Caricatures first became a popular genre of fine art in the 16th and 17th century and were created by satirists to ridicule public figures and politicians (a caricature with a moral message is considered a satire).
However, satirical deformations and comic analogies in sculpture, the drama, and vase painting are older than purely graphic caricature. The ancient Egyptians represented men as animals; Greek comedy had by-products in burlesqued figures on vases and in terra-cotta statuettes; Romanesque and Gothic sculptors made fun of human failings in stone capitals and wood miserere seat carvings all through the Middle Ages.
Caricaturists have wielded significant power with their pen, far more so than a writer ever could. In the early days of the genre, they transmitted messages without the need for the written word, important at a time in history when the majority of the population could not read. One of the most famous examples of this sort of graphic art is the satirical etchings of Napoleon Bonaparte by the British artist James Gillray (1756-1815). He depicted the French Emperor as very short and slightly ridiculous, in an oversized hat. Today, as a result, some still think of him as being shorter than he really was.
The word caricature comes from the Italian words carico and caricare, meaning ‘to load’ or to ‘exaggerate’. In the 1590s the Italian Annibale Carracci (and his brother Agostino) applied these words to some exaggerated portrait sketches they created. The descriptions they left, mention that the images were meant for humor to mock their own artistic theories which they taught at the Bologna Academy.
The first artist to set himself up as a professional caricaturist was called Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674-1755), he was also a Rococo painter. Ghezzi made a healthy living out of producing amusing drawings of tourists visiting Italy.
From the 18th century, satirical caricatures became all the rage in France, Britain and America. In France, the genre was dominated during the 19th century by the incomparable Honore Daumier (1808-79), who was famous for his cutting political cartoons in the anti-monarchist weekly La Caricature, one of which got him six months in jail for criticizing King Louis Philippe. In 1835, the French authorities banned all seditious types of art, notably political caricatures, whereupon Daumier switched to social cartoons. The key to his success as a satirist, was his ability to match a subject’s mental state to a physical defect.
In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others. Caricatures in literature allow for writers to overly exaggerate traits of a character in order to have an effect on the reader. They are created for a humorous or grotesque effect, or to make a subtle point about politics or human behavior. When used to highlight human shortcomings, caricatures are a form of satire as previously mentioned.
Frankenstein’s monster is a caricature in many different ways; not just in the way he looks or behaves, but as an embodiment of early 18th century attitudes to parental estrangement, or even to Regency-era’s views on disability. Caricature in literature has a wider canvas than a cartoonist could ever dream of, so it is said that a writer would be wise to master its uses.
Over time, the meaning of the word caricature has been amalgamated with the words cliché and stereotype and is therefore regarded negatively. A writer who resorts to such techniques risks being considered unsophisticated or out-of-touch; guilty of opting for lazy character portrayals for cheap laughs to avoid making their stories (and their characters) more complex.
It is only by remembering the similarity between visual ‘caricature’ and literary ‘caricature’ that one could uncover new ways of writing a story to apply it more broadly. To start with, avoiding seeing caricature as a mere cartoon and seeing it as a non-visual way to give characters extra facets, is proven to be beneficial.
Honore Daumier, the great French artist and printmaker – now seen as the “father of modern caricature” – was a highly influential social and political satirist in his day, who produced more than 4,000 lithographs (mainly political/social caricatures) for French newspapers and periodicals.
In the early 20th Century, photomechanical reproduction not only allowed greater freedom for comic artists; it made possible the daily newspaper cartoon and later the syndicated editorial cartoon and the comic strip. About the same time as the new generation of weeklies there was a rise in the use, the autographic character, and the influence of pictorial journalism.
John T. McCutcheon of the Chicago Tribune used a rather dry and old-fashioned pen technique. In his line of succession stood such people as Edwin Marcus and S.J. Woolf in The New York Times, Oscar Cesare of The Sun, Herbert Block (“Herblock”) of The Washington Post, Daniel Fitzpatrick of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rollin Kirby of the New York World-Telegram, Bill Mauldin of the Chicago Sun-Times, John Fischetti of the Chicago Daily News, and others too numerous to list.
The two most interesting features of cartoon and caricature in the first half of the 20th century were the rise of the one-line joke and of the pictorial joke without words, and the enormous diversity of styles of drawing. The New Yorker has been noted by some as the inventor or reinventor of the one-line joke and certainly its chief fomenter. It is important to note that caricatures are an important part of free speech and people being able to criticize those in power or controversary without fear of retaliation.
According to Wikipedia, a caricature is a rendered image showing the features of its subject in a simplified or exaggerated way through sketching, pencil strokes, or through other artistic drawings (compare to cartoon). Caricatures can be insulting or complimentary and can serve a political purpose or be drawn solely for entertainment. Caricatures of politicians are commonly used in editorial cartoons, while caricatures of movie stars are often found in entertainment magazines.
Today, you will find people who hire artists to draw a caricature of them or a person they know as a gift or a souvenir. There are often street vendors in popular tourist spots or street fairs and carnivals that will quickly draw a caricature of a person for a small fee. The caricature artists are sometimes hired for events like weddings or birthday parties too, where they can draw the people attending the event.
In our current age of technology, we do not depend solely on hoping to meet street artists so they can draw us. The digital caricature is gaining more and more popularity for many reasons including the option to order it online without even having to book a meeting or sit through the drawing process. A couple of pictures is enough for an experienced artist to make a fun and recognizable caricature of a person that you want. Having it in a digital format means that there is no fear of a coffee spilling on a paper that holds the only version of your favorite personalized caricature or putting it down somewhere and then forgetting about it and never seeing it again.
For a deeper look into the world of caricatures, a recently released film in 2020 titled “American Caricature “showcases the subculture of caricature art in the USA. Animators, illustrators, cartoonists, and street artists – you will hear in their own words what it is that brings them all together, both literally and figuratively.