We’d been waiting months to see a copy of Emil Ferris’ My Favorite Thing is Monsters. We’d seen sample spreads and press releases and read early reviews, but we couldn’t get hold of the physical thing. It was stuck on a container ship on the Panama Canal, after the shipping company transporting the first print run went bust. You could have used the idiom ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, because the longer it was delayed, the more people craved it. I had a list of reviewers who were waiting for copies, and an eager boss who swore the longer it got held up. Comics journalists were talking about it on the internet. Pages were being slowly leaked. With all this build-up it felt a bit ‘holy grail’ when the book finally landed in our warehouse.
I saw what all the fuss was about immediately. Monsters is, simply put, one of the most awesome-looking graphic novels I’ve ever seen. It’s aesthetically jaw-dropping. It’s huge; a heavy, satisfying, colourful thing that gives you some kind of other-world portal that’s full of horror comic Frankensteins, freaks, zombies, and vampires in bikinis. All this at just a glance. I hugged it on the way home; partly because it’s too big to fit inside my rucksack, and partly to ward off the other kinds of monsters you come across on a London commute.
As an aside: I quit smoking recently, and weekends now consist of finding other activities to do that aren’t drinking pints and smoking in pubs. That considered, I felt very lucky to have Monsters by my side: just four pages in, I no longer felt crabby about the lack of nicotine or the fact I was on self-imposed house arrest. The book is all-consuming. Firstly, its size. When you hold the pages up to your head they are cinematic, multi-dimensional and very, very beautiful. It’s full of B-Movie horror and imagery ripped straight from old pulp monster magazines, lovingly and meticulously recreated. The characters are intriguing and completely unique. The writing creates an instant, imperfect, entirely believable world. It doesn’t matter that the protagonist, 10 year-old Karen Reyes, is a fledgling werewolf detective.
The multifaceted narrative is told through Karen’s eyes. It takes the form of her diary, sketched in a spiral-bound notebook. Karen is a weirdo loner subjected to endless bullying and her only real friends are her tattooed, womanising, artist brother Deeze, and her ‘hillbilly gypsy’ mother who lives by “portents, marvels, bodements, harbingers, signs, omens and curses.” She had another friend of a kind too, the beautiful and enigmatic Anka who lived above them – until she was found dead in her apartment with a gunshot wound. The death was treated as a suicide; the door to the apartment was bolted from the inside. But neither Karen nor any of the other residents of the apartment building are buying that. This is where the story begins, and over the next 400 pages, Karen dons a noir style trenchcoat and hat and tries to find out what actually happened to Anka.
We learn of Anka’s life in Nazi Germany and her escape to America. We learn about art. We watch the interconnected stories of the other residents of the apartment block, including Anka’s grieving husband, the Jazz drummer Sam; the gangster Mr Gronan and his saucy wife; and Mr Chugg, a creepy dude with an army of ventriloquist dummies. As things unfold, we learn that Karen’s own family have been keeping a dark secret from her, one that she inadvertently stumbles across while looking for clues to Anka’s murder. We witness the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. We see a super poignant backstory about Karen’s relationship with a girl who is now her worst bully. And we learn why Karen is obsessed with monsters of all stripes.
I don’t want to give away any actual spoilers here because I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading this blog, you’ll probably want to read the comic. All I can say is that I’m just blown away by it. It’s about family, class, race, love and empowerment. It’s poignant, hilarious, incredibly heartbreaking and exciting. It’s queer. It’s pulpy. It’s wild. It’s a very good thing to get lost in.
The second volume is due out from Fantagraphics in autumn 2017. It feels like a long time to wait, with volume one asking plenty of questions that need answering, but it’s such a staggering thing that I’ll have no trouble lingering over it until part two arrives. Emil Ferris is my new hero. Hopefully this time without getting stuck on a ship.
See our preview of My Favourite Thing is Monsters below:
My Favorite Thing is Monsters is published on 16 February by Fantagraphics (£35.99, paperback, 386pp, 9781606999592)