James Frise at his desk in the Star Weekly office.

People All Over Ontario Write to Say How Much They Enjoy Frise’s Cartoons

April 10, 1926

Rural Ontario has been heard from.

The vote in the country districts has gone solidly for Frise; the verdict of the country people overwhelmingly in favor of the creator of Birdseye Centre.

From Oakville, Hamilton, Port Stanley, Kitchener, Damascus, Hagersville, Toronto, Harrison, Woodstock, Coldwater and a score of other outlying districts word has come that in their opinion Jimmie Frise is a knock-out, a wow and the greatest humorous artist of the lot.

For example, E. E. Jennings of Oakville writes of Birdseye Center, “In my personal opinion, there is, in the whole of North America, no comic with the local color admirably portrayed, suggesting a first-hand knowledge of the setting. I am farming myself, and well remember the old-time type. I believe there is great future ahead of Mr. Frise and cannot understand why some big American paper hasn’t taken him from us long ago.”

And Mrs. L. Clarke of Port Sydney writes, “The Life’s Little Comedy page is splendid. Frise is certainly clever. We always look at his page first; it is a real treat.”

The occasion of these encomiums was the recent contest held by the editor of The Star Weekly to determine how the comics used in the paper stood in the estimation of the readers. Frise’s drawings were not included on the list of those voted on but a number of readers went out of their way to say that if they had been they would have placed them easily first.

An interesting feature of the great majority of such statements as this is the fact that they come from the people of the country and of small Ontario towns, people who live in the very districts which Frise lampoons. They are delighted with his work, but Frise is nothing if not kindly. There is never anything in his drawings or in his jokes that hurts. He is utterly lacking in cynicism. His humor is amusing but never biting.

Born on the Farm

After all, why should it be otherwise? Those who know him best call him the best fellow in the world; certainly there is none more good-natured or pleasant to live with and to work with. In the words of the old song he would literally “give you the shirt oft his back”. One of the troubles of his Star Weekly colleagues is protecting him from his friends.

He not merely never draws an unkind thing but he never says one. If Jimmie Frise cannot say good about someone, he certainly never says evil.

Then again he is drawing his own folks. A number of people who wrote in remarked that he must have been a country boy himself because he draws the life with such fidelity. He was and, in many regards, he still is a farm boy – for he has never grown up in spite of the grey hairs which fleck his artistic head. Though these do not indicate age but lack of sleep during the last few years. For he has four daughters, poor fellow, the youngest of them born the day that Thomas Foster was elected mayor a second time – a doubly misfortunate day indeed, Jimmy thought at the time, though he has become somewhat accustomed to the idea of the fourth daughter since. His eldest girl is a long, long way from getting her pictures in as one of the season’s debutantes.

Jimmie keeps his family in a nice little home in Baby Point, which is a rural district of Toronto on the Humber where no doubt he finds much local color for his Birdseye Center cartoons. And by the way, on the strength of all these flatteries, he has just invested in a new car. His old one was falling in pieces anyway. No doubt you often saw it figuring in some of his cartoons.

He knows horses well and to some degree unfavorably. He is a frightfully poor picker, in spite of his farm training of the horse with the most speed.

Frise was born on the farm down near Port Perry. As a boy he used to sit in the little drug store of the neighboring village and draw caricatures in the dust on the panes. And one day the irate druggist shouted sarcastically. “Why do you waste your art here? Why don’t you try it out on The Toronto Star?”

As a matter of fact, Jimmie did – and he landed on The Star start right away. He has been on it ever since, except during the war. In the war he served as a full-blown driver in the C.F.A. and the only drawing he did was the toting of ammunition up to the lines. His drawing days nearly ended at Vimy when a shell particle hit his hand. Fortunately though it was his left hand and he only lost a finger. The lack of this finger gives him an interesting, battered appearance.

Kindly and Human

It was when he came back from the war that James Llewellyn Frise – he can scarcely spell his middle name for he is an awfully poor speller as you may have discovered sometimes looking at his drawings -came on the staff of The Star Weekly. And in 1919 the first of his Life’s Little Comedies appeared and they have been appearing ever since.

As a matter of fact, so great was Frise’s modesty, they came near ceasing on his part several times. It was only the editor’s urging that kept him at them at all. Frise thought them the poorest kind of stuff and he almost had to be slugged into keeping on at them. However he did, with the result that they have brought him a measure of fame that few humorous black and white artists have attained in Canada. And his best work is yet to come.

At first he drew more or less general cartoons laughing at life and people in general whom he saw in restaurants, street cars, automobiles, etc., etc., but in a short time he evolved the Birdseye Centre idea and this has become the stuff by which he is best known. Birdseye Centre is in a fair way to holding the place in Canadian life that Main street does in the American. It has become part of the language.

And to repeat Birdseye Center is not Hicksville. Jimmie’s characters are not hicks; they are human beings, not seen superiorly from the outside, but with understanding from within. Jimme is not laughing at these people, but with them. He is not holding them up for scorn but for appreciation. And they know that – that is why Birdseye Centre folks are so enthusiastic about him.

So much for a potted biography of the hometown artist who makes every reader happy on the editorial page of The Toronto Star Weekly every week.

A few more quotations will show what people think of his work as revealed by spontaneous expressions uttered in letters received by the editor on the recent contest.

Henry W. Brown of Kitchener says, “Don’t do anything to discourage Birdseye Center and the other offerings of Frise. They are most entertaining.”

Mrs. John Worrow, Toronto: “I think Birdseye Centre by Frise one of the best features in The Star Weekly and hear nothing but good of it.”

Thomas Prentice, Damascus: “I think Frise in Birdseye Center is just it.”

Mrs. G. Micklin: “One of the first things I look for is Birdseye Center. We all think it’s great. Every subject chosen is really happening in everyday life.”

“Birdseye Center is really an intensely amusing and human drawing. It always makes me think of a little place here in Oxford county where a friend’s wife comes from.” – A Woodstock reader.

“The artist must have been born, bred and raised at the Crossroads store.” – H. J. Hucks, Harriston.

“Your paper would be lost without Birdseye Centre.” – G. H. Hooper, 85 Wardell street, Toronto.

Editor’s Notes: This story is uncredited, but was likely written by Greg. Newspapers used to regularly run surveys of the most popular comic strips to get an idea of what might be worth cutting, and it seems likely that the survey did not include Jim’s since it was not on the regular comics page.

Thomas Foster became Toronto’s 40th mayor in 1925. The Toronto Star editors really did not like him, and worked to have him kicked out in the 1927 election.

The C.F.A. was the Canadian Field Artillery in World War One.