Jimmy Frise and the Canadian Cartooning Tradition


Birdseye Center by Jimmy Frise.

Jimmy Frise (1891-1948) was the most important Canadian cartoonist of his time, the creator of two cherished comic strips, Birdseye Center and Juniper Junction. Although he was among the most widely-read Canadian creators of the early 20th century, Frise’s work has largely been forgotten, a real injustice since his lively linework can still raise a smile. (For samples of his work, go here.)

During the Doug Wright Awards last month, Frise was inducted into the into the Giants of the North, the Canadian Cartoonist’s Hall of Fame. It was a moving ceremony with one of Frise’s daughters present, along with a strong contingent of grand-children and great grand-children. Storyteller and broadcaster Stuart McLean, whose homespun humor on the Vinyl Cafe show continues the tradition started by Frise, delivered a speech on the cartoonist and his work.

Here is a text of what McLean said: 

Canada was still a hinterland nation when Jimmy Frise was born in 1891 on Scugog Island, Ontario — a small community just a crow’s flight north of Toronto.

Frise’s hometown was typical of Canada at large; A broad nation of farms and villages, tank towns and railway junctions, where most people still lived off the land.

Fifty seven years later, when Frise died in 1948, Canada— its mettle tested through two world wars — was well on its way to being a modern, urban nation with its citizens congregating in big cities and doughnut suburbs near the border.

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Hebrides Holiday


Sam Johnson: A great dictionary-maker and fun on a road-trip.

Sophie Pollitt-Cohen writes:

The History Channel’s new show Expedition: Africa follows a group of travelers recreating Henry Morton Stanley’s 1871 journey through Africa to find Dr. Livingstone.  It (ok, an article in the Times about it) has got me wondering which historical trip I would want to recreate.

I would go on Boswell and Johnson’s tour of the Hebrides.  Scotland seems like the perfect place for me.  It’s not too hot or too cold, and it has so many things I love—Scottish accents, ancient ruins, drinking, rugby players, and ponies.

Of course, the Hebrides I would be visiting would be quite different from the one Boswell and Johnson traveled through in 1773.  But in many ways, they were already seeing this modernization.  For Johnson, it was a complicated trip.  He and Boswell thought the Hebrides were going to be like Colonial Williamsburg, a window into the past.  Many Highlanders had no written language or modern medicine. However, British laws were changing so much of what made the Hebrides different from England—the legal system, the clothes, etc.  Boswell and Johnson went looking for the land of Macbeth, but, Johnson said, “we came thither too late to see what we expected, a people of peculiar appearance, and a system of antiquated life…there remain only their language and their poverty.”

People who spent a semester Junior year abroad have probably noticed something similar.  It was a little disheartening to see my Italian host mom cook with frozen vegetables or the same gelato place in our town that is also in my hometown on 76th street.  Though I love sampling the different McDonald’s around the world, and MTV Roma is hilarious and how I knew about Lady Gaga before my friends back home, I do wish countries could retain more of what makes them different from America.

Really, I want to go to the Hebrides because of the way Johnson described it.  His attention to detail, his ability to find what is interesting and worth thinking about in nearly everything, his friendship with Boswell—these are what make the trip seem so fun.  The Hebrides seem exciting and wonderful because Johnson and Boswell are exciting and wonderful. A good writer can make any place or activity seem thrilling and moving.  And a bad one can suck the fun up like a black hole.

Introducing Sophie Pollitt-Cohen

Blogs are driven by passion, and a notable feature of Sans Everything is the cacophony of competing obsessions that regularly bubble up here. Aside from my own interest in comic books and conservative intellectuals we have the various hobby-horses of A.M. Lamey (animal rights and immigration policy), Ian Garrick Mason (movies, foreign affairs), John Haffner (Japanese society, energy policy).


Now we want to bring on board a new guest blogger, Sophie Pollitt-Cohen. Sophie is the co-author of the best selling novel The Notebook Girls . Her wryly askew take on history was on display in her earlier blog Monocles Galore and can currently be found in History magazine.  For a recent op-ed she wrote, go here. What are Sophie’s pet obsessions?  A “love of books, history, lacrosse players, splenda” combined with a “hatred of commercials directed at women.” Welcome, Sophie.

The most apropos news photograph never taken

June 3/09 (Reuters): “Dead whale found on bow of Exxon tanker in Alaska”

Oh, how the entire PR unit of ExxonMobil must have gone to bed on Monday night praising God that no photographer happened to be hanging around the terminal the day that tanker came in. But while this particular image-as-metaphor will apparently have to be provided by and preserved in our own imaginations, the report itself does contain one passage of almost poetic sadness:

Neither crew members on the Kodiak nor those aboard the tugs that escorted the tanker during the final approach to Valdez noticed anything out of the ordinary during the transit, said Ray Botto, external affairs manager for SeaRiver Maritime.

“There was nothing that suggested any deviation from standard operating practice,” he said, adding the poor condition of the whale, which had a noticeable stench, suggests it had been dead for a while.

Sums up the whole progress of civilization, somehow, doesn’t it?