From political cartoons to Facebook memes, cartoons engage and entertain us in a unique way. Sravasti Datta finds out how

Cartoons are a powerful tool of communication. Every issue that forms the theme of a cartoon is made more interesting by bold and colourful strokes and funny text. But as a viewer, what strikes you first when you see a cartoon? The idea or the art work? Krish Ashok, humorist and blogger, argues that most art, besides cartooning, was about craft till very recently. The digital age, he says, has changed the way cartoons are viewed. Deepak Gopalakrishnan, a Mumbai-based cartoonist, says that an interesting idea defines a powerful cartoon. “Niche cartooning blogs are becoming increasingly popular because of the idea behind them,” he contends.

Blogs and webcomics such as The Vigil Idiot and Rage Comics focus more on the idea than the art work. A series of simple sketches depicts an issue in a humorous way. But there are comic strips and blogs by cartoonists such as Satish Acharya, Gokul Gopalakrishnan, Alicia Souza and Rohan Chakravarty that lay equal emphasis on the art work as it does on the idea. Rohan Chakravarty, who authors Green Humour, says, “Art is what sets a cartoonist apart from a journalist or a content writer. Unfortunately, with the advent of web comics, the emphasis on art in cartooning is beginning to lose importance. Anybody who is capable of coming up with witty messages and draw stick figures calls himself a cartoonist these days. I enjoy web comics and rage comics, but I for one do not consider their creators cartoonists. A good cartoonist is one who has found a sense of rhythm in his art and is able to use every element of it to enhance the underlying message. And that takes years of practice and perseverance to surface.”

Good art work alone can’t ever make a good cartoon, says Gokul Gopalakrishnan, who is well-known for his comic strip Small Talk. “Cartoons differ from illustrations for the incisiveness and relevance of the comment they make and how they uses the two elements of text and image to achieve this. Of course, good art helps, but without the message it becomes mere illustration.” He agrees that online sites help in generating greater appreciation for cartoons, given the easy understanding of the image-text-icon-based language among youngsters. “Unlike an earlier generation, the current lot easily take to the image-text lingo; it is even their primary mode of expression. Look at Facebook walls and you see a lot of comic-cartoon stuff.”

Bangalore-based cartoonist Alicia Souza, known for her endearing, yet sophisticated cartoons, says that idea taking precedence over the art work or vice versa is dependent on the cartoon. “Cartoons are meant to send out a message. So the idea is always the primary focus.”

For Krish Ashok, the art work in cartoons is incidental. “For my Rage Comics, I remix ideas of pre-existing open source art work to tell a story. The Internet has made a remix art work create a completely different art form.” Even though Krish believes that the idea is important, he does agree that there are certain cartoons that are appreciated for the art work.

Balraj KN, a freelance cartoonist from Bangalore, says it depends on the style of the cartoonist. “Some give importance to the idea, others to the art work.” But he says it’s the idea that makes a cartoon more interesting. “The art work perhaps draws the viewer, but the idea is king,” says Balraj. “Stick figures in The Vigil Idiot, Rage Comics, XKCD and Explosm manage to communicate very effectively.”

And so while the debate over what makes a good cartoon continues, we can agree that to create a cartoon requires immense talent.