Book Review: My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book Two by Emil Ferris

With her debut graphic novel, My Name is Monsters, Emil Ferris created something beautiful, and strange, daring, and utterly unique. It follows the life of 10-year-old Karen Reyes, a precocious girl living in 1960s Chicago. She loves old monster movies and horror comics. She thinks of herself as a werewolf (and Reyes generally draws her as one). The book is told from her perspective as written in her spiral notebook journal. Karen is an artist and so her journal comes in the loose form of a comic book. There are depictions of the story as it unfolds, but also random doodles, covers of those horror comics she loves so much, and sketches of artwork she admires in her many trips to the museum.

Buy My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book Two by Emil Ferris

It is something of a murder mystery. When Karen’s strange upstairs neighbor Anka Silverberg mysteriously dies, Karen rejects the official police report of suicide and suspects foul play. But it is so much more than that. It is a series of short stories, of her family, friends, and assorted oddballs she meets in the streets. She lives with her mother and her brother Deeze in a rundown apartment building on the rougher side of the neighborhood.

Deeze is a tough character, but sweet to Karen. His body is covered in tattoos and he’s become something of an enforcer for a local gangster who is currently incarcerated. He does this because the gangster is keeping him from being drafted into the Vietnam War. But he’s also an artist and often takes Karen to the Art Institute.

She hangs out with the Brain, a conspiracy-minded writer, and Francois, a fashion-designing trans woman. There are cruel beat cops and a lonely man who collect puppets. Karen’s world, and the pages of the book, are filled with a wonderful assortment of weirdos and monsters (both good and bad ones).

Book Two follows along the same eclectic path. Book One doesn’t solve the mystery of who killed Anka, but it ends with a twist, a new mystery about her brother. Eventually, we do learn what happened to Anka and so much more but the story isn’t so much concerned with that murder mystery as it is with the mysteries (and horrors, and joys) of life. Karen finds some cassette tapes that hold stories of Anka’s life in Germany during WWII. She survived being prostituted out, and survived a concentration camp. They are stories almost too terrible to read. But Karen also finds a girlfriend and takes solace in art. She finds the courage to explore the underground tunnels beneath her apartment, and the strength to ask Deeze about who he really is.

Ferris’ art explodes off the page. It is so inventive and stylized, yet full of very real emotion and beauty. It took me some time to get used to the sketchbook idea. Every page contains those lines you find in school notebooks and that kept throwing me off. But once I got used to it, I was able to fall in love with the concept and be amazed at the art. Often in graphic novels, I turn the page quickly, not paying enough attention to the art, because I want to see what happens next in the story. Here, I kept finding myself getting lost in the art, forgetting to turn the page for several minutes.

Book One was published in 2017. It was an immediate success and fans have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Book Two. Because Emil Ferris writes and illustrates everything there were delays and pushback. Now, some seven years later we’re finally getting to read the sequel. It was absolutely worth the wait.

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Mat Brewster

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