‘My Favorite Thing is Monsters’ deserves awards it has garnered

My favorite thing is not monsters, but this book did a sufficient job of creeping me out.

One often wonders reading graphic novels — and, in my case, writing them — what spurs the impetus authors have in creating their work. It makes it much harder in the case of “My Favorite Thing is Monsters” by award-winning aurhor/illustrator Emil Ferris to firmly grasp where this book is coming from or where it’s going, as this is only the first installment of a two-book series.

“Monsters” regales us with the inner workings of a life led by Karen Reyes, a social outcast due to her deep love for classic monsters and monster movies. Set in mid-60s Chicago against a backdrop of the deaths of Kennedy and King, a burgeoning sexuality and a murder mystery. Karen Reyes is also a wannabe werewolf, which makes things harder for our protagonist.

There are good and evil monsters at play here, as are her family and acquaintances which straddle the line between the two. Karen’s coming-of-age is thrown into deeper disarray due to this fact, and the mystery of her neighbor’s death makes becoming a werewolf see that much more palatable.

Like an onion meant to keep vampires away, the murder mystery peels away Karen’s (and the reader’s!) preconceived notions of motive and malice, the blend of which can be horrific at times. It is both literally and figuratively heavy–dense on both subject matter and the variety of visual styles representing both a real and imagined life. It is no wonder the emphasis on monsters proves to work: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are apparent between full-page spreads and panels alike.

Ferris’s style evokes that of R. Crumb or Mad Magazine, wholeheartedly grasping the absurdity of sex and sexuality and the injustices of race and poverty. At times, it is hard to distinguish who the real monsters are. It made my read in one sitting captivating as “Monsters” spanned genres.

While the protagonist cannot help but suffer through various maladies of the heart, “Monsters” draws us in as visuals are deftly executed as eyes roam around the page. Mock-up monster magazine covers serve as breaks in the action, leading the story into a much more lucid experience.

“My Favorite Thing is Monsters” garnered three Eisner Awards, and a slew of others in and out of the comic book industry. Deservedly so.

“Monsters” is available from Fantagraphics Books. Emil Ferris will be appearing at Penn State on Oct. 17 for a talk and signing, and acceptance of the Lynd Ward Prize for graphic novel of the year.