Ghost World: written and illustrated by Daniel Clowes (1996): Clowes’ episodic graphic novel became a much-praised movie that took some liberties with the source material in order to give it more of a defineable narrative. You won’t find a big role for the character played by Steve Buscemi in the movie (indeed, that character is an expanded composite of two characters from the graphic novel, and, (spoiler alert!), neither of them sleeps with the Thora Birch character). However, Clowes co-wrote the screenplay, so the choices were at least partially his to make.
Ghost World focuses on perpetually snarky teen-aged girls Becky and Enid in the summer after their last year of high school. They roam the city trying to find horrifically non-cool things to experience in an unironic way, whether that’s retro diners or simply the people walking by them on the street. Things will change for them, in part because Becky seems to be becoming weary of Enid’s overwhelming ability to seemingly hate everything and everyone around her.
Moving through the episodes are a gallery of supporting players, grotesque cameos, and pointed discussions about what’s cool and what is not. Enid’s imaginative world orients itself around perpetual, detached irony, and around amused pity at virtually everyone and everything she experiences. Enid is performing, of course, but it’s not a performance she seems capable of turning on and off.
Clowes’ art is clean and evocative throughout, balancing the grotesques that wander through with the more normative people and places of the narrative. He’s a fine cartoonist. The dialogue is eclectic, eccentric, and beautifully modulated. And for all the irony flying thick and fast, Ghost World leaves one with a poignant feeling of loss at the end. For some of the characters? For the world? Recommended.