Emil Ferris’s 2017 graphic novel “My Favorite Thing is Monsters” is at turns beautiful, haunting and heart wrenching––and it took the comics world by storm. It won 3 Eisner awards in 2018 for best writer/artist, best new graphic album and best coloring. It was also nominated for 3 Ignatz awards in 2017 and a Hugo Award for “Best Graphic Story” in 2018. It may come as no surprise, then, that the Pennsylvania Center for the Book unanimously selected this book for the 2018 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize.
This book takes place in Chicago in the late 1960s, and political unrest and class inequities set the tone. The narrative unfurls in the form of a diary drawn and written by a 10-year-old, Karen Reyes, who is beginning to question her sexuality. Throughout the novel, she draws herself as a werewolf because she’d rather envision herself as a monster than face this confusion head-on (which Ferris has said will be addressed in the second volume). The combination of artistic styles and gripping story pull you in as Karen attempts to solve the murder of her neighbor, a Holocaust survivor; grapples with familial stress and social awkwardness; and struggles to figure out where she belongs in a world not designed for her. The personal nature of the text and its design as a series of semi-connected tangents invites readers to revisit each section again and again as the larger narratives come into focus. As Karen is discovering more about the murder and jotting down what comes to mind, so, too, are we discovering more about Karen and the intricacies of her life.
“My Favorite Thing is Monsters” is unusual in that it was drawn with ballpoint pens on wide-ruled paper, adding a sense of narrative play supporting the book being a tween’s diary. It also contains myriad art styles. Cute child-like doodles sit next to stunning recreations of classical sculpture from the Chicago Museum of Art; on the next page we may find a mockup of a horror magazine cover or portrait of a family member. Figures from the art museum are given dialogue bubbles; scraps of paper are layered over other drawings as the images talk to each other verbally and visually; text envelops and annotates drawings so that both writing and art are essential to further the story.
Ferris challenges readers to dig deep as we explore the narrative threads, asking us to consider the complexities of growing up poor, or queer, or as a person of color, in a time of political upheaval. Ultimately, this graphic novel encourages us to investigate the nature of monstrosity itself––who decides what is monstrous, and can one’s feelings of monstrosity be lovingly embraced?
Reviewer Lars Stoltzfus-Brown is a Ph.D. candidate in mass communications at Penn State.
Author Emil Ferris will accept the 2018 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize on October 17 at 4 p.m. in Penn State's Foster Auditorium. A free talk and book signing will follow.