May 30, 2017
I’ve not made a secret of my hesitation when it comes to books about fandom. More often than not, they’ve been hit or miss for me. When they’re a hit, they’re a real hit. And when they miss? I’d rather just avoid talking about them. It’s with these qualms that I approached Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. I hoped very much to love this quiet novel about a webcomic artist, and I got my wish and much more.
Eliza Mirk is a deeply introverted teen, something that might surprise the literally hundreds of thousands of fans of her webcomic Monstrous Sea. The fandom around her work is big enough and involved enough that their financial support has ensured Eliza doesn’t have to worry about paying for college. It’s a strange surreal world for her, but when a new boy, Wallace Warland, transfers to her school, that world shifts into something more complicated than she ever could have imagined. After all, what does one do when faced with their self-proclaimed biggest fan?
I adored every page of this book, for a multitude of reasons. As a reader of webcomics, I loved seeing the behind-the-scenes of Eliza’s work. Zappia takes the time to involve the reader in Monstrous Sea, providing excerpts and panels from the comic every few pages to contextualize the story in our minds. Eliza’s process is explored: how she draws, how she spaces out each page, why she makes the decisions she does. Readers who’ve always wondered how webcomic artists do what they do will find a lot to love in this book, and Zappia does it with a lovely sense of respect for their work.
As an anxious creator (sans any artistic skills), I loved getting to know Eliza and her layers of insecurities and small moments of confidence. Her anxiety felt so real to me, and I could easily recognize those points of disquiet in myself. Zappia doesn’t try to overwhelm the reader with overly strong descriptions of how Eliza feels day-to-day, and if she had, it would have felt disingenuous. I am not driven solely by my anxiety, and neither is Eliza. We function, and we live our lives, and sometimes there are days and triggers that make those things more difficult. Managing those moments is hard, and moving past them is hard, but Zappia handles it with compassion in the text.
She does so partly by giving time and emphasis to the support network that Eliza has in her life. While her family and friends can’t solve every problem—and do their own share of adding to her stress and anxiety—the reader can see that Eliza might not be okay right now, but she has people who are there for her, in every way. Wallace isn’t set up as the one person who will help Eliza through her anxieties by being her boyfriend, but his presence is an added layer to the net that catches her every time.
Eliza and Her Monsters is a deeply comforting novel, about things that may not be comforting in the moment, but which bring out the best in us. Francesca Zappia has given readers a protagonist who isn’t perfect or good, but human all the same. It was an honour to read Eliza’s story.