If there was a designer “best of the best ofs” list for comics, My Favorite Thing is Monsters would easily be 2017’s winner. As it is, Emil Ferris’s breakthrough, groundbreaking graphic novel—set in a hardscrabble late-1960s Chicago and in the rich interior life of a ten-year-old girl—seems to have appeared on practically every comics-centric books-of-the-year list. And publications from The New York Times to The Guardian and from Forbes to Mother Jones have joined the chorus of praise. Plus …
he New Yorker’s Françoise Mouly and Genevieve Bormes have placed Ferris “among the greatest practitioners of the form.” NPR’s Terry Gross has noted that “she’s produced something rare, a page-turning story whose pages are so brilliantly drawn you don’t want to turn them.” Art Spiegelman has proclaimed that “Emil Ferris is one of the most important comics artists of our time.” And her newfound recognition is all the more impressive when you consider that, at 56, she’s a first-timer to longform visual narrative—and that at this time last year, when the book was first published, she was practically unknown. And now she’s just sold the movie rights to Sony.
And as for reader popularity, I personally witnessed stacks and stacks of Favorite Thing … disappear from the Fantagraphics booth at a brisk pace throughout all four days of last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con, bought by both comics connoisseurs and casual browsers alike. So it was no surprise that it soon went into a second printing.
It’s also important to note that Favorite Thing … is a masterful display of graphic literature. Why do I think so? Let me count the ways.
A section from a six-page, post-book release, autobiographical strip by Emil Ferris that first ran in Chicago magazine.
For starters, it’s because Emil Ferris has produced a work that’s boldly experimental and innovative in both its execution and delivery. Because, for example, she’s formatted it as an illustrated diary that’s been entirely recorded in the sort of spiral-bound, lined, three-hole punched composition book kids used back then. Because it’s unabashedly a comic as a comic. Because its biographical structure echoes the sensibilities of Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel. Because its art mixes the caustic caricatures of Goya and Daumier with the Expressionist energy of George Grosz and Otto Dix and the heavy hatchwork of Robert and Aline Crumb. And because each and every page is a stunningly unique viewing experience.
It’s because it rewards multiple readings. Because, for example, it’s multi-layered, both in its storytelling and in its use of organic lines, intricately detailed forms and abstract spaces. Because everything in it is in full color, and everyone in it has subtle shades of grey. Because who the hell could ever render an entire, magnificent two-volume, 800-page book using only multi-colored Bic ballpoints? Well, who besides maybe Ed Fella? And okay, she also used Flair markers. But still.
It’s because Ferris’s ability to make us feel empathy with werewolves, demons and the otherwise dispossessed makes us all that much more human. Because it’s smart, sophisticated and often sharply satirical. Because, although it’s about past struggles with poverty, race, sexuality and the rise of fascism, it’s also about right now. Because it also affirms a sincere faith in the endurance of the human spirit. And because its fascinating tale is, in parts, an art history lesson, a mid-century comics/film horror genre homage, and a post-Holocaust murder mystery. And finally it is, as a whole, a complete delight.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters Vol 2, the conclusion, is currently scheduled for an August release. Meanwhile, here’s a sampling of pages from the first book, for your perusal and viewing pleasure.
click to enlarge
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inspiration #AlisonBechdel #Goya
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About Michael Dooley
Michael Dooley is the creative director of Michael Dooley Design and teaches History of Design, Comics, and Animation at Art Center College of Design and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is also a Print contributing editor and author.