Ghost World

Author and artist: Daniel Clowes

Type: Fiction, comic

Published: 1998

I read it: June 2017

ghost world

After reading a string of fantastical modern comics, I figured I’d knock out the slim Ghost World, a classic of day-to-day realism. I had gathered that Daniel Clowes was a well-respected figure in this vein of comics, though I don’t have the history to fully appreciate his influence. And overall, I found that Ghost World just isn’t for me.

The story centers on Enid and her friends, two eighteen year-olds living in the city and wondering how to fit in with life and the future. And the “story” is rather loose, with multiple chapters devoted to the pair walking around and pointing out various weirdos they know or have heard of, gossiping nonstop, and generally being judgmental and antagonistic. I suppose this comic captures an actual place and time a couple decades ago, and I’m sure these types of people do or did exist… but this book really illustrates the literary conversation on the value that likeable characters bring to the reading experience.

Although I wouldn’t want to hang out with these girls myself, there is humanity in the close-up portrayals of human foibles, and an honest evaluation of the awkward parts of confronting maturity as a young woman. But a part of my dislike might be for the artwork itself: I’ve seen it before (and for all I know, Clowes was one of the progenitors), but something about the warts-and-all style and the seeming glee to make as many people look like Neanderthals as possible is off-putting. For others, this may be the height of the graphic medium.

I did listen to the Daniel Clowes interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, and he seems like a delightful person. He also told a brief story about a young woman finding Ghost World at a used bookstore at just the right time in her life. It does seem like this type of book: hugely influential for small subsets of people, but perhaps not appealing enough for the casual reader.


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