Thursday, 1 March 2018

Best Graphic Story 2017 - My Favourite Thing Is Monsters

Last year was an excellent year for science fiction and fantasy in comic books with numerous new
My Favourite Thing Is Monsters
stands head and shoulders above
the rest of the field.
(Image via fantagraphics.com)
series and graphic novels that Hugo voters might reasonably nominate in the Best Graphic Story category.

Daniel Warren Johnson’s Extremity is an excellent work that explores ideas about ability and disability through the lens of a future war. Turncoat by Alex Paknadel and Artyom Trakanov looks at what it means to be loyal to an idea. My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way turns out to be an excellent comic book writer, and his work on Doom Patrol is worth checking out. Colossi by Ricardo Mo and Alberto Muriel is just a lot of old-school super-science fun.

But one work stands head-and-shoulders above the rest: My Favorite Thing Is Monsters.

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is the first graphic novel from Chicago-born illustrator and toy designer Emil Ferris. It may be the most significant and worthwhile graphic presentation to be published in the past decade.

Told in the form of a diary written by a 10-year-old girl in late-‘60s Chicago, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is a love-letter to classic horror movies, to science fiction fandom, and to Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters Of Filmland.

Ferris weaves a variety of narratives through the work, as the young protagonist Karen Reyes investigates the murder of her mysterious neighbor Anka Silverberg. Reyes’ isolation and alienation are expressed through her transformation (possibly only in her imagination) into a werewolf-style monster.

The story is leavened with a diverse cast of characters: the sleazy artist older brother Deeze, the
The ballpoint-pen illustration style is
astonishing in its detail. 
Appalachian girl who befriends the protagonist, her mother with breast cancer, and at the centre of it all Anka, the murdered neighbor. Frustratingly, these characters all have secrets that are not fully explored in the first volume, and readers will have to wait until August for the concluding tome.

Ferris does not shy away from challenging topics, as this work delves into the tumultuous civil rights battles of the 1960s, talking about the experiences of Holocaust survivors, and the darker sides of drug use. Despite tackling these subjects, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is a joy to read.

In our eyes, one of the things that elevates My Favorite Thing Is Monsters above the rest of the field is the way in which it plays with the medium of the graphic novel. Illustrated in detailed crosshatched ballpoint illustrations on lined notebook paper, the work evokes – but is more intricate than – a
In Emil Ferris' debut work, being isolated
is something monstrous. But the most
deadly monsters look the most human.
child’s notebook doodles.

This art has shades of Robert Crumb and Maurice Sendak, but with more maturity and detail than either of those luminaries.

This school-notebook format gives the story a unique rhythm and intimacy, like you are peering into the personal thoughts of a fully realized human perspective.

This also lends itself well to the marginalia that Ferris weaves into the story. These small asides about tangential characters and minor details help make the story feel real and visceral. Fake covers of movie magazines appear almost as non-diegetic inserts, but are tied into the story fully.

Almost as interesting as the work itself is the author’s story. A graduate of the Art Institute of
Prior to contracting the West Nile virus,
Emil Ferris designed Happy Meal™ toys
for McDonalds' promotion of the movie
Mulan.
(Image via Youtube)
 
Chicago, Ferris was a successful illustrator before contracting the West Nile virus. The disease caused encephalitis and eventually paralyzed her. She began creating My Favorite Thing Is Monsters while re-learning to draw, using a pen affixed to her hand with duct tape. The hallucinations and delusions she experienced during her illness inspired details of the graphic novel.

The one charge that may be levelled against this work is that if we discount the monsters as existing only in the imagination of the protagonist, it could be interpreted as a work that is neither science fiction nor fantasy. We would argue however that character’s imaginings are so powerful as to become the reality that the reader must accept to fully appreciate the graphic novel. Weird fantasy permeates every page of this work.

As a work that is as much about humanity as it is about fantasy, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is written with knowledge of history both fannish and mainstream.

This is the singular vision of a unique talent. The Hugo Award ballot would be incomplete without My Favorite Thing Is Monsters.

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