There are two kinds of “cartoons,” of course: the static drawings found on editorial pages and in comic strips, and the moving kind (now often known, apparently inevitably, as “animated features”) shown on TV and in movie theaters. The moving kind of “cartoons” take their name from the static drawings, but the use of “cartoon” to mean a humorous or topical drawing published in a magazine or newspaper dates only to the mid-19th century.
Prior to that time, a “cartoon” was a preliminary sketch made on heavy paper by a serious artist, the word being derived from the Italian “cartone,” based in turn on the Latin “charta,” meaning “writing paper” (which also gave us our English words “chart,” “card” and “charter,” among others). Thus, in this sense, major artists of the stature of Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael (”But the sight best pleased me was the cartoons by Raphael, which are far beyond all the paintings I ever saw,” 1878) produced what are now some very valuable “cartoons.”
Vir: Word detective