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‘Polly and Her Pals, Volume II: 1928-1930’ – TPB Review

My fascination for the 1920s is a longstanding interest of mine, so when I saw IDW Publishing’s Library of American Comics series had recently released Polly and Her Pals Volume II: 1928 – 1930, I was excited. While named after a tall, slender blonde named Polly who embodied the spirited liveliness of a post-World War I society, each week’s strip actually focused more on Polly’s parents, Paw and Maw Perkins. The aging couple represented the prior generation, as they coped with everyday issues in a progressive (Read: modern.) American society. Within the panel frames, each character was surrounded by an abstract-induced world which was influenced by many of the various art styles prominent at the time.

Polly was created by American cartoonist Cliff Sterrett in 1912 when his Positive Polly comic strip got its start in the New York Journal and had a 46-year run until mid 1958. Opening for Polly was an accompanying “silent” (It had no text.) topper strip titled Dot and Dash about two dogs and their antics. Their story was not connected with the accompanying strip. Sterrett had another topper strip called Belles and Wedding Bells which followed a changing cast of romantic couples in the throes of courtship and marriage. Unlike Dot and Dash, this introductory strip had dialogue and was at least loosely related with its coordinating Polly strip. Both toppers appeared in this collected volume.

I haven’t read the first collection of Polly and Her Pals which covered 1913 – 1927; however, I can attest that this collection is significant in three ways. First, this collection documents the ever-evolving Sunday comic strip. The Polly story is particularly important since it was one of the very first strips to feature a thoroughly modern woman as a lead character. Other leading ladies would follow: Boots and Her Buddies from Edgar Martin, which would be shortened to Boots;  Chic Young’s Blondie; and Fritzi Ritz by Larry Whittington, which would eventually lead to Nancy, a pre-teen dark haired girl.

Through his friendships with many fine artists, Sterrett became acquainted and found inspiration in the art movements of the time – for instance cubism, surrealism, and futurism – and created a curvy and off-kilter world that complemented each other. Polly’s world was completely unreal in comparison with Blondie’s home, for instance, yet each panel represented a world in constant motion and an energy that could not be contained. Sterrett did a brilliant job of capturing fluidity in his comic strip.

If there is anything lost from the strip, then it is likely the loss of context of some of the humor via the slang of that era. There also seems to be an uninhibitedness arising from the interaction of the characters that we would not find today, for example Paw yelling at Maw to shut up or Paw throwing a shoe at his cat; however, the social awkwardness that Paw and Maw experience has not lost their relatedness to today: parents staying up late waiting for their daughter to arrive home or when the parents reveal ridiculous excuses for not spending time with their boorish friends. The charm of these characters more than makes up for any humor lost over the intervening years of when these strips first entertained the flapper and dapper society of the 1920s.


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