L-r: Ashur, Paw, Polly, Maw, from a 1927 Sunday page. Artist: Cliff Sterrett.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features
First Appeared: 1912
Creator: Cliff Sterrett
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If Milton Caniff (Steve Canyon, Terry & the Pirates) was, as claimed by some critics, the …

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… Rembrandt of the comic strip, then Cliff Sterrett, creator of Polly & Her Pals, was its Picasso. His unconventional vision has frequently been compared to George Herriman's Krazy Kat, but in truth, it's like nothing else in comics.

Under the name Positive Polly, the strip started on December 4, 1912, in the Hearst chain of newspapers. In creating it, Sterrett drew inspiration from one of his own earlier comics, For This We Have Daughters, which he'd done for The New York Telegram during the century's first decade. Far more successful and influential than his Telegram work, Polly became the template for Boots & Her Buddies, Fritzi Ritz and a host of other strips about pretty girls and their flirty adventures.

But Sterrett didn't stick with the genre he'd founded. The focus shifted to other characters, hence the title change to Polly & Her Pals. Eventually, it settled on Polly's father, Sam'l Perkins (aka Paw), and his relationships with the other denizens of his household — Suzie (Maw), his headstrong wife; Ashur, his dimwitted nephew; Neewah, his vexing houseboy; Carrie, his sister-in-law and perpetual houseguest; Gertrude, Carrie's spoiled daughter; Kitty, his pet and silent foil; and of course, Polly.

Sterrett wrote and drew Polly both daily and Sunday, hitting his stride in the 1920s with innovative storylines and highly stylistic, cubist-inspired art. In the 1930s, he had trouble with arthritis, and was forced to pass the dailies on to assistants such as Paul Fung (who had earlier assisted Chic Young, taking over Dumb Dora — another Polly-inspired pretty girl — when Young left to create Blondie — which at first was yet another) and Vernon Greene (best known for strips based on licensed properties, such as Perry Mason and The Shadow).

Without Sterrett, the daily Polly ground to a halt in the 1940s. The Sunday continued; but it, too, suffered when, after World War II, Sterrett no longer had a whole page for his stunning artwork. The strip lost papers at a steady rate, and ended on Sunday, June 15, 1958. Sterrett then retired. He died six years later.

Although wildly creative, Polly & Her Pals was never wildly popular. Even at its peak, it didn't have a huge following, like, say, Barney Google or Bringing Up Father. Its fan base was more along the lines of King Aroo or Barnaby — enthusiastic, but not as large as it should have been, given the quality of the material. It's even been passed over by many comics historians, receiving attention only decades after its creator's death. It spawned no merchandised memorabilia, no comic books or Big Little Books, and it wasn't until the 1990s that even half-hearted, sporadic attempts were made to reprint reasonable-size portions of it.

But for those who know it, Cliff Sterrett's Polly & Her Pals stands as one of the high-water marks of comic strip history.


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