Based on some buzz from the Interwebs, I picked up Emil Ferris’ graphic novel My Favorite Thing Is Monsters at TCAF a few weeks ago.
Ten-year-old Karen Reyes navigates the up-and-downs of growing up in late-sixties Chicago whilst sketching the turbulent world around her in a spiral notebook.
Holy creeps this work is extraordinary! I could tell from cursory inspection that this was something wildly original, but you don’t really get a sense of just how wonderful this novel is until you dig into it.
Starting with the visuals, I was constantly bowled over by the inked illustrations throughout this book. Whether it was the contrast of classic and B-movie iconography or just how they flowed in tandem with the narrative - Ferris talks about her delicate balance between text and picture in this great interview – I found myself awestruck with each page turn.
Thinking on it later, I realized that the experience of reading MFTIM felt so sincere and seamless, I actually believed I was reading the notebook of a ten-year-old “monster”. It’s like when you can’t separate an actor from a role because your brain cannot fathom they aren’t the entity they so perfectly inhabited onscreen.
Perhaps just as impressive is how many layers Ferris has packed into this four-hundred page tome. In addition to being a period piece set around the Chicago riots, she also delves into the ugliness of 1930’s Germany through the memories of Karen's recently deceased upstairs neighbour, Anka. Then on top of that, you have the coming-of-age tale that will continue in the second volume coming at the end of the year. Sadly, if you look even further, you can see how the things Ferris intended to be historical while she was writing this almost a decade ago have now unfortunately become topical.
Lastly, the story behind this book – a journey which Ferris illustrated in Chicago Magazine around the time of MFTIM’s release – is one of the most inspiring don’t-give-up-your-dreams stories I have ever heard.