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

Q&A with Emil Ferris (BFA 2008, MFA 2010)

Emil Ferris (BFA 2008, MFA 2010) Photo: Whitten Sabbatini
Photo: Whitten Sabbatini

Emil Ferris (BFA 2008, MFA 2010) is an artist and writer whose first graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, has received critical acclaim and numerous awards. In 2001, she contracted West Nile Virus from a mosquito bite and became paralyzed, nearly losing her ability to draw. She learned to draw again and enrolled at SAIC, the school where her parents met, allowing her obsession with drawing and art to take over. She describes those experiences as the main inspiration for the novel. Ferris returns to SAIC for her Distinguished Alumni Visiting Artists Program lecture on February 11.

Were there any SAIC faculty members who influenced you?

There were quite a few and if I try to name them all, I’ll most certainly leave one or two out and feel completely terrible. First and foremost, most of the instructors at SAIC are working artists and thinkers who have achieved things within the world. Being in the sphere of people who are writing, performing, sculpting, painting, and just generally changing the art world by means of their dedication and uniqueness is invigorating.

Why do your writings and illustrations focus on such dark subjects?

Fiction—and dark fiction in particular—is necessary for our well-being. We use dark fiction to face ourselves and the devastating and terrifying aspects of our social past in ways that are comparatively safe. It’s important and extremely cathartic.

How does your writing speak to the larger concerns of society?

I think everyone is connected. I mean everyone. I think there are no unimportant people or worthless experiences. Writing and visual art create empathy.

What can readers learn from the situations your characters face?

I think my characters find that art makes it possible to heal and heal stronger than before the injury. My path as an artist has taught me this. 

You encountered a number of obstacles on the way to publishing your first novel. What advice would you have for students to help them when they encounter obstacles?

Just keep going. I say these words to myself every day. It was the only advice to take when I was going broke three years into a four-year project, or when 48 out of 50 publishers said, “No, thanks,” or when I was told that it’s possible pirates may have taken all the copies of my lost-at-sea book (I’m serious. It’s crazy but true). So, the three most important words to say to yourself when you encounter obstacles is, "Just keep going."