Ghost World (1997)

Writer/Artist: Daniel Clowes Fantagraphics

Ghost World is an American town, remarkable in only one regard: its ability to look remarkably like every other mid-cap American town there ever was. Ghost World is a friendly town, until you start asking questions. Ghost World nurtures ambitions, until they move out of mediocre territory. Ghost World is a solid, middle-class town with middle class ambitions: everyone here wears the same discount clothes, eats at the food court and harbours magpie-like tendencies, collecting knick-knacks worthless to all but their hoarders.

Welcome to Daniel Clowes’ very own personal purgatory. Mind your head now, there’s a good zombie.

Ghost World follows the coming-of-age — although it’s debatable whether any actual character growth takes place — of two girls who have recently finished high school; Rebecca Doppelmeyer and Enid Coleslaw. Both Rebecca and Enid are old school cynics: casting a greasy eyeball on the conformist ways of their peers.

In particular, they are sickened by the fact that perversion simmers just beneath the surface for most of the town’s denizens, and yet they seem to have wordlessly agreed to a coy, blinkered existence. In one of the first scenes of the book, we see Enid at a diner, being greeted by an acquaintance called John Ellis, who apparently contributes to a rag called Mayhem. Ellis proudly announces that he has made some “computer-generated artwork” to accompany a story about “high-tech child pornography”. He also introduces a friend to Enid, an ex-priest who confesses to being sexually attracted to children. This man’s sweaty defence of the aforementioned “high-tech child porn”, delivered with suitably shifty eyes, presents all that Clowes hates about techno-capitalism in a nutshell.

“You see… for years I’ve been a prisoner of my sexual inclinations. I would never, ever harm or use a child in an inappropriate manner, and I never have, but… none of us have any control over our particular desires, and now, thanks to the verisimilitude of these computer-generated images, I am able to attain material that indulges my specific fantasies without causing harm or damage to anyone.”

Enid’s character gets the better lines, it has to be said. She is the archetypal angst-ridden teenager who is struggling to establish authenticity in a confusing world. But then, Clowes has admitted that Coleslaw is based on his own conflicts. Besides, “Enid Coleslaw” is an anagram of “Daniel Clowes”.

Ghost World was adapted into a Hollywood film in 2001, starring Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca and the wonderful Thora Birch (American Beauty) as Enid. Clowes co-wrote the screenplay, along with director Terry Zwigoff, and the pair received an Oscar nomination for their effort. The film is recommended, certainly, but we would love it if you read the book first.

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