There’s a lot going on in this graphic novel by Emil Ferris. The narrator, Karen Reyes, lives in 1960s Chicago and loves monster movies. In fact, she’s so absorbed in the world of monster movies that she sees herself as a young wolf-creature. And so, in this story of her life, that’s how she draws herself.
But the monster movies aren’t the main focus on the book. Rather, the book is about real-life monsters of the sort that make her movie creatures seem friendly. (Karen’s self-monster portrait is one of the roundest, warmest faces in the book.) Some of Karen’s terrors are the typical childhood ones. Her best friend, Missy, seems to have ditched her for more popular girls. Karen has trouble making new friends. (Her gruesome Valentine’s cards don’t help.) And the people around her are behaving in strange and unpredictable ways. And then, against this backdrop, her upstairs neighbor, Anka, is found dead of a gunshot wound. Karen becomes determined to solve the crime, and so she dons a trench coat and hat and becomes a detective, ferreting out the story of Anka’s childhood in Germany.
All of this sounds relatively straightforward, but the story takes many detours along the way. Each plot line is complex on its own, and new developments add to the layers as the story goes on. I found it a little overwhelming, to be honest. Because this is the first of two volumes, most of the plots aren’t resolved by the end, and the final page raises a whole new head-scratcher of a mystery. The story is not exactly hard to follow, but there are a lot of details that are easy to miss.
The complex art fits the layered story. Each page is made to look like a piece of notebook paper on which Karen has sketched out her story.
I really liked the use of color in the art. Sometimes the pages are black and white, but on other pages, she incorporates one or two colors to accentuate, for example, the pink coats of the girls in her class above. Or there’s the blue color she consistently uses for Anka’s face. And there are a few full-color pages, many of them of famous paintings, sometimes incorporating characters from Karen’s story.
However, as with the story itself, I sometimes found the complexity of the art overwhelming, and every once in a while, I couldn’t work out how to actually read the pages and ending up reading the story out of order. This wasn’t a frequent issue, but it was enough to pull me out of the story.
So, in the end, even though there was a lot to admire out this book, I couldn’t get into it as much as I’d hoped I would. I’m mildly curious about where the story goes in volume 2, but I’m not sure that I’m curious enough to seek it out. But if I happen upon it in the library, it might end up in my bookbag.