‘Tis the season for all things spooky! In the spirit of October, ComicsVerse conducted a roundtable on MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS. Created by Emil Ferris and published by Fantagraphics in February 2017, MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS is no typical horror comic. It takes place in 1960s Chicago following Karen, a horrorphile who believes she might, in fact, be a werewolf. After her neighbor Anka dies under mysterious circumstances, Karen dons a duster and takes it upon herself to solve the mystery surrounding her death. What she uncovers about Anka’s past is not for the faint of heart. 

The following conversation revolves around some of the many themes touched on in this masterwork, including horror, identity, and victimization. We hope this discussion inspires you to pick up this graphic novel.

This roundtable features Writing Intern Jeremiah Johnston (JJ), Contributing Writers Kelsey McConnell (KM) and Ashley Wertz (AW), Editor Eric Rivlin (ER), and Independent Publishers Section Co-Head Morgan Slade (MS), with Independent Publishers Section Co-Head Lindsey Mott (LM) acting as a facilitator.

Image courtesy of Fantagraphics Books.

Meet Karen, Our Favorite Monster.

LM: MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS begins with an account of a mob hunting down Karen as she transforms into a werewolf. Right from the jump, what does this tell you about our narrator? What tone does this set for the rest of the graphic novel?

ER: Opening a book with a dream sequence can be either really good or really bad because it can give you a false impression of what’s to come. But, this opening made perfect sense because a lot of MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS takes place in Karen’s imagination. It shows you what she thinks of the outside world, which immediately lets you know who this character is.

KM: I really love monster media. Monsters usually represent the people who don’t fit in with mainstream society, so the opening really stuck out to me, especially when Karen was ripping her dress. We get the sense that she doesn’t really fit in the typical little girl role and that she feels alienated by society at large.

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Monsters and Identity

LM: The title of this graphic novel is such because Karen’s favorite thing is monsters. She strongly identifies with horror movies and even believes herself to be a werewolf. How does this influence how she navigates her setting of 1960s Chicago as a queer woman of color? Furthermore, did you see parallels between Karen and yourself?

MS: The whole image of her as this werewolf kid wearing the cutesy little sixties girl dresses really resonated with me because it reminded me of my childhood experiences. I knew that something was off about me, in terms of gender. I didn’t really fit in with the other girls. There was something that was more kind of like, hairy and messy about me.

KM: I think it’s really interesting that Karen believes herself to be a werewolf, even though she knows she’s not but she’s hoping to become one. I think in a way, it makes her more bravely embrace how she’s different. She’s also very aware that she’s different. While she doesn’t really fully address her self-esteem issues, she says in the beginning, “The undead don’t have the same self-esteem issues as the living.” Karen wants to become this thing that can accept her differences and she’s still in that transformation period. I’ve always really related to not seeing yourself in the mirror when you look at yourself and wanting to be something else, wanting to become a person that you know you’re not, but still seeing yourself as the person that you could be.

Image courtesy of Fantagraphics Books.

Monsters and Disability

MS: I also liked the visual representation of her difference through being a monster. The creator, Emil Ferris, has a lot of experience with disability. As a kid, she had scoliosis. She had a hard time running around on the playground, so she sat and drew by herself. Already, she felt alienated from the other kids. Later, she got West Nile virus and lost the ability to walk for a while. When she started to regain her mobility she had re-learn how to draw.

When I was in college, I developed Tourette’s. After I first developed it, I would go out in public and be constantly worried about what people thought of me when they saw me doing all these neck tics. The only time in media that you see somebody twitching like that is when they’re a serial killer in a horror movie. I had this mental image of other people perceiving me as this monster. I can definitely see how interacting with society as a disabled person can tie into horror. It follows in the freak show tradition, displaying disabled people for entertainment and shock value. There’s a big connection, I think, historically, between monsters and disability.

KM: I relate to that too. When I was five, I was diagnosed with type one diabetes. Although it’s not a visible thing, you go to school and suddenly everybody knows and everyone’s asking about it, even the teachers. Karen being a werewolf is her personal experience. Nobody knows that’s what she sees when she looks in the mirror, except her brother. There’s a distance between what you’re dealing with inside of you that no one else can fully understand. 

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LM: Would you classify MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS as horror? Did you see it as carrying on the traditions of the genre or breaking the mold?

KM: I would definitely classify it as horror. I think it’s both traditional and non-traditional because there are definitely sexual aspects that are always inherent in horror. However, MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS shows sexual abuse as the horror, rather than using this sexual abuse to progress the spookiness of it. It’s like, “This is a problem, and the monsters can fight it.”

AW: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. There’s this total inversion of monsters as the good guys. I love horror that says that humanity is the true horror. You see that so many times throughout MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS, especially with Anka and the Holocaust. I think I would also classify it as horror, but it’s less visceral and more psychological. It almost feels like it’s in its own category.

JJ: MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS reminded me of Lovecraftian horror, at least with the idea of an investigation. I think there’s that big mystery part of the story and the idea that the investigation is something benign, to begin with, but it’s holding back a darker truth that eventually will draw you to some point of insanity. I don’t think it’s going to happen with Karen, but there’s that element of the darker truth. We see that as the story goes on, as she uncovers more and more about her family, and about her mother’s condition, and about Deeze and what Anka went through during the war.

Image courtesy of Fantagraphics Books.


MS: I personally don’t think that it’s horror. I think that it’s more like a love letter to horror, as a genre, especially to old school, campy horror. It feels more in the realm of a non-fiction comic memoir, even though it is fiction. I think there’s some really messed up stuff that happens in it, but I feel like horror, at least as I understand it, is on more of a symbolic, metaphoric level. It’s a way of tackling real issues and anxieties but through this other realm. I feel like a lot of the stuff that happens in MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS isn’t really on that plane. It feels more like real stuff that’s happening. I wouldn’t say that an account of what happened in a concentration camp is horror. Horror has entertainment value. There’s nothing entertaining about the Holocaust.

ER: I didn’t think it was horror at all because any terrible or scary thing that happened in it is absolutely real. The Holocaust happened, people get cancer, people get raped, and it’s horrifying, but that doesn’t make this a horror comic. One of the most horrifying aspects of it is that this is all from the point of view of a kid, who’s being forced to grow up too fast, in an environment where she’s almost completely alone. When something terrible happens, it’s drawn impeccably and it really gets under your skin.

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LM: The art of MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS is extremely unique. We’re led to believe that we’re reading Karen’s journal. Did you find this mode of storytelling effective?

ER: I love the art. I thought, again, kind of how the opening with the dream sequence was risky, that using such detailed illustrations, along with so much text could potentially turn some people off. But I think it worked out great. It’s a coming of age story where we get to see what Karen thinks of people and hear her voice.

There’s a specific part of the book that, from an art standpoint, was brilliant. When Karen is listening to Anka’s tapes, the art is very detailed. When something traumatic happens to you, it stays in your mind. However, there’s one part where Anka does something very bad, and the art becomes much less detailed — there’s no color, there’s barely any shading. It’s a memory she’s trying to repress. This specific memory raises questions about Anka’s character. She’s not even sure if this memory is true.

Reading Karen’s Journal

AW: The art was amazing. I loved that you could see the edges of the notebook. There were some parts that were kind of hard to read, just because the text was sideways, or just surrounding things. One of my favorite things about the artwork were those sections in between different scenes with the title pages, the dime novel covers. This is also a nod to classic, campy horror, which I thought was great. 

KM: There was one part of the story that really stuck out to me. Karen was talking about these covers, and how she doesn’t particularly like the covers where the women’s boobs are spilling out because she thinks that if you have boobs, something bad is going to happen to you. That was striking, and also true. It made me sick, but a good sick, like, someone’s finally acknowledging this and making you see it through the story.

Image courtesy of Fantagraphics Books.

Closing Thoughts and Volume 2

LM: Do you think you’re going to read the next volume and what are your expectations for it? Would you recommend MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS?

KM: I was really upset to see that the story did not end. I’m going to get the next volume of MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS as soon as it comes out because I was way too into it. I’ve already recommended it to like, three people.

AW: I would definitely recommend this to other people. There are just so many layers to it. There’s just so much to talk about. It’s very subjective because it’s through the eyes of Karen, but it’s also kind of objective. The things in MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS are so morally gray, especially with Anka. You kind of have to think, “Was there ever a third choice, or was she just kind of like, in between evils?” It’s an interesting graphic novel to discuss.

ER: I think I will read the next volume. I would recommend it to other people, but I will say, it’s quite a commitment. It’s not a run-of-the-mill, just a splash page of images every few pages, with no words. There are lots of words, but the words are beautiful. I think it really helps you hear the voice of these characters. You can hear what they sound like. The art absolutely helps with that. It’s a beautiful combination of art and prose.

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MS: I felt like it was a really realistic depiction of life during the sixties. It was nice to see the focus on people who don’t necessarily get that focus when we talk about those time periods. When people talk about segregation, nobody ever talks about Latino families. Where do they fit in? Also, when we’re talking about the Holocaust, we don’t usually talk about sex trafficking. I feel like it’s a really interesting book, in the sense of giving different points of view of these historical moments. I would definitely recommend it, and I definitely need to know what happens in volume two.

JJ: I definitely want to know what’s going on. I still want to know what’s in the basement and I also hope we go back to whatever was going on with that castle in the woods that Anka was taken to. I would recommend that you read it, or at least allow yourself to be open to the experience of it. Although I am not a ten-year-old queer woman of color from the 1960s, I could still identify with her as a character and as a person. I think that’s a strength of media done well, that it breaks down barriers to understanding what these different experiences are like.

Does MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS sound like your kind of graphic novel? You can pick up MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS from Fantagraphics here. The second volume is set to release April 2018; you can still preorder it from Amazon.

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