I read hundreds of books every year, but I have not been able to get Emil Ferris’ My Favorite Thing is Monsters out of my mind. Published by Fantagraphics Books, it is a beautifully drawn and intricately designed story of growing up in Chicago in the late 1960’s, confronting the adult world, coming face to face with prejudice and injustice. The book’s conceit is that it is the sketchbook of the 10-year-old protagonist Karen, and Ferris masterfully manages to walk that line of filtering the world through a young protagonist’s eyes, but who sees much more than she can understand, and conveys enough that the audience can see and infer what Karen cannot.
This has been a hard year for a lot of reasons, and with few exceptions, everyone I know or have talked to says that they have read less. I understand why. My Favorite Thing is Monsters is not a book that can be read lightly. Those seeking escapist fare won’t find it here. This is a book about monsters, but in the book Karen makes an important distinction: “A good monster sometimes gives somebody a fright because they’re weird looking and fangy — a fact that is beyond their control — but bad monsters are all about control — they want the whole world to be scared so that bad monsters can call the shots.”
What is most striking, especially rereading the book after a long year, is that the book does not despair, but rather offers the only comfort that it can. That things didn’t used to be “great” but rather life has always been about the struggle against bad monsters in whatever form they may take, from schoolyard bullies to Nazis, ISIS to the KKK, those who uphold structural racism to those claiming that their god requires them to dehumanize human beings who are not like them. There have always been such monsters, and we are defined by how we confront them.
And yet to talk about the book in this way is to do it an injustice because it is not a political tract. It is, however, a book that is about and filled with empathy. It is also filled with art, horror comics, monster movies, the wonder of sketching people on the train, looking at the paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago. There is such wonder and an omnivorous joy about the world in these pages. It is also filled with such empathy towards others. This is the world of My Favorite Thing is Monsters.
It is hard to imagine anyone reading this book and not being moved by Karen. This is not just the best comic of the year, but one of the best books of any kind that has been published this year. It belongs on a shelf with Maus and Fun Home, Stuck Rubber Baby and The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Cages and Love and Rockets, and the other great comics ever made. Quite simply, no other comic this year has come close to what Emil Ferris has accomplished in these pages.
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