We gave it an A
Who killed Anka Silverberg?
What could have been the central question in any other piece of storytelling just becomes one of the many threads Emil Ferris deftly weaves together to create her fully realized debut graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. What’s even more remarkable, perhaps, is that it’s only the first half of her two-part tale.
At the center of the story is young detective, Karen Reyes, a ten-year-old girl acting on her love of monsters in an effort to procure a “bite” that will transform both her cancer-stricken mother and beloved older brother Deeze into monsters so they can live forever. Only, as she learns on her quests for answers (and supernatural aid), there are different kinds of monsters in the world — the “good” kind (Karen and her friends and family) and the “bad,” people who seek to disseminate fear and use it to control others.
In this way, Ferris uses Karen’s (and her own) love of the macabre as a lens through which to view both history and current events. As the young girl — or the young monster, as she sees herself — attempts to solve the mystery of Anya’s death, readers are transported to Nazi Germany, where a second coming-of-age tale unfolds. Meanwhile, Karen’s adventures in the present paint a picture of all the political, racial, and sexual elements at play in 1960s Chicago.
Artistically, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters eschews what could be considered “traditional” graphic novel storytelling, trading in sequential panels for more unorthodox visual layouts. Much of the art is done in Bic-pen cross-hatching, simulating what could be Karen’s personal notebook, filled with her own drawings and recreations of horror magazine covers. But where the graphic novel really comes alive is in Ferris’s sketches of famous works of art, in which she (drawing as Karen) reinterprets them to represent different aspects of the story, making it both an extension of the piece, but also something new entirely.
The first volume of the story clocks in at 386 pages. But at no point in the course of reading it does it feel long — a tribute to not only Ferris’s ability to suck readers into the story (at times, within another story), but also to her effortless ability to pace the story she’s telling. The result is a piece of work that is as gripping as it is emotional — and we’re grateful that the next volume is only months away.