One of my all-time favourite comic book stories is Ghost World by Daniel Clowes. Initially it was serialised in his own independent comic book 'Eightball', where it took almost 4 years (June 93 – March 97) and eight issues to tell the tale of Enid Coleslaw (the anoraks among you may be interested to note that Enid Coleslaw is an anagram of Daniel Clowes!) and her best friend Rebecca Doppelmeyer. Eventually it was pieced together as a graphic novel in the late 90s, where it found a much wider audience. This story is such a rare treat, and one I find I have to 'top up' on at regular intervals -- you know, like you have to do with those most favourite films…..
Although Dan Clowes writes and draws all his own stories, the real art of this piece is how the hell this middle-aged man managed to nail the thoughts and characterisations of these two teenagers so well! The dialogue is spot-on, and the relationship between the girls and their ‘friends’ is agonisingly real. Everyone goes through that awkward 'no longer a kid, not yet an adult' phase, and I guess that's why this book is so easy to relate to. It's one of those stories where, on the face of it, little happens, yet dig a little deeper and it's pretty much the whole of life, wrapped up in eighty odd pages.
High school friends Enid and Rebecca are two alienated and very opinionated girls, who know exactly what they don't like -- of course, like most teens, they are less sure what they do like, as the realisation of a directionless future hits them (ring any bells?!). The girls live in an un-named town, but you almost certainly live in it too (or at least very near it)… All the life has been sucked out, and all the character buildings, and things that used to personalise it and make it unique are being torn down, replaced with cinema complexes, theme diners and shopping malls. The girls seem to despair at the loss of their towns identity, and to me, this suggests where the stories title comes from - although Clowes has never really explained it, saying only that he once saw some graffiti on a wall containing the words. Enid and Rebecca’s dream had always been to quit school and achieve adulthood, yet when it finally comes, it slowly tears their friendship apart. The ending is left up to the reader to decide, but many believe there are enough signs in the last few pages to show that Enid commits suicide… I however like to go for the thought that Enid has gone in search of a new town that still has its soul.
It’s a thought provoking read – with a lot to say about throw-away society and the decay of our surroundings.
The first whiff I caught of Ghost World being made into a film was sometime in the late 90’s, and I was mortified. Hollywood doesn't have a good track record of adapting comic books at the best of times, let alone subtle, underground titles like this. I had visions of it being rewritten as an ‘American Pie’ style teen flick… ugh. On its release in 2001, I somehow managed to find a cinema in Essex actually showing it (admittedly only for one day), so my partner and I nervously attended the first showing. But against all the odds, one of my top three comic books became one of my top three films! The film (starring Thora Birch as Enid and an at the time little known Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca) faithfully reproduced the book, and the additional storylines (all written by Clowes) added to and complemented the original perfectly - particularly the decision to expand the ‘Seymour’ character, played to painful perfection by Steve Buscemi – in fact it was nominated for an Academy Award for the ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’.
Lately I’ve seen the DVD kicking around in HMV at the crazy price of £3… which really is too cheap for this little gem. If you see it around at that price snap it up, you won’t regret it. However, do yourself a favour and make sure you read the book 1st.
I've managed to track down the original trailer for the film, which gives a good flavour of this underrated quirky flick:
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