Biography: Cliff Sterrett

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Birth/Death

Birth: 12 December 1883 Fergus Falls, Minnesota
Death: 28 December 1964

Occupation/Title

Cartoonist, Professional Commercial Artist, Illustrator, Caricaturist

Bio Summary

Cliff Sterrett was born into a middle-class family in Fergus Falls, Minnesota in 1883. He left at the age of 18 for New York to attend art school and began a hardworking, dedicated career as an artist. Sterrett could very well be one of the most under-rated artists of the 20th century. He was an inspiration and trendsetter by introducing the first ever comic with a female hero. Sterrett was also a one-of-a-kind graphic artist with a unique and inventive style, creating comical narrative and characterization through his use of colorful and abstract drawings. Though Sterrett created several published comic strips (see “Career Outline”), he is most well known for Polly and her Pals. Polly had a sensational run of 46 solid years and appeared both as a daily and a Sunday comic. Due to rheumatism in 1935 Sterrett had to utilize the talent of Paul Fung and Vernon Greene to aid him in continuing Polly and her Pals but subsequently took his name off of the publication. Although he was hindered with illness he drew Polly until his retirement in 1958.

Early Life/Family

Son of middle-class parents
Married with a family. His wife died in 1948. Sterrett went to live with his sister-in-law until his death in 1964.

Education/Training

Sterrett attended Chase Art School in New York and graduated 2 years later.

Career Outline

Sterrett started out working as a newspaper staff artist drawing news illustrations and caricatures for the The New York Herald 1904-1908. He worked at the The New York Times and The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 1908-1910, and The New York Evening Telegram in 1911. Here he created the following strips:

Ventriloquial Vag
When a Man’s Married
Before and After
For This We Have Daughters?

From 1912-1935 he worked doing dailies for The New York Journal. Here he did the following strips:

The New York American (a Sunday page and four-color supplement)
Polly and her Pals, which was inspired by “For This We Have Daughters?” and started off as Positive Polly.
Dot and Dash (originally known as Damon and Pythias)
Belles and Wedding Belles (originally known as Sweethearts and Wives)
And So They Were Never Married

He retired in 1958

Comments On Style

Sterrett’s work is described as inarguably one of the most important strip artists of all time. During the peak of his most famous comic “Polly and her Pals” Sterrett resorted to a very surrealistic, expressionist, and sometimes cubist style of drawing. This included pantomime story telling, distorted landscapes and interiors, Dali-esque staircases, and trees decorated with stripes or sometimes bulls-eye patterns. Overall his work featured a colorful array of abstract, big-footed people with a keen knack of storytelling and characterization.

Influences

During the 1920s: Surrealists such as Dali
German Expressionists
Cubists

Personality

It seems Cliff Sterrett was a family man. He was known as the only one of William Randolf Hearst’s artists to want to work from home instead of going to the office to draw. And in the 1920s he moved his family to Maine where it was known that one of their favorite activities together was learning and practicing music on many different instruments.

Anecdotes

Al Capp once described Sterrett as “the finest cartoonist of them all.”

Miscellaneous

Interesting Facts:

Sterrett and Windsor McKay were co-workers at his first job at The New York Herald.

Sterrett’s son Paul went on to become a composer and was well known for his ability to play 14 instruments.

It has been noted that at its peak, “Polly and her Pals” actually out-did “Krazy Kat” in circulation.

He established an art colony in Ogunquit, Maine where he spent time with other artists and entertained them with musical ensembles.

Filmography

Honors

Silver T-Square Award from the National Cartoonists Society, 1949

Sampling of “Polly and her Pals” in The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics

Related Links

www.lambiek.net
www.stevestiles.com
Don Markstein’s Toonopedia™
Suspended Animation Comic Book and Sequential Animation Reviews

Bibliographic References

*Biography – Sterrett, Cliff (1883-1964): An Article from Contemporary Authors, by Thomson Gale
*Encyclopedia of American Comics, edited by Ron Goulart
*World Encyclopedia of Comics, edited by Maurice Horn

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Contributors To This Listing

Katerina Perdue, Jorge Garrido

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