It’s 1967 and 10 year old Karen Reyes—the irresistible fictional voice that animates Emil Ferris’ mesmerizing, gorgeously drawn new graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Fantagraphics)—is slowly turning into a werewolf in her family’s apartment in Chicago.

Actually, Reyes just likes to think of herself as a monster (as well as a kind of monster-detective), because she loves movie ghouls and the pulp horror magazines of the period that feature them. But in the context of her young life—grappling with her sexuality, she’s also an outcast at school—Karen happily views herself as a monstrous social outcast in waiting.

Using Reyes and her family—Marvela, Karen’s hilarious hyper-superstitious mother, Deeze, her vampire-like artist brother, and other colorful tenants in the building—Ferris has created a murder mystery that is also a deeply affecting spiritual tour of Chicago. The book is a loving portrait of an impossibly rich world of working class misfits and social grotesques; it’s an embrace of the black, immigrant, elderly, discarded, maladjusted denizens of the lush social underbelly of Chicago in the 1960s.

Ferris’ debut graphic novel is moving and funny, but, created in the form of a kids’ composition notebook, it is also imaginative and inventive. She’s found new ways to tell a powerfully literary visual story.