Colonial America was slow to develop its own tradition of cartooning. Printers and publishers reached only a small audience of literate, urban-dwelling citizens, so comic art appeared sporadically as cheap woodcuts in monthly magazines or expensively engraved on copperplate and sold as prints. The native pioneer of this type of art was, characteristically, Benjamin Franklin. A cartoon of Hercules in Franklin’s publication Plain Truth (1747) is counted as one of the earliest examples of home-grown satires of the colonial and revolutionary era.
Strictly speaking, 18th century designers and engravers were not called “cartoonists” and their work was not called “cartoons.” Originally, a “cartoon” (from the French carton) was a sketch or study on pasteboard. Then, in the 18th century, the word began to mean a drawing of political, satirical, or humorous purpose, containing in one frame a self-explanatory scene accompanied by a caption or brief text. The term came into vogue only in the mid-19th century, but it is convenient to use it here.