The term cartoon originally described an artist's preliminary sketch for a painting, fresco, or tapestry. It later came to designate the rough and unconventional sketches a comic artist produces. Today it means any drawing or painting used for amusement, editorial, or advertising purposes. A cartoon produced primarily to entertain is called a comic strip or, in single-panel form, a gag cartoon; one used to explain or illustrate a story, article, or nonfiction book, or to form part of an advertisement, is referred to as a cartoon illustration; a cartoon used to sway public opinion or dramatize the news is called an editorial (or political) cartoon.
Editorial cartoons usually appear on the editorial pages of newspapers, although in 18th- and 19th-century Europe such cartoons, called caricatures, were sold as single sheets. Today caricature has come to refer to a drawing of an individual that exaggerates personal appearance to the point of ridicule. Caricature is usually an important element in the editorial cartoon.
The first editorial cartoons in the United States appeared in the second half of the 19th century, mainly in magazines. Thomas Nast, America's first important editorial cartoonist, did most of his work for Harper's Weekly. When photoengraving made possible quick and economical reproduction of drawings and photographs, editorial cartoons began to appear regularly in daily newspapers. Now most editorial cartoons in magazines are reprinted from newspapers.
In the United States today only about 150 people make their livings as full-time editorial cartoonists. Because smaller newspapers cannot afford to hire their own editorial cartoonists, they buy editorial cartoons from feature syndicates. Many big newspapers that have their own editorial cartoonists also buy from syndicates in order to bring different points of view to their readers. These newspapers customarily put the extra cartoons on their op-ed pages (the pages opposite the editorial pages). Most syndicated editorial cartoonists are affiliated with big newspapers that run their cartoons first, before releasing them for syndication. For instance, Etta Hulme's cartoons originally appear in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) then distributes them to hundreds of other newspapers.