My Favorite Thing is Monsters


By Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-959-2

Once upon a time, comics were ubiquitous and universal and scorned by most people.

Gradually people came to realise that there were gems amongst the dross, and a critical arena grew where graphic novels could be judged on their own intrinsic merits and afforded serious consideration as Art.

Every so often an example of purely perfect sequential narrative emerges which reshapes the Artform and forces the entire world to sit up and take notice: Maus, Persepolis, American Splendor, Watchmen

I’m pretty certain as I read my review copy (for the third time in two weeks) that My Favorite Thing is Monsters is soon going to be automatically added to that list of ground-breaking, world-shaking graphic masterpieces whenever people talk about the absolute best that sequential graphic narrative has to offer…

Crafted over decades, this massive onion-skin of tales-within-tales ostensibly details a murder mystery, but conceals within its astoundingly illustrated layers a “you-are-here” historical perspective of the social chaos resulting amongst the impoverished and disenfranchised after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a crushing examination of child abuse, an impassioned discourse on the nature and role of Art, a chilling coming-of-age experience, a telling testament of the repercussions of survival for Holocaust victims and a mesmerising trek through the psyche of a very troubled little girl on the cusp of leaving the security of childhood forever…

The viper’s nest of stories is delivered through the beguiling conceit that we are reading the diary of an extremely intelligent, artistically gifted little girl who has inscribed and illustrated in her spiral-bound notebook the far-from-mundane recent events of her life: an unedited, unexpurgated stream-of-consciousness account, just as the events happened…

Karen Reyes sees monsters. She sees them everywhere but that’s okay because most of them are her friends or at least not overly hostile and besides, she’s a monster too…

In 1968 Chicago, our 10-year-old protagonist/narrator is obsessed with movie and comicbook creature features, to the point of seeing herself as a cute werewolf (much in the mould of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things).

She is also worldly-wise beyond her years perhaps blessed with synaesthesia: able to smell colours, taste the tone or character of places and enter the many paintings her artist brother takes her to see at the gallery…

The single-parent family lives in Chicago in 1968 in a tenement owned by local gangboss Mr. Gronan. The mobster’s wife is one of the many women Karen’s brother Deeze regularly shares his bed with, not the wisest of things to admit to…

Despite his social shortcomings Deeze is a brilliant artist who has always shared his passion with his gifted sister, but as the story opens he is keeping a secret from Karen. Their adoring mother is dying…

Karen’s cool reserve is frequently tested. Many kids at school bully and abuse her whilst their parents scorn and despise her. At least she has a few trusted outcast associates in her corner. It’s no wonder though that she prefers the clannish world of screen and comicbooks to what reality offers up daily…

Blithely unaware of how painful the world can be, the dutiful daughter’s world shifts from filmic fantasy to real life tragedy when troubled tenant Anka Silverberg dies. Karen, who has shared a special relationship with the concentration camp survivor for years, realises it must be murder, not the inevitable suicide most of the adults say it was.

The Werewolf-girl thus resolves to use her gifts to find the killer and embarks on an horrific voyage of discovery. With the unwittingly aid of befuddled sot Sam Silverberg and her own uncanny, wise-beyond-her-years instincts, Karen stalks her elusive prey, slowly gaining an understanding of the real-world atrocities Anna endured before reaching America and her inescapable date with doom…

Moreover, as Karen continues to investigate the life and death of Anka, the increasingly violent real world gets a stronger hold on her inner landscape, distracting the monster girl from her self-appointed mission…

Astoundingly complex and multi-layered, and accessing a phenomenally intricate interior landscape blending the shocking squalor, deprivation and social unrest of mid 1960’s Chicago with the thoughts and impression of a brilliant child and natural outsider, My Favorite Thing is Monsters offers a stunning examination of loss and what it means to be human. Moreover, the barrage of intertwined stories never obfuscates, but always offers some snippet of revelation and does so with warmth, humour, great heart and inspirational passion.

Best of all, this tome is only the beginning and the story will continue in a sequel…
© 2016 Emil Ferris. All rights reserved.