PHOTO BY WHITTEN SABBATINI
Emil Ferris is a graphic novelist whose first book ‘My Favorite Thing Is Monsters’ has been praised by critics since its publication in 2017. Her book - which presents itself as the lined notebook diary of a pre-teen self-avowed werewolf who questions her sexual identity - is set in Chicago in the 1960’s.
The book is autobiographically infused as Emil - like her protagonist Karen Reyes - was witness to the highly charged political and social climate of that time.
The main character’s obsession with B-movies of the Hammer and Universal varieties and EC horror magazines is evident. Journalists have noted how the book parallels themes of monstrosity and ‘otherness.’
Not only are EC-inspired horror comic covers recreated in ballpoint pen by Emil’s protagonist, but so are many significant paintings that hang in the Art Institute of Chicago.
Emil was profoundly shaped by the world-renowned collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ferris sites art-making as being critically important to her survival of childhood disability as well as subsequent physical challenges.
Hence, the story of the graphic novel’s production is nearly as interesting as the book itself.
In 2002 at 40 years of age Emil was bitten by a mosquito and infected with West Nile Virus, She suffered lower body paralysis as well as the substantially diminished use of her dominant drawing hand.
Consequently Emil enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and during her student years was introduced to such graphic novels as Maus, Jimmy Corrigan, Persepolis and FunHome.
While studying, Emil recovered enough of her drawing ability to create her graphic novel. She left SAIC with a Bachelors in Art, a Graduate degree from The Writing Program, as well as the first 24 pages of what would later become ‘My Favorite Thing Is Monsters.’
My Favorite Thing is Monsters has now been translated in French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, German and Korean. It has been honored with numerous awards, among them: The Lambda Literary Award, multiple Eisners, the Ignatz and the Fauve d’or at the Angouleme Festival, France.
Emil has exhibited her art extensively in the US and Europe and prior to the pandemic she was honored to teach classes at the Louvre.
In April of 2021 Emil was shocked and intensely pleased to be named a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.