The cover of this latest comic book from Poochie Press features a slightly naïve self-portrait of Kelly Froh, proudly holding up a Jell-O dessert. The painting has an appealingly homespun, unpretentious feel, like the rest of Froh's work on display in this fun, lively collection. This is the first professionally printed collection of her comics, culled from a variety of anthologies and periodicals she’s contributed to over the past several years, including Women’s Review of Books and Delaine Derry Green’s classic long-running zine Not My Small Diary. The earliest strip is from 2007.
In her introduction, Froh gives the oft-maligned anthology format its due, pointing out one of its many useful functions for creators: "I love a set theme and a deadline. There have been long stretches when my own work has languished, and working on anthology pieces has always come at the right time to keep me drawing when I think I want to quit." The Weeknight Casserole Collection is like a tray of tasty canapés, a precursor for that hoped-for larger collection of her oeuvre someday.
(Full disclosure: Kelly and I are long-distance comics pals. She drew one page in this collection for my Pratfall anthology last year).
Though collected from a number of other sources, these autobiographical stories are presented in logical chronology. After a prologue called “The Spin Rack”, in which Froh reveals her cartoonist origins (with specific nods to inspirations Julie Doucet and Debbie Dreschler), the narratives move from her childhood into her teens, and finish up in adulthood. There are stories about pets, incidents from school, mistakes and embarrassments, relationship and job woes, encounters with various odd people, and more.
I laughed out loud several times. “Thank Dog!” is a little vignette about Froh’s childhood dog, Coco. It’s a simple little six-panel strip, but Froh’s childhood self-portrait, complete with braces, big glasses, and feathered, winged hair, is adorably geeky. In another strip called “Surprise”, she throws a birthday party for her current boyfriend, Dave. Unfortunately a friend of his, a guy named David Black, also attends. David has a creepy way of publicly coming on to Dave, which naturally causes problems. Froh's renderings of David, dancing seductively (“shiny with sweat”) are wonderfully funny, capturing perfectly the sheer awkwardness of the situation, and the open-ended conclusion makes me think there may well be a longer story here. In "Mice", Froh unabashedly cowers in fear from the titular rodents who have invaded her apartment. She surprises herself by yearning for their swift, perhaps violent deaths: “I’m a vegetarian after all, and have great compassion for animals.” In another tale called "The Rake", a young Froh, fearful of sleep after seeing the thriller Red Dragon, listens to her dad trying to talk her out of being scared: "Look, there's no reason to be afraid of a serial killer because there's nothing you can do. If he wants to get you, you'll be asleep and you'll open your eyes, and he'll be there." (Thanks, Dad!)
On the back cover there’s a quote from John Porcellino in which he describes her comics as “sweet-natured but merciless”–a spot-on assessment. She’s a plainspoken cartoonist; the strips here are unadorned, getting down to the business at hand with no muss or fuss. Her drawings have always struck me as somewhat Roz Chast-like, only with a more rounded, curvy and varied line (special kudos too, for her distinctive, attractive lettering). Froh's easy-does-it approach lends her work visual accessibility and immediacy; my eye is irresistibly drawn to it the way it is to the work of folks as disparate as Porcellino himself, MariNaomi, and Ernie Bushmiller.
The comic is handsomely produced on good thick manila paper, with an attractive endpaper pattern illustration adding that extra little oomph. It’s a quality production all around. Above all else, Froh is a born storyteller, and reading her comics always leaves me wanting more. In a recent interview with Richard Krauss in the great zine about minicomics Copy This! Froh revealed that she has begun work at last on an original graphic novel. Until that project sees fruition, on my wish list is a compilation of Froh’s extensive solo mini-comics work, including such titles as Tales from Amazon, The Cheapest SOBs, Debbie’s Story, Two Days Away From Staring at Birds from a Park Bench, Samson, Nasty Day, and recent, more offbeat, text-driven works like This Body is a Lemon and Ideal Pants. She certainly has more than enough material under her belt for a really good, varied-yet-cohesive autobio collection. The thoroughly entertaining Weeknight Casserole Collection is a fine placeholder for that long-awaited full meal deal from Kelly Froh. Here’s hoping.