LJ Talks with Emil Ferris, Author of ‘My Favorite Thing Is Monsters’

Emil Ferris grew up during the turbulent 1960s in Chicago, where she still lives, and is consequently a devotee of all things monstrous and horrific. She has an MFA in creative writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Emil Ferris grew up during the turbulent 1960s in Chicago, where she still lives, and is consequently a devotee of all things monstrous and horrific. She has an MFA in creative writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

What is one memorable creative challenge you faced in completing My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Bk. 2, and how did you overcome that challenge?

Writing and drawing a story really requires enormous concentration, and I think—at least for me—it was a challenge to simply go to work with all my focus [during the pandemic], when the people I knew and loved were losing their businesses or were very ill...or were suffering due to the emotional damage to their children and families that constant fear and isolation created. In times prior to COVID, the world’s distractions just encouraged me to be more of an “escapist” into my world, but the level of these recent distractions was so disturbing that a simple Houdini [act] was much more difficult.

So among the great challenges I faced was related to making a story when the world and its distractions were necessarily and with good reason bleeding into my sacred imaginative space. I’m sure that I’m far from alone in this experience. It leads me to reflect on how artists have just always created work during really tumultuous times. It takes a “do it anyway” attitude, and that isn’t always easy to generate. I would often say to myself, “I hope that this gift to people does them some good; makes them feel more creative and more alive,” and then I’d work like hell with that hope held central in my mind and imagination.

How has your creative process changed throughout this project?

I confess that I pulled a dozen short stories out of the archives during the isolation period and began working on them in earnest.

The second and concluding book of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters ended up being longer than the first book, and yet I felt that I still wanted to explore Karen’s world and other unrelated worlds as well. However, drawing all that discovery was really tricky. There wasn’t the requisite time (because I was working on Bk. 2), and (since I’m still dealing with the damage to my drawing hand from West Nile Virus paralysis) I didn’t have the strength or endurance in my hand to “draw” that exploration out of myself.

So perhaps—after all these years of drawing with as much…intensity as I could summon—I rediscovered that I’m also a textual writer. That isn’t a bad thing, although the part of me that CRAVES to draw the things I write about is more satisfied by creating illustrated stories. I’m hopeful that my fans will find that my illustrated stories are enough for them.

They’re not sequential, so they’re not graphic novels or comics. They hearken to my first experience of literature, which was my New Mexico abuela sending me installment volumes (one by one) of her antique Dickens collection. Each was expertly illustrated, and this began my love of illustrated text.

Really, I do have to say this—in all sincerity and admittedly knowing that librarians will be reading this—handing books to children is a saintly pursuit, closely akin to feeding them or handing them a lamp that not only will never be extinguished but will expand its illumination far beyond the child receiving it. Books are always a fork in the road. They change lives forever, and librarians hold this sacred and magical power in their blessed hands.

What did you learn from working on this project that you wish you had known at the beginning?

I wish I had known that “imperfection is necessary to wholeness.” That is part of a phrase borrowed (and maybe paraphrased) from a statement made by Carl Jung. I think fear of our own imperfection stops a lot of us from writing and finishing things, but if one just accepts that imperfection is necessary—even desirable—to “wholeness,” well, I think that is perhaps the right way to think. Especially NOW. That mindset is especially important when we’re faced by the looming threat of what we’re being told are “intelligences” with greater scope than our own. I don’t believe that though. That is like being told that master thieves are superior to hard-working citizens simply because they can own (via theft) more resources than laborers can own.

Much of your book is told through visual montages where various illustration styles and storytelling techniques appear side by side. How do you go about planning these pages? Do you write a script before you begin drawing?

No, in order to preserve the diaristic feeling, things must sort of have their own system of “revelation.” This is much as it is in dreams. I don’t generally know how I’ll get where I want to go, and that destination often changes. I let the characters tell me things.

How does the completed story compare to what you envisioned when you first began the project? Does anything about the final product surprise you?

I really wasn’t expecting there to be so many dreams in the second book, but during COVID, I realized how closely I was recording my dreams into a journal of drawings, and I realized I’d always done that, even when I was a kid.

Are there any graphic novels or graphic novelists you find particularly inspiring?

There are so many that to mention any I would be leaving a few ones out and will be hitting myself in the head with remorse when this is printed. You know, people making graphic novels amaze me. There is just so much talent out there. There are some truly wonderful young artists, and there are a lot of people like me who are older folks who have finally just taken their light from out of the place they’ve been hiding it. I especially love these folks. They give hope to the younger ones. The long way home is also a way home. Don’t worry. Don’t feel you have to get it all done by the time you are 22. Imagine the world sorting itself out and giving you the time you need to say what you must say and just—no matter what—please keep going!

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