Web comics, mental health and self representation

Title : Eliza and her Monsters

Author : Francesca Zappia

Pages : 385

Publisher : Greenwillow Books

Published on : May 30, 2017

Synopsis :

Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.


Review

Eliza and her Monsters was a very interesting novel that talks about mental health and being an artist and creator.

To be completely honest, I had high expectations for this book. I saw so many people on Booktube (AKA, the corner of Youtube dedicated to books) who loved the book and some people, of whom I really trust their opinion, said it was one of their all time favorite YA (young adult) books. (see video below starting at 7:10)

I checked the review on Goodreads (link here) as I debated about reading this book since it’s not my typical genre and the ratings were 4.29 on 5 stars. This was pretty much the deciding factor that I indeed wanted to read Eliza and her Monsters and pick it up. However,  with school and a mile long TBR (To Be Read) pile, this book sat on my shelf for a little while.

Fast forward to recently, when I found the opportunity to use the book in a University class project. I naturally jumped at the chance and got to reading.

The thing is, even with those great reviews I didn’t really like the book. For the first 3/4, the book just kind of fell flat for me. I wasn’t invested in the plot or characters and the book was really slow. I had to forced myself to read it. However, the last 100 pages were worlds better than the rest of the book. There was some beautiful prose, nice imagery, a more in depth analysis of certain issues, such as mental health, and I found myself enjoying the book.

The bad:

  • The comic pages in the book were disjointed with no continuity.
    • I would have like a snippet of the story instead of pages that were everywhere and didn’t follow the last comic pages.
  • Slow
  • Not invested in the characters
  • The plot wasn’t engaging
  • Not enough backstory for the characters (excluding Wallace)
    • Characters were a bit too two-dimensional for me

The good:

  • Realistic demonstration of mental health,  the life of a web content creator, and Fandom life
  • Overall good messages on following your path, mental health, family, love
  • Beautiful illustrations
  • I liked how they included the pages formatted as a “Chat room”

Example of Image from the book. ***Image belong to the book Eliza and her Monsters.

In the end I gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars . I feel like without those last 100 page I wouldn’t have liked the book at all. If someone knew more about the web comic world they might have enjoyed it more. I also think that this book might be suited for a younger audience. However, Eliza and her Monsters brings up some things that can make the reader think, which I liked. Some of these things were geared into personal life, such as like the path you want to take in life.  Some other things were more broad like mental health. I think many aspects of this book could be a good starring point for interesting discussions, which is exactly what I will be looking at in the next section of this post!

FUN FACT: The author of Eliza and her Monsters is an artist! Go check out her Deviant Art page here.


Discussion

Now having read this book I want to make a more of an in depth analysis of the subject matter. As the title of this post suggests, I will talk about web comics, our self representation in media, and how media can effect mental health.

Web comics:

So let’s start with Web Comics! I am not a reader of web comics. I knew they existed but I never thought about them in the way they are portrayed in Eliza and Her Monsters, where Eliza posts a chapter of her web comic “Monstrous Sea” every week. The amount of work and discipline that must take to get that work done on time is impressive.

Fan art from of the fictional comic in Monstrous sea
*** All credit to the creator

So as a newbie to this world of web comics, I was intrigued after reading Eliza and her Monsters so I did what most people would do, I used the power of Google.

The first thing I found is an article by BuzzFeed (Link here) that shows a wide variety of comics in many different styles. But I was trying to find something that connected a bit more to the book, so I kept searching and found this site called Hiveworks, (Link here) which has many different creators and pages posted every week, like Eliza does in the book with her comic Monstrous Sea.

FUN FACT: Did you know that the author of Eliza and her Monsters is making a “Monstrous Sea” (the fictional comic Eliza is making in the book) into possibly a real novel? Go check out the two first chapters here.

Having been a bit more educated on the subject, I then looked back on a class reading from my digital media class. One article by Daniel Goodbrey called “Digital Comics New Tools and Tropes” mentioned how comics have drastically changed with the use of technology. Now, not only can comics be in a regular format with panels but also be larger, have animations, etc. Eliza’s comic in the book seemed to be a normal comic but what made it so in tuned with the digital age, and so different from regular comics, is the fact that she makes the comic at home and publishes it every week. Then there is the fact that the whole platform for her comic Monstrous Sea is so interactive. It has forums, fan art sections, merchandise, chat rooms, and more, which can all be found in one place. When you think about it, this dramatic change from regular paper comics is really cool and can really made a community out of a comic, as again shown in Eliza and her Monsters in many different ways. In other words, digital media enhances the whole idea of fandom when it comes to comics.

FUN FACT: Did you know that the author actually created a real website for the fictional comic Eliza is making in the book? Go check it out here.

Self representation:

Another really interesting discussion point that can be seen in Eliza and her Monsters is the aspect of self representation. In an article from my class by Douglas Eyman, he mentioned the idea of digital rhetoric, which is basically how people communicate. Eliza and her Monsters, shows this in how some of the best friends are online. There are even parts of the book written like a group chat, instant message, or text.

Like Eliza texting in class because she is more comfortable online than talking in person ***All credit for this image belongs to the creator

Digital rhetoric is also seen in the Monstrous Sea website since everyone speaks through these forums. As discussed in the book, people sometimes have a completely different life through these discussions, which is really interesting. In fact, the whole book is about Eliza and her changing perspective of herself as two different people, Lady Constellation (her online persona) and Eliza Merk, to just being herself.

Learning to be ourselves all the time is something to work on.
***All credit for the image belongs to the creator

So then comes the question of how people represent themselves on social media. I think most people are like Eliza in the sense that they have a different personality online. Probably not to the point of Eliza’s online personality of Lady Constellation, but in the way we want other people to see us in our online worlds.

An example of two different people online and at home. ***All credit for image belongs to the creator

I bet you didn’t see this coming, but there was an article in class that  talked about this as well! One was by Nancy Thuman, which showed the large evolution we see in history of how people choose to represent themselves. The other one was by Jill Rettberg, which talked about the visual, written, and quantitative versions of self representation. One thing I thought was really interesting in that article by Rettberg was how he showed how selfie and self representation has evolved and how people show themselves differently depending on what platform they use. In a sense, we create ourselves how we want to be seen on social media and not many people can see through that veil we put in front of us unless they know you in real life. A good example of this is seen in Eliza and her Monsters where Lady Constellation (Eliza’s online persona) starts off by being both anonymous and the complete opposite of Eliza’s personality. When her online identity is revealed, it completely affects her personal life, which brings me to my next point.

FUN FACT: Did you know that the author of Eliza and Her Monsters, Francesca Zappia, has a degree in Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics? More cool facts here.

Self representation and Mental Health

A last thing I wanted to mention was social media and Mental Health. In the book, Eliza’s online identity is revealed to the world and she spirals into deep depression and anxiety. I think that this theme in the book  is really important to mention, how the pressure we put on ourselves to produce content online or in other aspects of our life can have negative effects. More specifically, in social media it can feel like there are so many people depending on you and what you post. It is important to sometimes take a break from the online world. Ask for help if you need it. It’s not really discussed in the book but, as a last note, if you are struggling with mental health don’t be ashamed, get help. Talk about what you are struggling with to people you trust.

Need help? Online resources for Mental Health in Canada here.


All right,  after all that, I would love to hear your thoughts! Did you like Eliza and her Monsters? What did you think of the ideas I discussed? Have any web comics to recommend? Let me know in the comments or on my social media, which can be found here.

Until next time, be part of a Powered Crowd. Look at the world around you and create some positive change. Utilize the power of social media and your online content and help those around you who are struggling with mental health. Remember YOU are amazing.

Sources used:

Eyman, Douglas. Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. Digital Humanities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015. https://login.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/login? url=https://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780472121137/.

Goodbrey, Daniel Merlin. “Digital comics – new tools and tropes.” Studies in Comics 4, no. 1 (2013): 185–197. https://doi.org/10.1386/stic.4.1.185_1.

Rettberg, Jill Walker. Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves. Palgrave Pivot. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014. https://login.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/login?url=http://link.springer.com/10.1057/9781137476661.

Thumim, Nancy. Self-Representation and Digital Culture. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York: Palgrave Macmillan UK, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. https://login.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/login? url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/9781137265135.

“Understanding Comics (The Invisible Art) By Scott McCloud.Pdf.” Accessed March 24, 2018. http://www.jessethompsonart.com/artpage/Pre_C_drawing_Video_files/Understanding %20Comics%20(The%20Invisible%20Art)%20By%20Scott%20McCloud.pdf.

“Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia | Goodreads.” Accessed March 24, 2018. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31931941-eliza-and-her-monsters.

“FAQ.” Accessed March 24, 2018. http://www.francescazappia.com/p/faq.html.

“MONSTROUS SEA.” Accessed March 24, 2018. http://www.monstroussea.com/?og=1.

“Monstrous Sea [Teaser] – Francesca Zappia – Wattpad.” Accessed March 24, 2018. https://www.wattpad.com/story/115593723-monstrous-sea-teaser.

Tang, Kevin. “42 Web Comics You Need To Read.” BuzzFeed. Accessed March 24, 2018. https://www.buzzfeed.com/kevintang/42-web-comics-you-need-to-read.

Francesca Zappia “ChessieZappia on DeviantArt.” DeviantArt. Accessed March 24, 2018. https://chessiezappia.deviantart.com.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GtIu1c33IU&t=670s

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