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Hand drawn on spiral notebook paper is Emil Ferris' self-portrait alongside her werewolf preteen protagonist Karen Reyes.

Emil Ferris’ hand drawn self-portrait alongside her “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters” protagonist, Karen Reyes.

Courtesy of Fantagraphics and Emil Ferris

Emil Ferris conjures 1960s Uptown spirits in long-awaited 'My Favorite Things Is Monsters' sequel

The Chicago author’s new graphic novel brings her brilliant ballpoint pen crosshatches back to the seedy underbelly of Chicago’s North Side, following the saga of werewolf and preteen detective Karen Reyes.

You don’t have to wander far to find the ghosts in Chicago, graphic novelist Emil Ferris says.

Between the luxury high-rises, upscale grocery chains and other monetized monstrosities of gentrification, apparitions still abound with tales from the city’s seedier, sordid past, according to the South Side-born, North Side-raised artist.

“I love the history of my city, even its dark history,” Ferris told the Sun-Times. “If you stop and read the plaques, you find out so many things. You’re standing in the middle of it all. Every neighborhood has mysteries and history and heroes.”

Ferris’ heroes are back to plumb the mysterious depths of 1960s Uptown in her new book, “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book Two,” the followup to her critically acclaimed 2017 debut that took striking ballpoint pens to Broadway and the ghoulish denizens of its grimiest side streets.

"My Favorite Thing is Monsters Book Two."

“My Favorite Thing is Monsters Book Two.”

Courtesy of Fantagraphics and Emil Ferris

Released in late May via Fantagraphics, the long-awaited sequel in Ferris’ noir saga sends preteen protagonist Karen Reyes — a fanatic of all things horror, just like the author — farther down the rabbit hole of solving the murder of her upstairs neighbor, Holocaust survivor Anka Silverberg.

The self-styled detective Karen grapples with the loss of her mother, the Vietnam-era pressures on her brother Diego “Deez” Zapata and the budding of her own sexuality, all in a neighborhood where the number of good-hearted monsters is regrettably offset by bigots, schoolground predators and trigger-happy gangsters.

“Growing up in Uptown in the late ‘60s required quite a lot of survival skills, if you survived it,” Ferris said, recalling a string of gruesome endings that met kids she grew up around. “I would read about them having been shot or having been abducted and murdered. Those things were happening. It was Uptown, ‘60s, terrible things happened to children.”

Ferris, a former toy designer and longtime illustrator, gives voice to those kids over hundreds of pages styled as Karen’s spiral notebook, where a journey ripe with Chicago iconography from the Aragon Ballroom to the Art Institute lions is hatched out in a mesmerizing rainbow of Bic pens.

“It’s the thing I had to use for Karen, because we were poor kids. We got that notebook at the beginning of the school year, and that was it. It was for us to speak in,” Ferris said.

American writer, cartoonist, and designer author of the graphic novel 'My Favorite Thing Is Monsters',  Emil Ferris poses during a photo session in Paris on September 20, 2018. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)

Emil Ferris — American writer, cartoonist, and author of the graphic novel “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters” — is photographed in Paris in 2018.

JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

“The lines on a notebook — they might look like bars, but they’re ladders. You can defy them by drawing right over them. Nothing confines you in that notebook. And I knew that I had to use a ballpoint pen — the only choice you have, but then you make everything you can with it. That’s really what the book is: It’s that this person, my little Karen, she makes the very best out of whatever she’s got.”

Ferris said “we deprive children of their right to speak and of their wisdom, and that’s part of what I wanted to confront in the book. I wanted people to think about how they treat themselves, and how they’re raised to treat themselves and their children.”

Not that it was all ghastly business for a youngster growing up in a complex near Buena Avenue and Broadway.

“I had friends who were from the Caribbean, and I got to eat their food and listen to their language. When you’re in a city as diverse as Chicago is, having a microcosm of that diversity in a building was just remarkable and wonderful,” Ferris said. “There were Communists, there were Black Communists, there were white hillbillies, for want of a better word, mountain people. There were all these different groups and they came with different experiences. And they talked and I listened.”

Karen fancies herself a werewolf, befriends a hungry ghost and consults with demons within the canvas of Art Institute masterpieces. But the most terrifying creatures of Ferris’ new novel are confined to the human form: cultish street preachers, grinning Nazi guards and bruising Chicago police officers.

Stumbling upon the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention protests and ensuing police brutality, Karen sees the CPD skull-cracking closer than Ferris did as a 6-year-old seeing blood-soaked protesters returning on the L after the downtown chaos.

“I was that weirdo kid that begged to stay up ‘til 10 and watch the news,” Ferris said. “You could really sit down and watch what was actually going on: the My Lai massacre. You could see the brutality of the Democratic National Convention. You could see the police. You could hear them interviewed and saying things that were just not American. That’s something that Karen is dealing with, and that’s something that I think everybody has to face.”

A selection from Emil Ferris' "My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book Two."

A selection from Emil Ferris’ “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Book Two.”

Courtesy of Fantagraphics and Emil Ferris

Like her heroes, Ferris says she finds inspiration from the Art Institute and the city’s myriad other “cool, darkish places that still have gorgeous architecture, where you can kind of smell the 1930s.

“But you really almost can’t walk down a street and not find inspiration,” she said.

“Everywhere you look, there’s something tragic and wonderful and exciting and victorious. There’s just so much wonderful history in this city. And it’s because the people, as blighted as they are by the presence of whatever the wickedness is, they so often exceed it. Maybe it’s because we have water nearby. They say demons can’t really operate well near water, but ghosts can — ghosts love water. It really feeds their energy. And that’s important. We need our ghosts. My God, we need our ghosts, don’t we?”

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