My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book One

Emil Ferris 

Fantagraphics Books, 2016

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is the fictional diary of ten year old Karen Reyes--it's even presented on lined school notebook paper, complete with spiral wire binding and three holes punched in all of the pages. Karen feels like an outsider: her greatest desire is to become one of the monsters she admires so much, so she can leave humanity behind for real. The diary is full of B-movie and monster magazine imagery, and when she draws herself it is in the form of a young werewolf (usually wearing the trench coat and hat that are her private detective outfit in real life).

So she has a rich fantasy life, but there's plenty of story material in her real life as well. The central mystery Karen tries to solve is the murder of her mysterious upstairs neighbor, Anka Silverberg (the woman on the cover). In the longest portion of the book not narrated by Karen we hear Anka tell her own story, by way of an interview recorded on a series of cassette tapes (the setting of the book is Chicago in the turbulent 1960s). Anka had what could be charitably described as a difficult childhood: raised in a brothel by a drug addict, then surviving a Holocaust prison camp. 

She was also sexually involved with Karen's older brother Deese. He is an artist, which is where Karen gets her love for art from--another recurring visual motif is Karen's renderings of classic paintings that she views at Chicago museums (complete with artist and date attributions). Karen has a complicated relationship with Deese, and they both deal with their superstitious mother in different ways. They also support each other as she dies from cancer. And then there's the mysterious disappearance of another neighbor, the puppeteer; her gangster neighbor and his wife; and her friend Sandy (who may be imaginary, or dead).

It's a rich, surreal narrative, with a thin line between reality and Karen's imagination. Ferris' art is made up of dizzying cross-hatched fine pen lines, virtuosic technically while simultaneously having the wild energy of folk art. It recalls Otto Dix, George Grosz, and Robert Crumb stylistically, but the overall storytelling effect is strikingly individual. A dense narrative which fully earns the "novel" part of the graphic novel label.

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Never heard of this. Sounds interesting.

It got a lot of attention when it came out, at least among small-press types. A lot was made of the fact that she drew it while recovering from paralysis caused by the West Nile virus. It won "Outstanding Artist" and "Outstanding Graphic Novel" at the 2017 Ignatz Awards.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Never heard of this. Sounds interesting.

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