Polly and Her Pals 1933
“. . . your eyes [will] dance across the page.”
Polly and Her Pals is one of the absolute great, forgotten strips of the golden age of American newspaper strips. Filled with imagination, inventive art and comfortable gags that are still laugh out loud funny after all these years, Polly and Her Pals transcends the years in which it first appeared.
The dailies reprinted in this new volume in The Library of American Comics are now 80 years old. Many of them have not ever been reprinted before, which makes this collection a must read for anyone who is a fan of newspaper strips, classic humor and great art.
A mixture of modernism, cubism with an added touch of the surreal, Polly and Her Pals took a familiar concept, the American family, and brought something visually exciting to the comic page. What he created reflects a fascination with art deco married to a touch of Dali dropped straight into the living room of a normal family.
Originally titled Positive Polly, the strip was one of the first “good girl” strips. Other classics in the genre include Blondie and Fritzi Ritz (which eventually evolved into Nancy), both of which followed her into newspapers.
In her first years Polly was a prime example of the way perceptions about women were changing at the turn of the century. She was openly flirtatious, spoke her mind and seemed to care little what older folks thought. Qualities seldom seen in the way women were portrayed in the media of the time.
In many ways she was one of the opening salvos to the upcoming Jazz Age. The attitude she held, the way she dressed and independence anticipated the flapper movement that would show up a few years later.
As the strip moved through the years the focus of the strip began to shift toward her family. The change is similar to the way that the early seasons of The Simpsons shifted the show’s emphasis from Bart to Homer, there were just more story possibilities to be found in the bigger picture.
This is where Mr. Sterrett really begins to shine and 1933 was one of the best years in the strip’s entire run. By this time his style is so precise, so filled with joy that the gags can slip by while your eyes feast on the visuals.
A sense of absurd slips into the way a lamp is constructed. The drapes catch your eye and you find yourself marveling at the precision with which he designed the patterns, stacking rectangles against straight lines and circles.
There is a wonderful sense of style in the way that the tiles on the kitchen wall run counter to the tiles on the floor. The opposing patterns of each tile shouldn’t work, but they look incredible.
One of the real delights is found in the way Mr. Sterrett will use different shadings inside the same panel. There is a strong similarity in Polly and Her Pals to the way George Herriman used space inside the classic Krazy Kat.
A dark pair of pants giving way to a scratchy grey on the shoes bound by straight lines against a white background, or the way the blackness of the door to the next room will counter the light where the family is gathers.
Above all, the strip is funny. Like Homer did on The Simpsons, Paw becomes the focal point. His attitude and inability to deal with those around him provides many of the setups. Concerned with the welfare of his family his own obstinacy can occasionally pay off.
A run of gags based around a Yogi who has made sister Angel invisible culminates in a swift kick in the pants for the con man and an extra swing of the bat for Paw. As the man struggles with farm animals, a gullible nephew and a frustrated wife, Polly is always there to add a sarcastic quip or set her family on the right path.
The family cat will often hang in the borders of the scene, adding a second or third joke inside a single panel. It is as if a cousin of Krazy Kat is living with them. Like the creator of that classic strip, George Herriman, Mr. Sterrett had a tremendous way of using space inside a panel as a silent character of the strip.
Artists have always known how great Mr. Sterrett’s work is. The independent movement of the sixties seems to be a natural extension of his sense of style. Take a look at R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural. Compare the way that he moves across a panel with his leg extended to the way Mr. Sterrett moves his folks across a panel.
One of the strips greatest strengths is the way he would set up a main premise and then mine it for details over the course of two weeks at a time.
The Christmas strip dated December 25 is the culmination of a tremendous holiday-themed story that incorporates childhood memory, disillusionment, nods to opera and classical music, Santa, myth and as the title to the first strip in the story says “Babes in Toyland.”
The story line is an instant holiday classic that in another world and time would join Charlie Brown on television right after Thanksgiving every single year.
There is a big reason he is among the greats of all time. His imagination, skill, and pure joy in his work shine through on every page. The release of this new volume is the perfect way to find out more about the work of Cliff Sterrett.
And to also get a good laugh while your eyes dance across the page.