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Book Review:Polly and Her Pals: Complete Sunday Comics 1913-1927 by Cliff Sterrett

Polly And Her Pals was an unbelievably inventive comic strip that ran from 1912 to 1958. Created by an absolute revolutionary of the genre, Cliff Sterrett,  Polly And Her Pals retains all of its majesty nearly 100 years after inception.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in IDW’s Polly And Her Pals collection. Back in the Seinfeld days, Kramer went on the Regis And Kathie Lee TV show to promote his Coffee Table book about coffee tables. If you remember, the joke was that the book had stands to turn it into an actual coffee table itself. At 16” x 12” the Polly And Her Pals collection could serve the same purpose. It is the most gorgeous book I have ever seen.

After kicking around for a few years as a comic-strip artist, Sterrett finally struck gold with Polly. Even though the series had been running for a few years already, he found his niche in what we now refer to as the Roaring Twenties. Polly And Her Pals defined the era, and brought high falutin’ artistry into every home that got a Hearst Sunday paper.

IDW’s Polly And Her Pals is an oversized, full-color collection of Sterrett’s weekly Sunday strips from 1913 through 1927. The creator of another classic — Al Capp (Li’l Abner) says it best about Sterrett’s work: “Now Sterrett — that’s the guy who was the greatest. To think that a whole generation has grown up worshipping Picasso when the guy who did it far better was Sterrett! Far better than Picasso — and Harriman. I love Harriman — he has his own special place. But I love Sterrett — he belongs someplace else…”

The independent Polly was pretty, spoiled, and completely self-absorbed. In many ways, she was the least interesting character of the series. It could be argued that her father – Paw Perkins was the true star of the strip. In panel after panel, the poor guy gets it from both sides. He clearly loves his wife, Maw Perkins, and daughter Polly — and both of them know it and use it constantly. The things they put him through are so clever (and honest) that they retain their charm to this very day.

In fact, nothing about Polly And Her Pals feels dated. I expected some sort of “camp” element to be prevalent in comics going back so many years. Not so. Sterrett’s use of cubism, and other Art Deco styles look as modern as ever. The guy was a genius. Sure, these are strips that ran in newspapers in the 1920s, but Polly And Her Pals slipped in so many hip references it is incredible.

That may be the reason that Polly is not as well remembered as Blondie or the others. In every way, Cliff Sterrett’s work was way ahead of its time. But wow! The artwork is simply stunning, and the stories are hilarious. Evidently, IDW is working up multiple collections of his artistry. For now we have Polly And Her Pals, and it is a treasure.

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