BOOK REVIEW: My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Graphic Novel by Emil Ferris

 These days, almost everything that is new – movies, TV shows, albums or books – feels so anticipated and pre-packaged. We are already tired of it before the release date arrives! Suddenly something dazzling appears like in Arrival: even people whose job is to be informed were surprised by how thrilling it was. 

Imagine if My Favorite Thing Is Monsters had a teaser trailer two years ago? It would have been an absolute disaster for this one-of-a kind story from Emil Ferris who made up her comic at age 55 with no experience as a professional illustrator beforehand.  Fortunately for us she didn’t do anything about promoting her work until after its publication because there’s nothing worse than being sick of something before you get to consume it!  The first volume came out last month and the second will come out later this year which means we still have plenty time left to enjoy what might just be my favorite thing ever (especially since I’m not actually allowed on Instagram)! 

Ferris is an outstanding graphic novelist who has won over audiences with her first book, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. The novel was a success considering that she had only just begun to be known in the comics world until it came out. Ferris did not have much influence before this extraordinary story was published, but she’s now part of the elite group of famous comic artists like Art Spiegelman and Alison Bechdel.  This rare piece presents itself as Karen Reyes’s journal – 10 year old girl who is half Mexican and Irish, and speaks Cherokee as well- set amid racial turmoil during 1968 Uptown Chicago.  The pages are drawn so beautifully you don’t want to turn them!

Karen lives with her mother and elder brother Deeze, a tattooed womaniser who is about to be drafted for the Vietnam War.He teaches Karen about art, which she loves to study. She is bullied by other children at school for being an outcast who feels more comfortable around monsters than people. Karen, on the other hand, fantasises about herself as a werewolf with fangs emerging from her bottom jaw.

So what does all this have to do with stress? Stress is inevitable when we are faced with challenges or adversity- it’s only natural and essential! We need stress in order to grow because that’s how our bodies learn; they push past their limits in response to stressful events – whether these be physical or mental – it all boils down to the way you respond. Thus far research has shown that chronic beatings can lead us into depression if we allow them too much control over our thinking process and behaviors but not if we manage our thoughts on demand.  Short bursts of anxiety (stress) might, on the other hand, make us feel energetic.There will always be some level of pressure during these times

 Karen is largely friendless and spends her hours drawing, watching horror movies, going to the museum and visiting their upstairs neighbor. Anka recalls Isabella Rosselini in Blue Velvet, but she’s also a Holocaust survivor who reminds me of Karen.

Anka was murdered soon after meeting with an old man on the street corner near their apartment building–Karen sets about trying to find out who killed her. The search leads back to Nazi Germany and then into World War II-ending up suspecting everyone from Anka’s jazzman husband all the way down to their ventriloquist neighbor! Could it be possible?  – that this murder may have been done by my own beloved brother!

 If you find this story to be wild, then the tale of how Ferris came to write it is also a strange one. She was 40 years old and single mom when she became paralyzed from her waist down and lost the use of her drawing hand after getting bitten by a mosquito that had contracted West Nile virus.  Fighting chronic pain with all might, she taught herself how to draw again – before reinventing herself as a graphic novelist in order for six long years create what’s clearly an emotional autobiography which can only be described as rousing or captivating. 

Ferris’s imaginative style is free-flowing and explosive. Breaking away from the panel format customary in comics, her densely imagined, crosshatched illustrations show a freedom of visual expression I’ve never seen before. And she uses this freedom to give us a story about living through everything life has to offer you: good or bad – it doesn’t matter because it all brings you closer to what matters most in your heart and mind. 

Karen’s inner and outside worlds are brimming with information – her gothic dreams, her family’s narrative, Martin Luther King Jr.’s .ruminations on race, class, and gender, kinky sex pictures in Weimar Germany, hand-drawn copies of historical paintings complete with art history lessons, and even amazing magazine covers for imagined horror publications with titles like Ghastly 

This is a story about Karen’s friendship with Frances, her monster-loving pen pal. With the help of their correspondence and art projects, they uncover what it means to be different in these confusing times.  Our protagonist learns to distinguish between “good monsters” who are frightening due to their odd appearance and fanginess and “bad monsters.the former category scares people for funsies but not for control purposes; meanwhile people fear bad ones because of what they want them to do (like scared dogs). My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is full of heart, despite its artistic risks,It’s also strangely affirmative thanks partly due to its love for oddballs which harks back memories from R Crumb’s work!  Plus there’s some parts where you can tell she loves her family deeply including herself as well as appreciating everything around her despite often hard days.

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