My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Now, in all honesty, I don’t know if I can say that I “enjoyed” this. This is a harsh book. It is a dark book. It’s unsettling and populated with characters that are morally gray at best. It is also an incredible artistic achievement that effectively blends a wide range of influences into a cohesive and powerful narrative.
In a basic sense, “My Favorite Thing is Monsters” is a realistic, period-based mystery story with a young girl as the central protagonist. However, woven into this story are influences of classical art, magical realism, historical narrative, dreams, and – of course – monsters. But the first thing that is so remarkable about this book is the seamless way that these elements overlap and flow into each other. The edges are not clear. Karen – as the protagonist, narrator, and lens through which we witness reality – moves seamlessly from her immediate situation to wild fantasy in such a way that the reader cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. And as the real and the fantastic overlap, it creates a narrative that is neither real or imagined, but that is a fully-realized blending of the two.
The art throughout is rich and complex – helping to convey all the elements that make up the narrative. Some of the most notable illustrations are done in simple black-and-white with splashes of color for emphasis. But for much of the book, the illustrations alone are worth taking the time to stop and examine, in order to identify all the abundant details worked in throughout.
The story as well offers an immensely complex and engaging plot. In many ways, it’s a coming of age story as Karen forces her way into the adult world that those around her try to shield her from. But there is much more to the narrative as well – questions of morality and identity and even basic humanity. The story scrapes against some of the lowest aspects of the human condition and wrestles with the uncomfortable implications that arise therein.
Having finished reading – I do have some lingering questions. There are some things that I feel I missed over the course of the narrative, things that were left unresolved. However, I’m left unsure if this is entirely a fault of the narrative, or just of me. There is so much happening on each page, that I may have read too quickly to follow all the threads being woven into the plot. Additionally, there is a certain lack of resolution inherent to the story that I think is intentional. And, importantly, I think that it works. So, some of my questions, I wish had been answered a little more thoroughly; others, I think are meant to remain unanswered. Life isn’t always black and white, and this book certainly isn’t. And with volume 2 to come, more light may be shed on this story and characters.
Dealing with some deeply uncomfortable subject matter – and coupled with the nearly constant darkness of the narrative itself – this is not a book for everyone. While working to come to terms with brokenness and conflict, it offers little in the way of hope. However, for what the narrative is, I was constantly impressed by the depth, complexity, and unity of everything contained in this graphic novel. It’s a significant work of art and a powerful accomplishment on the part of Emil Ferris.