I really miss Calvin and Hobbes. I have a couple of the books, and so does the library system, so I flip through them fairly often. It isn't the same as reading the daily offerings in the newspaper, reading the new strips and savoring them like found treasure. There was something profound about Calvin and Hobbes, the insanity and chaos of childhood, the inscrutable nature of adults, the wonder of the world. I can respect Bill Watterson for knowing when to stop, and sticking with it...but geeze. I wanted more!
Cartoons, be it comic strips or animations, have a startling potential for profundity. I watched Looney Tunes a lot when I was little. Others too; Animaniacs, once that came on, and Danger Mouse (which I have on DVD!), and The Adventures of Belle and Sebastian was the first anime that I saw. As I got older, anime became the more acceptable cartoon to watch: Cowboy Bebop, Big O, Samurai Champloo, Last Exile...you get the picture.
So what's the difference?
Both are storytelling media, obviously. Comic strips are sort of ultimate flash fiction. Even on Sundays, they have fewer than 100 words. Probably fewer than 50, depending. And yet the good ones tell us so much. "Kid" cartoons are more likely to be zany (well, again, that depends. Fooly Cooly, a firmly adult anime, is probably one of the most bizarre things I've ever borne witness to. If you haven't watched it, perhaps you should. It's a short one [6 episodes?]); they're also, depending on the era, more likely to be educational. I don't know about you, but 10ish years of watching Looney Tunes gave me a good grasp of recognizing a range of classical music (and some more modern jazzy stuff, I imagine). I can't think of a frenetic factory scene without thinking of Powerhouse, by Raymond Scott:
But cartoons aren't always funny. They aren't always violent, or always action packed, they aren't always anything. Other than, I suppose, drawn using some medium. The music is frequently fabulous, even if it isn't your usual style of music. The Cowboy Bebop theme song, "Tank!", is my ringtone. The music in Samurai Champloo is frenetic and perfect for every scene. There's a scene in Trigun in which the main character, Vash the Stampede, is walking through an area singing a song for the purposes of terrifying his enemies.
As a writer, I try to learn from the various storytelling media around me. Books, of course. Documentaries, definitely, because (as the saying goes) the truth is stranger than fiction, and there are some fabulous documentaries out there (which I never though I'd say, honestly, because somehow school made almost every topic boring). What does one learn from cartoons, even ones like Loony Tunes and Animaniacs? Timing. Pacing. The judicious application of musical additions.