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The "Comic-Paper" Question
by [?]

It is recorded of a patriotic member of the Committee of Ways and Means, that after hearing from the Special Commissioner of the Revenue an elaborate and strongly fortified argument which made a deep impression on the committee in favor of a reduction of the whiskey tax, on the ground that the then rate, two dollars a gallon, could not be collected–he closed the debate, and carried the majority with him, by declaring that, for his part, he never would admit that a government which had just suppressed the greatest rebellion the world ever saw, could not collect two dollars a gallon on whiskey. A large portion of the public approaches the comic-paper problem in much the same spirit in which this gentleman approached the whiskey tax. The country has plenty of humor, and plenty of humorists. It fills whole pages of numerous magazines and whole columns of numerous newspapers with really good jokes every month. It supplies great numbers of orators and lecturers and diners-out with “little stories,” which, of their kind, cannot be surpassed. There is probably no country in the world, too, in which there is so much constantly going on of the fun which does not need local knowledge or coloring to be enjoyed, but will bear exportation, and be recognized as the genuine article in any English-speaking part of the world. Moreover, there is in the real American stories an amount of suggestiveness, a power of “connotation,” which cannot be affirmed of those of any other country. A very large number of them are real contributions to sociology, and of considerable value too. Besides all this, the United States possesses, what no other nation does, several professed jesters–that is, men who are not only humorous in the ordinary sense of the term, but make a business of cracking jokes, and are recognized as persons whose duty it is to take a jocose view of things. Artemus Ward, Josh Billings, and Mark Twain, and the Rev. P. V. Nasby, and one or two others of less note, are a kind of personages which no other society has produced, and could in no other society attain equal celebrity. In fact, when one examines the total annual production of jokes in the United States, one who knows nothing of the past history of the comic-paper question can hardly avoid the conclusion that such periodicals would run serious risk of being overwhelmed with “good things” and dying of plethora. Yet the melancholy fact is that several–indeed, all that have been started–have died of inanition; that is, of the absence of jokes. The last one says it offered all the great humorists in the country plenty of work, and their own terms as to pay, and failed to enlist them, and the chance jokes apparently were neither numerous enough nor good enough to keep it afloat.

Now what is the cause of this disheartening state of things? Why can the United States not have a comic paper of their own? The answers to this question vary, though of course not greatly. They are mostly given in the shape of a history, with appropriate comments, of the unsuccessful attempts made to establish comic papers; one went down because it did not sympathize with the liberal and humane movements of the day, and laughed in the pro-slavery interest; another, because it never succeeded in getting hold of a good draughtsman for its engravings; and another venture failed, among other mistakes, we are told, because it made fun of the New York Tribune. The explanation which finds most general favor with the public is, that while in England, France, and Germany “the great dailies” confine themselves to the serious treatment of the topics of the day, and thus leave room for the labors of Punch, or Kladderadatsch, or Charivari, in America all papers do their own joking; and, if it seems desirable to take a comic view of anything or anybody, take it on the spot in their own columns.