Karen Reyes from My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris has no shortage of imagination, she arguably has an overactive imagination. An overactive imagination that results from a series of misfortunes in her life.
On the page where Karen’s mom and brother sit down to tell her about her mother’s fight with cancer, Karen descends into her own world to escape the reality and severity of the situation. She copes with stressful situations in her life by not only drawing them, but to an extent re-imagining them.
Even before her family said anything, she sensed bad news was coming and immediately shut down. Instead, Karen fixated on something from her imagination: “…I saw in her [Mama’s] palm was a shadow cast of the pentagram that shows up in the palm of the ‘next victim’‒ like in the wolfman movie…” (Ferris) The star that she imagined not only pointed to her deflection, it also indicated what her family thought was her mother’s fate. The wolf in the next page does not even closely resemble the wolf Karen sees herself as, this wolf is a symbol of death. Its sheer size and dominance over the words represents the looming thought of death personified in Karen’s mind and in her sketchbook.
Her sketches in these pages are void of color, except for the red veins in the wolf’s eyes. The lack of color in the page demonstrates the absence, or her attempt to absolve herself from any emotions. The red, although almost invisible in relation to everything else in the drawing, represents the anguish and even anger Karen is feeling. Her sketchbook is the only place she where she has complete control in her life.
The words of her family that she refuses to listen to swirl violently, sometimes even disappearing around the wolf and into its fur. The words varying in size and emphasis highlight the frustration she’s feeling in her current situation. Since the words are there she clearly heard what they said despite not wanting to. Despite this, her tendency to wander in her mind is a coping mechanism, an action that mirrors dissociation:
Dissociation seems to fall on a continuum of severity. Mild dissociation would be like daydreaming, getting “lost” in a book…(Dissociation).
Especially since Karen is so young and facing stressful situations, she daydreams to escape reality. Her other coping mechanism of drawing is her way of attempting to make sense of those situations. Drawing gives her an escape from reality and allows her to interpret it her own way: with monsters.
Ferris, Emil. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. First Fantagraphics books edition, Fantagraphics
“Dissociation and Dissociative Disorders.” Mental Health America, 14 Oct. 2013,