Before I get into this, I just want to say one thing: Take my advice with a grain of salt. I’m still learning the ways of being an artist myself, and there’s still so much I don’t know.
For my digital junk, I use a Wacom Bamboo Pen Tablet. The cheapest and smallest one they make. It’s proved loyal for the 3 or so years I’ve used it, and it’s only $70. However, I’ve heard wonderful things about the tablets from Monoprice, which are far cheaper than Wacom, but if you are really set on going with Wacom, and you still don’t have a lot of cash to throw around, shell over the extra cash for the Bamboo Pen & Touch. It has a pen with an eraser side, shortcut buttons, and finger touch capability (but who really cares about that) for just $30 more. I currently use Photoshop CS5 for all of my digital needs, setting my documents at 300 dpi. For my rare traditional stuff, I use Pilot V5 Rolling Ball Pens and boring #2 pencils. This being said, the tools you use don’t make your art. You use the tools to make it. There is no magic thing that will make your art great, so don’t force yourself to change and learn to use something just because another artist uses it. Use whatever feels best for you!
Tips for drawing cartoons… at the risk of sounding cliche, just draw all the time, draw what you want to draw, not what you think other people will like… finding your style can be a long, arduous process, one I’m still in the middle of… just be patient. Learning through references is a great learning tool, and is expected of many artists, but don’t let those references hold you back. Break the rules and have fun with it!