A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

My Obsessions

Emil Ferris on Her Obsessions (BFA 2008, MFA 2010)

by Ana Sekler (MA 2016)

Emil Ferris (BFA 2008, MFA 2010) is obsessed with monsters. In her debut graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, the main character, Karen, imagines herself as a monster called the “Wolf Man” and takes it upon herself to solve the murder case of her neighbor, a Holocaust survivor. The drama unfolds in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, where Ferris grew up, and at the Art Institute of Chicago. “Karen is me, of course,” says Ferris.

Emil Ferris (BFA 2008, MFA 2010). Photo: Yoni Goldstein (MFA 2009)

Ferris’ journey to publishing her debut novel is an extraordinary one. About 14 years ago, Ferris contracted West Nile Virus and became paralyzed, nearly losing her ability to draw, an experience she describes as the main inspiration for the novel. But Ferris refused to give up.

She learned to draw again and enrolled at SAIC, where she received multiple scholarships, allowing her obsession with drawing and art to take over. She worked on the graphic novel 16 hours a day for six years. The book was published in February 2017 to critical acclaim. Ferris, who is busy working on her next book, says she’d quit sleeping to draw if she could. We talked to Ferris about what she’s reading, listening to, thinking about, and watching when she’s not sketching.


I’m reading Alan Moore’s Jerusalem. It is mostly brilliant for the prose, the way it defies genre and for the way it encodes magic, history, and social justice into the wide-ranging narrative.


I like to play songs over and over again while I'm writing. My favorite tune to listen to again and again is "Insane Asylum" sung (or rather emoted) by Willie Dixon and Koko Taylor. I'm also listening to a range of blues artists, such as John Lee Hooker, but my first-thing-in-the-morning listen is (and always has been) Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody.”


I'm thinking about magic—about the power of intention and imagination.


A while ago I had the privilege of going to Facets and seeing F.W. Murnau's Sunrise. It completely blew my mind! That's when I realized that comics makers, graphic novelists, and cartoonists are, in so many ways, the children of their great grandparents and not their parents. We cartoonists have a kinship with silent movies in a way that we don't with talkies. To that end I'm watching a silent compilation of Greta Garbo's films.