Trends Political cartoons to memes on Facebook, cartoons engage us every day in an entertaining and unique way, but what makes a good cartoon? The idea or the art work? Cartoonists offer their views

Cartoons are a powerful tool of communication. there are made interesting with bold and colourful strokes and funny blurbs. As a viewer, what strikes you first when you see a cartoon?

The idea or the art work? Krish Ashok, humourist and blogger, argues that till recently “most art, besides cartooning, was about craft. The digital age, 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 have become increasingly popular because of the idea that goes behind them,” he contends.

Blogs such as the cartoon-film-critique-blog The Vigil Idiot and Rage Comics focus more on the idea than the art work. A series of simple sketches depict an issue in a humorous way. But there are blogs by cartoonists such as Satish Acharya, Gokul Gopalakrishnan, Alicia Souza, Rohan Chakravarty, among others, that give equal emphasis on the art work as it does to the idea.

Rohan, who authors Green Humour , argues. “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 weight. Anybody who can come 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.”

Of cartoons and illustrations

However, good art work alone can’t make a good cartoon, says Gokul Gopalakrishnan, who has a comic strip Small Talk . “Cartoons differ from illustrations for the incisiveness and relevance of the comment it makes and how it uses the two elements of text and image to achieve it. Of course, good art helps, but without the message it becomes mere illustration.” He agrees that online sites leads to more 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 Alicia Souza, known for her endearing, yet sophisticated cartoons, says that the idea taking precedence over the art work and vice-versa depends 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 to 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 cartoonist from Bangalore, says that it is dependent on the style of the cartoonist. “Some give importance to the idea, others to the art work.” But he says that the idea is what makes a cartoon more interesting.

“The art work perhaps draws the viewer in, 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.