REVIEW: Small Hours, a Mrs. Frollein collection

Small Hours is a small book with small ambitions — but that’s a good thing. It aims to connect with you in modest, tender ways. In a time when everything feels chaotic, and too large, and too horrible, the seemingly inconsequential feelings and moments captured in the Mrs. Frollein comics find new resonance, if we let them.

Written and drawn by Valérie Minelli, the Mrs. Frollein comics document her daily life and little intimacies. Small Hours collects many of her most popular comics posted online to-date, along with 25 new strips unique to this book. Minelli’s drawings are simple and endearing, and efficiently channel the author’s intent. Each comic is made up of four or so square panels, formatted to translate easily to the digital platform of your choice and infiltrate the feeds of thousands who wouldn’t otherwise consider themselves Comics People.

This is important — the Mrs. Frollein Instagram has over 467,000 followers and shows up in the feeds of everyone ranging from your grandma to your co-worker’s sorority sisters. Mrs. Frollein appeals to this demographic (limited in shared charactieristics but not in population size) because each strip makes itself accessible to folks WITHOUT demanding their comics credentials or making them feel like comics outsiders.

I love the idea that so many people have opted into letting completely sincere and unironic comics about feelings into their everyday lives. It feels Right and Good that people are embracing the mundane right now, because above all it is relatable. The Mrs. Frollein comics have filled the relatability niche to the brim, displacing any alters to sarcasm and irony that might still be lingering. (Good riddance.)

This is the thing I like most about the Mrs. Frollein comics — their complete aversion to the insincere, and their dedication to feeling your feelings. This approach isn’t going to resonate with everybody, and many may find the comics too saccharine, or simplistic, or too in the same vein as other autobio/slice-of-life one-shot comics with large internet followings. Those are fair criticisms, but I think Mrs. Frollein can be those things and also more.

Here’s an example:

This is one of my favorite of the strips in Small Hours. Other slice-of-life internet comics in this genre have joked about the insecurity and self-depreciation common among artists, but this strips takes that familiar subject matter and heaps a layer of wholesomeness on top of it. It’s not deep, it’s not philosophical, it’s not overtly challenging. It just stands there, in stark contrast to our cynicism, encouraging us to look beyond our own anomie.

Despite its aim at broad appeal, Mrs. Frollein’s perspective unavoidably aligns with its author’s — a white, cis lady living a modest middle class lifestyle. Minelli does make comics that nod towards her own progressive values (trans acceptance and inclusion, body positivity, etc.), but by and large the comics operate within an existing bubble of relative societal acceptance. This isn’t a slight against Minelli or her comics, but it’s important to cast some scrutiny here — why are voices like these dubbed relatable and so easily accepted, when other perspectives and experiences struggle to find an audience? As consumers (and creators!) of comics, the onus is on us to widen the space for comics like Minelli’s to thrive alongside the voices of other under-represented artists. It’s not a choice of one or the other; we can have it all.

Regardless, Mrs. Frollein’s attempts to nudge us to appreciate intimate moments with sincerity IS valuable. Minelli seeks to make comics that speak to a broad, basic truth, flying in the face of those that would call it boring or basic. These comics aren’t epic or high brow, and they aren’t going to change your life (but well, who knows?). But they ARE a reminder that the small moments that make up our lives by and far make up the largest part of it, and when we diminish the importance of those moments we’re diminishing ourselves. If you needed that reminder, Small Hours is here to deliver.

You can buy Small Hours here from your local bookstore, and you can read the ongoing Mrs. Frollein comics on the website or on the comic’s Instagram.

Rachel Weiss

Rachel Weiss

Rachel is a designer and artist from Texas. She is pro-feminism, pro-crones, and pro-dogs. She's also Boss Crone at POMEgranate Magazine, and one day hopes to be able to drink her tea without so much milk and sugar.

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