of its unlikely combination of grotesque distortion/exaggeration and socio-political commentary.”Amid Amidi, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of Cartoon Brew
Joseph Pulitzer was the first person to make use of illustration in his newspaper in 1878. Since then, many modern cartoon artists have emerged, and cartoons have become an ideal way of communicating certain ideas, emotions, and ideals to viewers.
Modern cartoon artists are able to create a connection between their art and their audiences with their creativity and impressive storytelling abilities. Modern cartoon artists are therefore helping shape the animation industry as we know it today.
Through their messages, modern cartoon artists have the ability to evoke powerful emotional effects in the minds of their audiences. They do this by targeting specific audiences and creating art tailored to their interests.
Cartoons have become more popular than ever before and even the animation industry has seen a rise in the use of 2D animation, a form of cartoon art.
As is typical for many artists today, many modern cartoon artists attended art school, giving them a good foundational understanding of different techniques and art industries. However, modern cartoon artists are still largely pushed to the side of the art industry as a whole.
This is a sad reality for many modern cartoon artists despite the fact that many other art forms have cartoons to thank for their origins and teachings. Nonetheless, modern cartoon artists still create creative content with deep meaning that commands a large audience. Cartoon art is also considered one of the most radical forms of art in the industry.
In this blog, we take a look at eight modern cartoon artists that have eloped shape the animation industry. These artists range from prominent political artists to up-and-coming animators helping shape the animation industry's future. But first, let’s start by taking a quick look at the history of cartoon art.
A Short History of Cartoon Art
GIF by Jimmy Arca via GIPHY
In the late 1800s, many social, political, and economic conditions seemed ripe for the arrival of a new form of communication that was neither merely literature nor merely graphic art. New and more advanced printing presses were allowing newspapers to print more copies, better and faster, making it possible to easily reach an ever-increasing public.
Also at that time, the enormous influx of new immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, with little or no knowledge of the English language, gave the medium of visual communication a steady audience. Circulation wars among newspapers worked to the advantage of the modern cartoon artists of the time who had a style that was recognizable at first glance.
It was Joseph Pulitzer who first used a Sunday supplement as a showcase for his newspaper, the New York World. To attract a new readership, Pulitzer made increasing use of illustrations and color.
Competition with his rival, William Randolph Hearst, another modern cartoon artist of the time, for dominance of the New York newspaper market, was a catalyst for them both to place greater and greater reliance on their Sunday supplements.
A new cultural form was born, characterized by a narrative told in a sequence of pictures, with continuing casts of characters, and dialogue or text within the picture frame. At this point, a new distinction was created that separates most comic strips from the pictorial narratives of previous centuries.
Image via Click Americana
Comic strips were designed to compel the eye to travel forward from panel to panel, whereas earlier cartoons were static and mainly served as illustrations for the text. This new, kinetic, dimension of American comic art was a major departure from the cartoons created by modern cartoon artists at that time in other parts of the world.
Cartoons basically refer to two things. Firstly, it can refer to a simple, non-realistic, drawing depicting a humorous situation or humorously exaggerated characters. This type of cartoon is often found in newspapers and magazines.
Modern cartoon artists of the time would often use satire to offer subtle criticism of current affairs. Cartoons often use satire to offer subtle criticism. An artist who creates cartoons (drawing) is called a cartoonist or cartoon artist.
Secondly, cartoons can also refer to a short film or television show that uses animation techniques to photograph a sequence of drawings rather than real people or objects. Cartoons are usually aimed at children and often feature anthropomorphized animals (animals that act like humans), superheroes, the adventures of children, and related themes.
GIF via GIHPY
Loony Tunes, Asterix, Scooby Doo, Adventures of Tin Tin, Duck Tales, Tom and Jerry, ThunderCats, Dora the Explorer, and Garfield, are some examples of popular cartoons.
According to Cartoon Brew publisher and editor-in-chief, Amid Amidi, “cartooning is perhaps the least understood of all major art movements, because of its unlikely combination of grotesque distortion/exaggeration and socio-political commentary.”
One could say that cartoons are a specific artistic movement that resulted from the uniquely turbulent qualities of the era in which it first started in the 1860s and 1940s. Today, the influence of cartoons is widely disseminated and its principles have been absorbed into other disciplines, like animation, video games, and comics.
Cartoons have spanned approximately 100 years, encompassing almost every aspect of American life, from the down-to-earth, as in Gasoline Alley begun by Frank King (1883-1969) to the esoteric, as in Krazy Kat, by George Herriman.
Today, the work of modern cartoon artists has become increasingly unpopular among audiences. This resulted in a loss of popularity with authors, newspapers, and syndicates which were some of the most important supporters of modern cartoon artists throughout the years.
There are some exceptions to this and these cartoons have remained popular with many audiences, young and old, throughout the decades. These include Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, and Doonesbury.
Luckily, many in the animation industry saw the potential of cartoon art and many modern cartoon artists have thus transitioned to working in the animation industry in some capacity. The animation of cartoon characters is making a strong comeback in popular movie franchises and on digital entertainment websites.
Modern Cartoon Artists Today
1. Lale Westvind
Image by Late Westvind via Artsy
Lale Westvind is a modern cartoon artist who creates some of the most powerful work being made right now, in comics or any other medium. Obsessed with speed, power, physicality, and violence, this modern cartoon artist’s comics and animations transcend boundaries with the force of a Harley-Davidson ripping through a holographic brick wall.
With science fiction as the guiding principle, her characters frequently become, or simply are, vehicles, pointing out the contemporary anxiety over where flesh stops and technology begins. This modern cartoon artist’s background in traditional oil painting, video art, and animation led to her creating self-published comics at a heroic pace.
In HAX, Amazonian warriors battle airplanes under Lichtensteinian Ben-Day dot skies. Her early animation Organism Test (2009) is a key to her later work. Thousands of hand-drawn frames depict blob creatures writhing in the desert, while hybrid motorcycle creatures race toward each other to collide at incredible speed: a copulatory act that generates new life.
If Jack Kirby adapted J.G. Ballard’s Crash into a Captain Pronin cartoon, it might begin to resemble this modern cartoon artist’s filmic oeuvre. Recent animations for the band Lightning Bolt and Morpha! Utila!, for the online TV channel Super Deluxe, are psychedelic masterpieces.
Although Westvind’s work should be as widely seen as other modern cartoon artists, it is easy to imagine that her videos would cause the explosion of any art-world institution that dared to house them.
2. Mike Judge
GIF via GIPHY
Mike Judge is a multi-talented modern cartoon artist boasting skills in filmmaking, voice acting, and music. He has some exceptional talent and the GIF above is just one example of this.
He has been active in the animation industry since 1985, creating cartoons such as the popular Milton, which is a collection of animations.
As a modern cartoon artist, Mike has also been involved in the animation of many popular feature films and television series. Mike is the creator of the animated television series, Beavis and Butt-Head, as well as the co-creator of the television series King of the Hill, The Goode Family, Silicon Valley, and Mike Judge Presents Tales from the Tour Bus.
Throughout all of his years working in the cartoon and animation industry, this modern cartoon artist has definitely had a great impact on the animation industry as a whole. His talent, imagination, and unique style puts him at one of the top spots on our list.
Image by Anna Haifisch via MoMA
In Anna Haifisch’s hilarious comic The Artist, the title character is an emaciated and pale bird creature with red eyes and a few strands of hair. In this chronicle of a life of willful poverty and self-doubt, Haifisch intelligently dissects the mythos of the creative community.
Surrounded by babbling snakes in top hats and frumpy ducks representing the art industry, the artist shrinks from critique. “Do you think you could dance your paintings?” suggests a critic from the German journal Texte Zur Kunst.
Artists are sent to Art Jail, where attempts at rehabilitating their “eccentric screeching, loitering and prowling…art rage and whatnot” are futile, resulting in recidivism; the artist smashes her portfolio against a cop car. Haifisch’s frayed but confident line perfectly evokes the fragility of the artistic ego.
Based in Leipzig, in proximity to the famed local painting scene, this modern cartoon artist’s work benefits from immersion in that particularly European milieu. Her work joins a recent trend of cartoons grappling with the art world as their subject – Walter Scott’s Wendy and Brecht Vandenbroucke’s White Cube notable among them.
Haifisch’s works are also represented in MoMA, and she is an example of how modern cartoon artists can form part of the contemporary cultural and artistic milieu.
4. Alan Moore
Image by Alan Moore via Wired
Alan Moore is one of the best modern cartoon artists who beautifully writes and illustrates comic books. The ideas and stories in his comic books are expertly designed to capture the attention of his audience.
This modern cartoon artist is not too fond of fame, however. He has used a number of pseudonyms throughout the years, including Translucia Baboon, Jill de Ray, and Curt Vile.
Some of his most successful comic books include ones published by DC Comics such as The Killing Joke, Batman, Swamp Thing, From Hell, and V for Vendetta. Many of these have been made into animated films, showing just how talented this modern cartoon artist is!
It’s safe to say that this modern cartoon artist has had an enormous impact on the world of superhero comics and animations.
5. Kevin Smith
Image via Ranker
Like Mike Judge, Keven Smith is a multi talented modern cartoon artist. He is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and author. He is perhaps most well-known for the comedy film, Clerks, which started his rise to fame in 1994.
This modern cartoon artist was the genius behind the movie’s directing, writing, and production, even going as far as acting in one of the lead roles. Smith is without a doubt one of the most talented modern cartoon artists on this list!
Since his rise to fame, Smith has gone on to achieve many big milestones in his career. He has also worked on the writing of some comic books by Marvel Comics. This includes an eight-issue story arc of Daredevil which was illustrated by Joe Quesada.
Smith’s contribution as a modern cartoon artist to the animation and comic industry has had an unprecedented effect on the lives of viewers and other animators alike.
6. Jeroom Snelders
Image via Lambiek
Jeroom Snelders is a famous modern cartoon artist from Belgium. In 2002, he was given an award as one of the most talented comic artists in the country, which emphasizes just how talented he is.
Over the years, his works have been featured in popular and successful comic books, which is quite a remarkable achievement. Humo Magazine is where his cartoons are published at the moment.
English readers might have some issues understanding the messages of his cartoons due to the language barrier. Nevertheless, his works are still very pleasurable to read and are a must for any cartoon fanatic.
Image by Zapiro via Good Things Guy
Zapiro is an editorial cartoon artist from South Africa who has managed to win lots of awards over the years. This is a true reflection of his talent when it comes to presenting editorial cartoons that send the right messages.
He developed his skills after studying at the School of Visual Arts in the US. In 2019, it was reported that Zapiro spent over 20 years depicting the scandals of many prominent political leaders in South Africa.
Zapiro’s prominence grew exponentially with his honest and unfiltered depiction of political figures. He undoubtedly shaped the political landscape in South Africa by influencing readers across the country.
This modern cartoon artist also had a big impact on South African animation artists, as well as animation artists across the globe. He was able to demonstrate how to create politically driven art while still connecting with a wide viewership and demographic.
8. Keren Katz
Image by Karen Katz via The Rumpus
Keren Katz’s work, like many other modern cartoon artists, has its own logic. Her storytelling voice seems to link the divine nonsense of authors like Daniel Pinkwater, William Steig, or Edward Gorey with surrealist writers like Leonora Carrington.
With drawings executed in confident colored pencil, her figures stretch, bend, and topple in a manner reminiscent of contemporary choreography. This makes sense considering that Katz studied dance and has mentioned Pina Bausch as an influence in her work.
In Chronicles of the Falling Women, Katz describes a mysterious epidemic that destabilizes women only. The feminist subtext of this comic is typical of the way that her fables operate.
Crossing the Rubikon is set in the world of competitive Rubik’s Cube solving, and introduces Captain Hook as a champion speed-cuber whose hand is bitten off by a crocodile. This modern cartoon artist’smaximalist, absurd world is autobiographical, but she tells its stories by processing her reality into a decorative, escapist Neverland.
How Modern Cartoon Artists are Shaping the Animation Industry
Every single one of the modern cartoon artists listed has their own unique style and set of specialized skills that have earned them a spot in this blog. In some way or another, all of their skills have an inexplicable effect on the animation industry as a whole.
Whether that be inspiring new animators by giving them the confidence to tell the stories they are passionate about or teaching them to think out of the box, each one of these modern cartoon artists has something valuable to offer. All of these modern cartoon artists have attracted a huge following all over the world because of this.
It is clear to see that these modern cartoon artists have transcended the boundary of realism in their work and drawn on fantastical and out-of-this-world ideas to send messages to their audiences.
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