Polly and Her Pals
This extraordinary volume, first in a series, is impressive in both content and sheer size. It’s the same shape as the traditional newspaper comic page from its original era, making it humongous by current standards. At 12″ x 16″, you’ll need a table or other flat surface to enjoy it, and it’s a wonderful feeling to be totally taken in by the color pages filling your entire field of vision and beyond.
Polly and Her Pals is a strip revered by artists for its playful visuals, stunning color, and creative use of perspective by Cliff Sterrett, especially beginning in late 1925. Although the comic was named after fashionable proto-flapper Polly, by that point in its run, we more often saw her family members, especially father Paw and his struggles to get some relaxation and middle-class pleasures.
Definitely a product of the Art Deco and imaginative Roaring Twenties, Polly and Her Pals was to domestic comedy what George Herriman’s Krazy Kat was to slapstick-strewn desert landscapes. One wonders how such a willowy beauty as Polly came from such dumpy, mushroom-like parents, but one cannot help but enjoy the astounding, visually creative results. Polly is a modern American woman, juggling beaus and making her own decisions, while hen-pecked Paw simply wants peace at home, to smoke a cigar, maybe a card game with the fellows or a rest at the beach.
Although this volume is subtitled “1913-1927”, the content of those first years isn’t complete; instead, it’s a sampling to provide context. All of the comics reprinted here are color Sunday pages. The very first example from December 1913 is reprinted, followed by two strips each for 1914-1923. All the Sunday comics from November 1924 through April 1925 are included, at which point Sterrett took a sabbatical. A few examples from those who ghosted the strips are included, and the series resumes with November 1925, continuing through the end of 1927. A followup Sunday volume is planned, as is a book of daily Polly strips.
The sabbatical period is significant, because it’s afterward that Sterrett’s imagination flows more freely. Paw floats through a night sky on a parachute while sleepwalking, or he dresses up as Maw to catch a “masher”. Sterrett is quite skilled at pantomime, with one wordless strip showing Paw and Maw fighting over how to hold the umbrella they share on a rainy day. Others have Paw sliding down the icy front steps or attempting to sneak away from his drowsing wife or fighting with a shirt label. One classic installment, shown on the back cover, takes an underwater viewpoint, telling a short story of Paw and a bathing beauty. Another astonishing entry plays with color and shade as the cat copes with a noisy night, lit only by moonlight.
The strips from 1926 on include their “toppers”, separate short comics that ran at the top of the page. (Unfortunately, they also include some inappropriate racial caricatures reminiscent of the time, including one strip where Paw and his buddies put on blackface for a minstrel show.) The book also contains an introduction by P. Craig Russell and a lengthy biographical essay by Jeet Heer. (The publisher provided a review copy.)