Pluralistic: Emil Ferris's long-awaited "My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book Two" (01 Jun 2024)

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The cover of the Fantagraphics edition of Emil Ferris's 'My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book Two.'

Emil Ferris's long-awaited "My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book Two" (permalink)

Seven years ago, I was absolutely floored by My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, a wildly original, stunningly gorgeous, haunting and brilliant debut graphic novel from Emil Ferris. Every single thing about this book was amazing:

The more I found out about the book, the more amazed I became. I met Ferris at that summer's San Diego Comic Con, where I learned that she had drawn it over a while recovering from paralysis of her right – dominant – hand after a West Nile Virus infection. Each meticulously drawn and cross-hatched page had taken days of work with a pen duct-taped to her hand, a project of seven years.

The wild backstory of the book's creation was matched with a wild production story: first, Ferris's initial publisher bailed on her because the book was too long; then her new publisher's first shipment of the book was seized by the South Korean state bank, from the Panama Canal, when the shipper went bankrupt and its creditors held all its cargo to ransom.

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters told the story of Karen Reyes, a 10 year old, monster-obsessed queer girl in 1968 Chicago who lives with her working-class single mother and her older brother, Deeze, in an apartment house full of mysterious, haunted adults. There's the landlord – a gangster and his girlfriend – the one-eyed ventriloquist, and the beautiful Holocaust survivor and her jazz-drummer husband.

Karen narrates and draws the story, depicting herself as a werewolf in a detective's trenchcoat and fedora, as she tries to unravel the secrets kept by the grownups around her. Karen's life is filled with mysteries, from the identity of her father (her brother, a talented illustrator, has removed him from all the family photos and redrawn him as the Invisible Man) to the purpose of a mysterious locked door in the building's cellar.

But the most pressing mystery of all is the death of her upstairs neighbor, the beautiful Annika Silverberg, a troubled Holocaust survivor whose alleged suicide just doesn't add up, and Karen – who loved and worshiped Annika – is determined to get to the bottom of it.

Karen is tormented by the adults in her life keeping too much from her – and by their failure to shield her from life's hardest truths. The flip side of Karen's frustration with adult secrecy is her exposure to adult activity she's too young to understand. From Annika's cassette-taped oral history of her girlhood in an Weimar brothel and her escape from a Nazi concentration camp, to the sex workers she sees turning tricks in cars and alleys in her neighborhood, to the horrors of the Vietnam war, Karen's struggle to understand is characterized by too much information, and too little.

Ferris's storytelling style is dazzling, and it's matched and exceeded by her illustration style, which is grounded in the classic horror comics of the 1950s and 1960s. Characters in Karen's life – including Karen herself – are sometimes depicted in the EC horror style, and that same sinister darkness crowds around the edges of her depictions of real-world Chicago.

These monster-comic throwbacks are absolute catnip for me. I, too, was a monster-obsessed kid, and spent endless hours watching, drawing, and dreaming about this kind of monster.

A page from 'My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book One,' depicting a shirtless, tattooed Deeze, annotated to describe his art practice.

But Ferris isn't just a monster-obsessive; she's also a formally trained fine artist, and she infuses her love of great painters into Deeze, Karen's womanizing petty criminal of an older brother. Deeze and Karen's visits to the Art Institute of Chicago are commemorated with loving recreations of famous paintings, which are skillfully connected to pulp monster art with a combination of Deeze's commentary and Ferris's meticulous pen-strokes.

Seven years ago, Book One of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters absolutely floored me, and I early anticipated Book Two, which was meant to conclude the story, picking up from Book One's cliff-hanger ending. Originally, that second volume was scheduled for just a few months after Book One's publication (the original manuscript for Book One ran to 700 pages, and the book had been chopped down for publication, with the intention of concluding the story in another volume).

But the book was mysteriously delayed, and then delayed again. Months stretched into years. Stranger rumors swirled about the second volume's status, compounded by the bizarre misfortunes that had befallen book one. Last winter, Bleeding Cool's Rich Johnston published an article detailing a messy lawsuit between Ferris and her publishers, Fantagraphics:

The filings in that case go some ways toward resolve the mystery of Book Two's delay, though the contradictory claims from Ferris and her publisher are harder to sort through than the mysteries at the heart of Monsters. The one sure thing is that writer and publisher eventually settled, paving the way for the publication of the very long-awaited Book Two:

Book Two picks up from Book One's cliffhanger and then rockets forward. Everything brilliant about One is even better in Two – the illustrations more lush, the fine art analysis more pointed and brilliant, the storytelling more assured and propulsive, the shocks and violence more outrageous, the characters more lovable, complex and grotesque.

Everything about Two is more. The background radiation of the Vietnam War in One takes center stage with Deeze's machinations to beat the draft, and Deeze and Karen being ensnared in the Chicago Police Riots of '68. The allegories, analysis and reproductions of classical art get more pointed, grotesque and lavish. Annika's Nazi concentration camp horrors are more explicit and more explicitly connected to Karen's life. The queerness of the story takes center stage, both through Karen's first love and the introduction of a queer nightclub. The characters are more vivid, as is the racial injustice and the corruption of the adult world.

A two-page spread from 'My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book Two,' depicting a crowd of grotesque, R Crumb-esque characters from an uptown Chicago bus-stop.

I've been staring at the spine of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book One on my bookshelf for seven years. Partly, that's because the book is such a gorgeous thing, truly one of the great publishing packages of the century. But mostly, it's because I couldn't let go of Ferris's story, her characters, and her stupendous art.

After seven years, it would have been hard for Book Two to live up to all that anticipation, but goddammit if Ferris didn't manage to meet and exceed everything I could have hoped for in a conclusion.

There's a lot of people on my Christmas list who'll be getting both volumes of Monsters this year – and that number will only go up if Fantagraphics does some kind of slipcased two-volume set.

In the meantime, we've got more Ferris to look forward to. Last April, she announced that she had sold a prequel to Monsters and a new standalone two-volume noir murder series to Pantheon Books:

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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

I’m a huge fan of your work and find much inspiration for further reading throughout your writing. Thanks for all the hard work!

I love the look of Emil Ferris’ graphic novels and have added them to my wishlist. I noticed that the links out of your article to the purchase the books is to Amazon. How come you are linking out to the enshittifier-in-chief?

That’s a seven-year-old review (written and queued up eight years ago!) back when I was still linking to Amazon routinely. Dunno if Bookshop was even a thing then.

I’m not in a position, time-wise, to update 60,000 blog posts written over 19 years to find the ones that link to Amazon and fix them.

He he. C’mon Cory, it’s not as if you’re busy or anything. :wink:

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