You know when you receive something you connect with that time stands still. The movie seems over before it has begun. You walk away from the sculpture or painting on display only to find that an hour has passed. You can’t sleep until you finish the book. It is why art is so important; this ability to draw on our innermost feelings taking them out for us to examine. In this age of storytelling the graphic form of it has become a new place to find something original. The new graphic novel My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris is a new height in this area.
The book is semi-autobiographical as Ms. Ferris who was making a living as an illustrator came down with West Nile Virus; paralyzing her from the waist down while making her unable to draw. Through laborious effort she trained herself to overcome the pain. Sometime during this came the story which she is now telling in My Favorite Thing is Monsters.
That story takes place in 1968 Chicago as we meet 10-year old Karen Reyes who has a mother fighting cancer. She projects her belief in a cure on the idea a monster, from her beloved monster comic books, will bite her mother turning her into a monster who will no longer have cancer. As she searches for these monsters she meets her upstairs neighbor Anka. When Anka is found dead in her bed after being shot in the heart Karen begins to look for real monsters as she investigates. She delves in to Anka’s past in Nazi Germany juxtaposed against the societal changes taking place in late 1960’s Chicago. The story is fascinating enough if it was just a novel. The graphic elements are what elevate it to something amazing.
Throughout high school and college I had contemporaries who drew with a ballpoint pen in a notebook using dense cross hatched lines to achieve their drawing. The graphic part of My Favorite Thing is Monsters is Karen’s notebook which is what we are reading with the prose interspersed. It is so perfect as the diary of a ten-year old. One of the devices used by Ms. Ferris is we see how Karen sees herself as one of the monsters, in a trenchcoat, in her view of herself among the illustrations. There are reproductions of horror comic book covers. There are portraits drawn with emotion of those Karen connects with. In the sample pages, you see here you get the idea.
Reading My Favorite Thing is Monsters reminded me of reading the first volume of Art Spigelman’s Maus or the first issues of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. It is what happens when a style of storytelling is beginning an evolution. Ms. Ferris is taking graphic novels to a better place.