Thursday, March 30, 2017

My Favorite Thing is Monsters

Holy cow, how do I start reviewing this book? It's a masterpiece. One of the best books I have read. Period. It is full of beautiful emotional moments, pain, grief, wonder, and mystery. And perhaps, most amazingly, it is a debut graphic novel.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters is a huge book, about 400 pages long, and still only the first half of the whole narrative. The plot is set in the late 1960s. The main character is 10-year-old Karen Reyes, a curious, budding artist who lives in an apartment building with her mother and older brother Deeze in Chicago. Everything in this book is meant to be entries from her spiral-bound journal, and the artwork is exquisite. There are so many threads to follow in this book, but one of the main ones is an inquiry into the mysterious death of their upstairs neighbor, Anka Silverberg, who was a Holocaust survivor:
Karen and Anka's husband listen to audiotapes chronicling her life and experiences during World War II, including her imprisonment and escape from a concentration camp, an extremely heartbreaking, troubling, and riveting tale. Add to that narrative an extremely rich tapestry of characters in Karen's building, including her own superstitious mother, her creative and womanizing brother, a glass-eye wearing ventriloquist, and a mobster's wife, there is so much to take in. Another layer lies in Karen's own story and her depiction of herself as a young werewolf dressed like a private investigator. So much of this book is involved with her figuring out who she is, trying to deal with cruel classmates, making friends, and growing up.
Another strong aspect of this book is in its relationship with art and artwork. Some of the art is more popular, such as the recreations of lurid monster magazine covers of the time period that act as markers between chapters. But "fine art" pieces from museums also appear, redrawn in Karen's hand throughout the book. Certainly, the theme of trying to puzzle out what life means is powerful in this book, and how art plays into such inquiry is fascinating and interesting.
I have touched on a few aspects of this book, and I don't want to get into much more, lest I spoil what goes on in it. Let me simply say that I was enthralled with this book. The characters are complex and intriguing, and the plot is multi-faceted. It took me a long time to read, not just because it is weighty but because I wanted to spend a long time pouring over the images and words laid out on the page. The layouts and storytelling are incredibly rich and rewarding throughout, and I feel it is a transcendent work that will be studied and analyzed for decades to come.

This book's creator is Emil Ferris, who has had a long and varied career in the arts. She has designed toys and worked in animation, and she has been working on this book for about 6 years because of a variety of circumstances. She speaks extensively about her career and work on MFTIM in this interview, and I highly recommend learning more about her.

There has been an avalanche of well-deserved praise following this graphic novel. Oliver Sava wrote, "It’s hard to think of a debut graphic novel in recent memory that has the visual splendor, narrative ingenuity, and emotional impact of this 413-page tome, and with this book, Ferris immediately establishes herself as one of the most exciting, provocative talents in the comics industry." Calvin Reid opined, "She’s found new ways to tell a powerfully literary visual story." John Powers raved that "this extraordinary book has instantly rocketed Ferris into the graphic novel elite." And I agree with Paul Tumey who summed up his review, "Currently, my favorite thing is My Favorite Thing is Monsters."

My Favorite Thing is Monsters was published by Fantagraphics Books, and they have lots more info about it here.

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