Comic Shop: Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

May 27, 2008 at 11:30 am 4 comments

Who’d have guessed a middle-aged man would become the voice for clever, sardonic teenage girls everywhere? Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson brought the characters to life in the 2001 film, but it was Daniel Clowes who first defined the brilliantly sarcastic Enid and Rebecca, in the 1997 graphic novel Ghost World.

Clowes eschews traditional narrative, instead portraying a series of vignettes that follow the two girls as they drift through the summer following their high school graduation. A competitiveness bubbles under the surface of their relationship, and their barbed wit only illuminates the fear and frustration with which they face the next stage of their lives. As the girls grow into their own personalities, it becomes clear that their friendship no longer fits comfortably, and they drift apart. It’s sad and painful and often very funny, whether it’s because Clowes’ cultural references are so dead-on, or just because his characterizations hit so close to home.

His artwork is heavily influenced by 1950s pop art – just heavy black lines and solid pastel-turquoise shading. It is cartoony without being unrealistic, and the world is populated by the people you’d see walking down the street of any suburb in America. Clowes is brilliant at capturing nuances in expression. He litters his environment with pop culture references and clever, in-jokey details.

The title “Ghost World” refers to the disappearing world in which the girls live- not just their own changing lives, but their town, which is slowly being swallowed up by corporate chains. A few notable scenes take place at a cheesy, fake 1950s diner- the epitome of recycled Americana.

The real wonder in this book, though, is how well Clowes portrays Enid and Rebecca. They’re both fully three-dimensional characters, and he captures the tumult of being 18 perfectly. He avoids the standard girl-types, and manages to flesh them out into compelling individuals. The dialogue is spot-on. It’s rare to find such realistic, relatable young characters, and Clowes nails it.

Once again, I’ll leave you with the first page of the comic. Here he introduces the main characters, and the audience immediately gets a sense of their dynamic. Being friends for years has led to casually-flung insults that only intense familiarity can bring. It’s the subtext of this kind of communication that Clowes explores throughout the comic, and, by extension, the nature of friendship, maturity, and outgrowing your past.

(click to enlarge)


Entry filed under: Betty, Books for Hire. Tags: , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. parkrangerolivia  |  May 27, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    i wish my room looked like these pages.

  • 2. NeeKaps  |  May 27, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    do you own this comic?

  • 3. bettytron  |  May 28, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Yeah, I do. I can loan it to you if you like! I’ll swap it back for the New York Trilogy.

  • 4. heartfelt  |  June 1, 2008 at 10:39 am

    […] Clowes’ 1997 graphic novel Ghost World is brilliant, witty, and bitingly heartfelt. Here’s a review. Southern Gospel Music Group based in Mineral Point, […]


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