My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is an extraordinary and ambitious graphic novel. Equal parts memoir, murder mystery and coming-of-age drama, the art in this book is beyond amazing and was a perfect read during this upcoming Halloween season.
New author Emil Ferris has created a story set in Chicago in the late 1960’s, with the story framed as a graphic diary written in a notebook by Karen Reyes, a ten-year-old girl living with her single mom and older brother. Told in a non-linear fashion, the graphics tell as much of the story as the text does.
Karen’s upstairs neighbor Anka is discovered dead, with clues pointing to a murder, although the staging appears to be a suicide. As Karen pieces together information gained from observation and a taped interview that Anka’s husband lets her listen to, we learn that Anka’s past may have led to her being murdered. We get extensive flashbacks to Anka’s past in Nazi Germany in which she was a child prostitute and later Holocaust survivor, and these revelations go far in explaining adult Anka’s haunted behavior.
The other half of the book is Karen’s coming-of-age story, with her sharing how she feels like a misfit at her school. Karen’s missing father is Hispanic and her mother is originally from Appalachia, so she already feels she does not match her citified classmates. She is obsessed with B-grade monster movies and pulp horror magazines, plus her growing attraction to girls led to her losing her best friend. We also get insights into the family with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and hints that her brother Diego has a dark secret.
But what sets this story apart is the art and the author’s choice to represent Karen as a werewolf, with the device being that Karen perceives herself as a monster. Only once will you see how Karen really looks. Ferris’s unique cross-hatching style and impeccable detail to cityscapes and backgrounds will astonish you. She captures the essence of people, although many of them are drawn in an exaggerated caricature manner. Others are drawn with a monster motif, matching how Karen draws herself. Many of the pages are in black and white, but she selectively uses subdued colors to help with telling the evocative narrative. That a new talent could create such a book is remarkable, and Ferris deserves the attention she is receiving.
For all my praise, this book is not perfect. The length of the book is quite daunting and the narrative is much too much. While I was sucked into the art, I kept on putting the book down because it could get overwhelming at times. The dense characterization and jumbled chronology make you question the interconnected stories and how the past and present were all related. However, I know a sequel is in the works and it will be a must-read. I am anxious to know how Karen and her family’s story ends, and how the monsters in her mind and in her life will come into play in this singular saga.
*This was originally posted on a friend’s blog as a guest post in 2018, but I am now putting it on my blog as well*