Written from the perspective of 10 yr old Karen Reyes, as she draws and records daily events in her spiral-bound notebook journal, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters stands apart in appearance and narration. This large graphic novel comes in at over 340 pages, and tells the story of Karen and how she relates to her family and neighbors in 1960s Chicago. She also gets to play junior detective as she tries to find out if her upstairs neighbor committed suicide, like the police want everyone to believe, or if she was murdered. Is it good?
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Fantagraphics Publishing)
The presentation of the book is what first surprised me. Each page looks like a sheet of notebook paper someone has hand drawn sketches and portraits in. They take up most of the page and aren’t broken down into frames and cells, like a typical comic. Most are black and white, and look like they were drawn in pen, but there are splashes of color here and there to highlight a certain object or detail and a few full color pages that are in the style of a monster movie poster or comic from the 50’s.
Surrounding these drawings is the story, in Karen’s own voice, written in the margins and around them. Sometimes there will be a long free-flowing block of text, giving background on a character or situation, and other times there will simply be a line or two, with a couple of titles underneath different smaller drawings. I liked the look and uniqueness of putting us inside the little girl’s head by using the journal this way, but I’ll admit it slows down reading as you sometimes had to crane your neck and tilt your head to read a sentence or two. Given how long the complete book is, the novelty wore off a little towards the middle of the book and threw the pacing off.
The amount of work Emil Ferris must have put into just the art is staggering. Most are very detailed and there are lots of portraits and closeups throughout that probably took forever to edit and get exactly right. The work is well worth it for the finished product, as her drawings are gorgeous and the style reminds me of old comic strip art like Nemo in Slumberland and Little Orphan Annie.
Ferris’s writing is also very good, considering the characters and situations that are dealt with are all described with a ten year old girl’s voice. It’s through her naivety that we are able to see characters, like her heroin-abusing brother Deeze and superstitious mother, in a more positive light, and with a sense of normalcy, since that is how Karen sees them. Her perspective also shows us what a child may see as a “monster” in her life. Her brother Deeze, the girls who make fun of her, her mother’s sickness and even emotions like jealousy and love are the vampires and werewolves she draws in her journal. It’s a brilliant way to use imagery and works well with a youthful narrator.
The cast of characters is rather large throughout the book, but the most thorough character development happens with Karen and her brother Deeze. We see Karen come to grips with her situation and begin to deal with the harsh realities of the time she lives in and her economic status. Deeze gets more fleshed out the more Karen comes to know about him and his history. His character is more realistic as he isn’t painted as merely black or white, but that he’s the flawed character he’s revealed to be and the loving and protective brother that Karen sees him as, both at the same time.
Is It Good?
The book may be a little too long and at some points the novelty of the journal-entry prose slowed down the book and brought me out of the story. However, that’s the only real complaint I have. There’s a fantastic amount of thought and work that went into the story and the art is simply amazing. The plot is sad and shows some of the worst examples of humanity, but there’s very little self-pity from the book’s terrific narrator. Her characterization is handled expertly and her innocent viewpoint takes some of the edge off of situations that could have mired the book down and turned it into a depressing slog. You’re not going to find anything else like this in the store for a long time. If you’re the least bit interested, you should definitely check it out.