Famous Cartoonists Who Brought Iconic Characters To Life

Pen and paper are two of the most powerful tools for a cartoonist. They are the people who draw cartoons, whether they be in the form of animation, books, or comics. Not only are cartoons something amusing to view, but they often offer satire on what’s going on in the world.

Famous cartoonists such as Walt Disney, Dr. Seuss, and Charles M. Schulz have created some of the most iconic characters in history that are recognized all over the world. Get ready to learn about the artists behind many popular cartoons of the past and present.

Walt Disney, Creator Of Mickey Mouse And Much More

walt disney at his drawing board
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Walt Disney was able to turn cartooning into one of the most successful businesses of all-time. As a young kid, he was asked to draw a cartoon of a neighbor’s horse and this inspired him to keep practicing. He was the cartoonist of his high school newspaper and eventually started his own animation business at 19-years-old.

It took Disney years to get his animation work recognized by the public and he almost gave up. Luckily, he developed a character named Mickey Mouse who became world-famous after the first synchronized sound cartoon was released, Steamboat Willie. Disney’s work skyrocketed with many animated movies, theme parks, and so much more.

Dr. Seuss, Creator Of The Cat In The Hat And Much More

Dr. Seuss holding a copy of The Cat in the Hat at his drafting table
Gene Lester/Getty Images
Gene Lester/Getty Images

Dr. Seuss was born Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904. He started calling himself Dr. Seuss in college and after graduation and worked as a cartoonist for Vanity Fair, Life, and more. After World War II, Dr. Seuss decided to focus on writing and illustrating children’s books.

He published over 60 books throughout his career including The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Green Eggs and Ham. His books have been read by millions of children around the world and turned into TV shows, movies, Broadway musicals, and more.

Charles M. Schulz, Creator Of Peanuts

charles m schulz at his studio drawing table
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

During Charles M. Schulz’s childhood, he loved to read and draw cartoons. In high school, he submitted some cartoons of what would later be known as Peanuts to be in the yearbook and they got rejected. After World War II, he published a cartoon strip called Lil’ Folks and got the idea to use the name Charlie Brown.

From October 2, 1950, to Schulz’s passing, he worked on the Peanuts cartoon strip. It was published daily in almost three thousand newspapers and when it ended he had made 17,897 different versions. The Peanuts gang including Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, and Lucy went on to fame of their own with movies, TV specials, and more.

Matt Groening, Creator Of The Simpsons

matt groening holding a pillow with The Simpsons characters on it during comic con
Amy Sussman/Getty Images
Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Matt Groening was inspired to become a cartoonist after seeing Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians. He became the editor and cartoonist for his college newspaper and after graduation moved to Los Angeles to become a writer. After his move, he started a self-published comic book, which got the attention of some important people in Hollywood.

This gave Groening a jumping-off point and he was contacted to start a series of short animations to run during The Tracey Ullman Show. He crafted the first version of The Simpsons, which became so popular that it was turned into a half-hour show. It’s one of the longest-running TV shows in history since its premiere in 1989.

Shel Silverstein, Creator Of The Giving Tree And Much More

shel silverstein playing guitar
Alice Ochs/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Alice Ochs/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Similar to many cartoonists, Shel Silverstein was inspired by the work of famous cartoonists before him. When he was seven-years-old, he used to trace drawings by Al Capp, but was able to develop his own drawing style as he got older. He first published his work in his college newspaper and was later accepted by magazines such as Sports Illustrated.

Silverstein released several books of poems and stories to go along with his cartoons including The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic. Also, he was an accomplished musician with 17 studio albums.

Hayao Miyazaki, Creator Of Spirited Away And Much More

hayao miyazaki with a japanese still of spirited away
Tokuma International/AFP via Getty Images
Tokuma International/AFP via Getty Images

Co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki is the creator behind several animated films such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. As a child, Miyazaki aspired to become a manga artist after being influenced by several of them including Tetsuji Fukushima, Soji Yamakawa, and Osamu Tezuka.

When he graduated from college, he got to work at an animation studio as an in-between artist. He later found himself working on several breakthrough films and started his own animation studio called Nibariki in 1984. A year later he co-founded Studio Ghibli but left in 2013 to slow down and possibly pursue other projects.

Hergé, Creator Of The Adventures Of Tintin

hergé reading a book of his work
Bernard Charlon/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Bernard Charlon/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

As a young boy, Hergé used to sketch his daily life on the edges of his school books. When he joined the Boy Scout brigade, his Scoutmaster encouraged his artistic abilities and published his illustrations in their newsletter. Hergé’s first professional publication came when he did a comic strip for Le Boy-Scout Belge called The Adventures of Totor.

After this, he created characters based on The Adventures of Totor such as a Belgian boy named Tintin and his fox terrier, Snowy. They became the basis of the famous comic series The Adventures of Tintin. The Tintin characters and storylines have been made into books, movies, TV shows, and more.

Gary Larson, Creator Of The Far Side

gary larson black and white photo
Glen Martin/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Glen Martin/The Denver Post via Getty Images

During Gary Larson’s mid-20s he got tired of working at a music store and wanted to try a different career path. He found that he was good at cartooning and was published fairly quickly. After a couple of publications, Larson wanted to get his work in the San Francisco Chronicle.

They liked it so much that they bought his comic strip and promoted him to syndication, renaming it from Nature’s Way to The Far Side. The Far Side ran from New Year’s Eve 1979 to New Year’s Day 1995 as a one-panel comic strip with “surrealistic humor.” Although Larson is believed to be in retirement, he released a few comics in July of 2020.

Scott Adams, Creator Of Dilbert

scott adams sitting at a cubicle
Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images
Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

Peanuts was a big inspiration to cartoonist Scott Adams. He started making his own cartoons when he was only six-years-old and even won a drawing competition at 11. Adams started working at a white-collar office job and would get up early every morning to practice his cartooning.

He came up with a character called Dilbert and made comic panels that were based on his own office life. Finally, he was able to become a full-time cartoonist when the popularity of Dilbert rose in the 1990s. Dilbert was featured in 800 newspapers, made into a TV series, and more.

Al Capp, Creator Of Li’l Abner

al capp looking at Time magazine with him on the cover
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

Al Capp decided to become a cartoonist after high school and trained at a couple of fine arts colleges. His major work is a satirical comic strip called Li’l Abner about a group of hillbillies living in Dogpatch, USA. Li’l Abner ran from 1934 to 1977 in 900 newspapers and had about 600 million readers.

The success of this comic strip allowed it to be made in other mediums including radio, animated cartoons, movies, plays, and more. Capp invented terms such as “Sadie Hawkins Day” and “double whammy” that are now part of the English language.

Jim Davis, Creator Of Garfield

jim davis with a statue of garfield
Vince Bucci/Getty Images
Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Jim Davis started crafting his cartoons when he worked as his high school yearbook club’s Art Editor. He knew he wanted to create a comic strip that was centered around an animal after studying the success of Snoopy in the Peanuts comics. Since Snoopy was a dog, Davis decided to make his about a cat.

Garfield was launched in 1978 and chronicled the life of a cat with his human owner named Jon Arbuckle and their dog Odie. Davis mentioned that the character of Jon is directly based on his own life. Garfield has been syndicated in about 2,580 newspapers and made into TV shows, movies, and more.

Alison Bechdel, Creator Of Fun Home

alison bechdel posing for a photo
Steve Jennings/Getty Images
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Childhood usually plays a pivotal role in many cartoonists’ work and Alison Bechdel was able to use hers to make a unique graphic novel. She released Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic in 2006, which told the story of her upbringing when she lived in a funeral home.

Her cartoon work that went along with her storytelling was praised by Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, and more. Bechdel’s work was so well-received that it became a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. She is also the creator of the Bechdel test, which measures the representation of women in fiction.

Daniel Clowes, Creator Of Ghost World

daniel clowes posing for a photo
Noam Galai/WireImage/Getty Images
Noam Galai/WireImage/Getty Images

According to a scholar of Daniel Clowes named Ken Parille, when Clowes was a young boy he “burst into tears and began hitting his head against a wall after seeing a cover of a Strange Adventures comic book.” His childhood was spent devouring 1950’s and 1960’s titles such as Archie and The Fantastic Four.

Some of Clowes’ fans may know him from his work on Eightball, an anthology graphic novel series. One of the features in Eightball became Ghost World, a comic series that followed best friends Enid and Rebecca after they graduated from high school. The comic’s success led to a movie adaptation that earned an Oscar nomination for Writing Adapted Screenplay.

Bob Kane, Creator Of Batman

bob kane with his batman drawings
Nancy R. Schiff/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Nancy R. Schiff/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Anyone who’s familiar with traditional superhero comic books should know the name, Bob Kane. He, along with Bill Finger, created the iconic DC Comics character Batman. Kane was influenced by Zorro, Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of a flying machine with bat-like wings, a mystery novel called The Circular Staircase, and more.

He also created the characters of Robin, the Joker, and Catwoman. The character of Batman was first seen in Detective Comics #27 dated May 1939 and became so popular that the character was given his own comic book series a year later. Now, Batman is a global icon with movies, merchandise, and much more.

Charles Addams, Creator Of The Addams Family

charles addams playing with his dog
Michael Tighe/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images
Michael Tighe/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

During Charles Addams’ childhood, he was often encouraged to draw and ended up using a lot of his boyhood stories in his work. He was said to have a peculiar sense of humor and often got into funny hijinks, such as sneaking into creepy houses.

In the 1930s, he started getting his work regularly published in The New Yorker and this is when he came up with the idea to start The Addams Family. The family included Gomez, Morticia, Pugsley, and Wednesday Addams with their Uncle Fester, Grandmama, butler Lurch, and more. The success from the comic series led to the beloved 1960s sitcom, many movie adaptations, and more.

Peyo, Creator Of The Smurfs

peyo with a smurf doll
Marc Deville/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Marc Deville/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Pierre “Peyo” Culliford was a Belgian cartoonist best known for creating The Smurfs. The very first appearance of The Smurfs came on October 23, 1958, in Peyo’s first comic series called Johan and Peewit. Within a couple of years, these little blue creatures became increasingly popular.

Soon, Peyo started his own animation studio and got to work on a Smurfs comic series. Later, the characters were given some TV shows, merchandise, movies, and more. His children continue to release his work under the brand name Peyo almost 30 years after his passing.

Friz Freleng, Creator Of Looney Tunes

friz freleng with Looney Tunes characters
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

One of the earliest cartoonists to work with Walt Disney was Friz Freleng. While at Disney, he worked on the Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons. Freleng felt the workplace environment wasn’t a good fit for him, so he found other projects.

After bouncing around other animation studios, he got to work on Looney Tunes cartoon shorts. He would go on to create characters such as Bugs Bunny, Tweety, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, and Porky Pig. Freleng directed more cartoons than any other director at the time (266), won five Academy Awards, and three Emmy Awards.

Hank Ketcham, Creator Of Dennis The Menace

hank ketcham posing with a dennis the menace painting
Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

When Hank Ketcham was a little boy, his father had an illustrator friend come over who showed him a “magic pencil.” Ketcham was hooked and immediately started to do his own drawings. At the beginning of his career, he worked for Walt Disney, having animated for Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, and some Donald Duck shorts.

After World War II, he became a freelance cartoonist and started a Dennis the Menace comic series based on his four-year-old son, Dennis. It became an instant hit with 30 million readers across 193 newspapers. Dennis the Menace has been adapted into TV shows, movies, merchandise, and more.

Stephen Hillenburg, Creator Of SpongeBob SquarePants

stephen hillenburg with spongebob characters
Mark Mainz/Getty Images
Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Stephen Hillenburg had a passion for sea life since he was a child after watching the French films made by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. He also became interested in art as a child and was praised for his deep, meaningful work. After college, he worked at the Orange County Marine Institute and would often teach his students with sea characters he would make up including “Bob the Sponge.”

While working on the cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life, Hillenburg started developing SpongeBob SquarePants. It featured a sea sponge having underwater adventures with friends such as Patrick, Squidward, and Mr. Krabs. Nickelodeon picked up the show in 1999 and it’s one of the longest-running kids animated series in history.

Mike Judge, Creator Of King Of The Hill

mike judge posing for a photo
Gary Miller/Getty Images
Gary Miller/Getty Images

Before working in animation, Mike Judge was an electronic test engineer for the F-18 fighter jet, a touring bass player, and worked at a company that made musical amplifiers. In 1989, he saw animation cels on display at a movie theater and decided to pursue it.

Judge went on to create Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill, and more. King of the Hill lasted for 13 seasons, which made it one of the longest-running adult animated shows of all-time. Judge didn’t only stick to animation by working on live-action TV shows such as Silicon Valley.