Date of Degree

2-2022

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Women's and Gender Studies

Advisor

Nancy K. Miller

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Jewish Studies | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies

Keywords

monstrosity, queer theory, critical race theory, horror, comics, graphic literature

Abstract

My Favorite Thing is Monsters (2017) by Emil Ferris opens with the same etymological analysis of the word monster as Rosemarie Garland Thomson’s landmark disability studies article, “From Wonder to Error: A Discourse on Freak Genealogy” (1991). The protagonist of Ferris’s swirling, sketchbook-style thriller, Karen Reyes, is a mixed-race queer adolescent growing up in noirish 1960’s Chicago who longs to be a werewolf so she can bite and save her cancer-afflicted mother. After fleeing an imaginary, pitchfork-wielding M.O.B.—an acronym for “mean, ordinary, & boring” people—Karen explains that, “The dictionary says the word monster comes from the Latin word ‘monstrum’ which means ‘to show’ (like deMONSTRate) but the M.O.B. says, ‘We’ve never seen monsters, to they can’t be there’… the truth is that there are a lot of things we don’t see every day that are right under our noses—like germs and electricity and just maybe—monsters are right under our noses, too…” Garland Thomson uses the same breakdown of the word “demonstrate” to exemplify the creep of monstrosity into ordinary speech, but expands further: “Never simply itself, the exceptional body betokens something else, becomes revelatory, sustains narrative, exists socially in a realm of hyper-representation. Indeed, the word monster [is] perhaps the earliest and most enduring name for the singular body” (3). The monstrous body is, according to Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “pure culture. A construct and a projection, the monster exists only to be read… Like a letter on the page, the monster signifies something other than itself” (4). So, what do the letters—or perhaps more aptly, the strokes of Ferris’s ballpoint pen—on the pages of My Favorite Thing is Monsters signify?

Printed on imitation notebook paper and illustrated entirely in ballpoint pen, My Favorite Thing is Monsters plays with the history of horror comics and high art alike. Its monstrous metaphors are varied and complex: Karen is a budding lesbian who illustrates herself as a werewolf, Franklin, her gay Black classmate, becomes Frankenstein’s monster, and Anka Silverberg, Karen’s upstairs neighbor and a mentally ill Holocaust survivor, is illustrated with blue skin. By reading My Favorite Thing is Monsters through the lens of monster theory and unpacking the differences deMONSTRated in Ferris’s portraits of Karen, Franklin, and Anka, I will illuminate how this graphic novel calls upon an artistic history of horror comics and asserts a complex vision of generative, queer identification with monstrosity.

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