I just completed the Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue, which given its sheer density, is probably why I haven't posted in awhile...In it, was a beautiful portrait of the life of many movie greats, including Sophia Loren. Although I was familiar with most of what was written (clearly VFs valiant attempt to educate the Generation Xers and uninitiated), I was surprised to learn that she started out working for Sogno, a popular publisher of photo-novels comic strips, a sort of print soap opera series, or what the Italians call, fumetti. I often relish in the Italian language and its magnificent array of words to convey ideas, and this term didn't fail to please: What we in English refer to as the 'bubbles' where the words appear, actually look like puffs of smoke = fumo. Thus, fumetti.
They also are commonly called vignette while in English, we call them cartoons. If you go to Wikipedia, you will see black on white, the demotion of the lovely cartoons over the course of the centuries. I was bemused by the preparatory sketches for the huge tapestries hanging in the Palazzo Doria in Genova (Genoa) when I first laid eyes on them. I was told these carbon drawings on basically packing paper were called cartoons. If it weren't for the artist's ability, it did remind me of a 4th grade class project, when we'd all crowd on the floor in order to make a huge battle scene on brown paper stretching across the room. Although the figures are crowded in much the same way as I recall my classmates and I drawing, clearly Michelangelo knew what he was doing with this preparatory sketch for a chapel fresco in the Vatican.
I can't find in my search for the etymology of cartoons how we took such a leap from the gorgeous preparatory sketches of masterworks to the annals of Peanuts in the space of just 500 years or so, give or take a century or two. But I'm sure it had much to do with the carbon pencil sketches used, and the points to make sure the perspective would work on a chapel ceiling as well as in a 1 inch square drawing. To think that when Mr. Walt Disney showed up in Hollywood with his simple mouse drawings under his arm, he was just following in the footsteps of his multi-talented artistic forebears, like Raphael and Leonardo. No wonder Americans treat a visit to Disneyland like the holy place that is the Sistine Chapel.
In any case, we have now compliments of The New Yorker, come full circle. We live in a time where we laud the creative geniuses giving us the comics of the day [I myself am a huge fan of Italian satirical cartoonists, even dedicating an entire blog page to my wonderful book illustrator, Gianfalco]. On their pages they combine the talented artist with the tongue-in-cheek cartoonist, check out the tribute to (and by) the inimitable Ed Fisher, who recently passed away. His vignette perfectly sums up the devolution - or, evolution, depending how you look at it - of the humble cartoon:
** Check out the live links throughout the entry above, in the colored areas