A cartoon is a full size drawing made on paper as a complete study for a painting. Cartoons would be used in the process of painting frescoes in order to accurately link the component parts of the composition when painted onto newly applied fresh plaster over a series of days. Cartoons by great painters such as Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci are highly prized in their own right.

In more modern parlance, a cartoon is a humorous drawing with a caption, or an animated set of drawings. This usage derives from Punch magazine in the 1840s, in which drawings parodied recent cartoons used for frescoes in the new Palace of Westminster. These were adapted to satirise events in contemporary politics. These satirical drawings soon gave way to simple jokes. Such drawings are still considered a form of comedy.

Cartoon can also refer to animated cartoon.

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