Ghost World: Song #1

June 5th, 2015

A few thoughts on Dan Clowes’ Ghost World, as previously presented as part of this extended discussion of what that comic is and how we should read it:

I’m going to side step this fascinating discussion of formalism/post-structuralism/intentionality because otherwise I’ll either get so bogged down in it that I don’t find time to talk about Ghost World or I’ll say something stupid about being a “post-structuralist intentionalist” or spam the world with idiotic diagrams I’ve just thrown together on Paint or whatever…

Let’s talk about a grubbier aspect of what we’re talking about when we talk about Ghost World, namely the packaging, how it’s been sold and re-sold, whether it’s got a picture of Thora Birch on the cover (I don’t think any such edition exists, but maybe I’m wrong). The stuff you’re not supposed to judge it by, basically, despite the fact that this but into all that good “literary” stuff about intention, reception, and interpretation in a tangible way.

After all, the sort of intentions and expectations you read a comic with will be different if you read it as one strip amongst many in Clowes’ Eightball than they are if you read it as a graphic novel, or as the source material for a movie that left you slightly unsatisfied but curious enough to read more.

It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that all of the critiques of the comic that were raised during the London Graphic Novel Network’s examination of the series relate to its failure as an extended narrative, but that does seem to be a recurring theme, and I think that’s pretty fair. There are notes of epiphanic ambiguity that seem to be aspiring towards the status of the literary short story, just as there were in various other Clowes strips from that era, but these are too rote and underdeveloped to hold much appeal in themselves.

The pleasures of the strip, for me, are more in line with the pleasures of more traditional comics: Who are Enid and Rebecca going to rip the piss out of today? What sort of grotesques is Clowes going to draw? What pop culture artifact is going to be re-consumed and found to have a bitter aftertaste? How’s that mouse going to bam up Offissa Pup this week? How’s the landscape going to shift as the brick hits Krazy? What’s caused that look on Charlie’s face?

Like the best comic strips Ghost World has a distinct mood, a distinct visual style, a set of preoccupations, and a handful of instantly understandable characters. In this case: at once overbearingly cynical and prematurely nostalgic, buck-toothed caricature with a one-tone melancholy overlay, the impossibility of accessing the past through the objects that have survived it, a pair of teenage girls whose acidic humour helps them bond (with each other? the past?) even as it chokes and binds them.

Enid and Rebecca drift apart from each other, and if the best that can be said of the forces that push them apart is that it feels natural, and the best that can be said about the ending is that it feels like a metaphor, then the best that can be said about Ghost World is that I hope it’s still going on out there – that there are more strips to read, more pointlessly cruel diatribes, more ashen-faced oddballs in atrocious diners.

Perhaps I’ll find a new Eightball with a new Ghost World strop waiting for me at the bus stop one day, in which Enid and Rebecca will be together again, forever drifting apart. Probably not though, and hey, given that my nostalgia for the floppy, serialized version of Ghost World is every bit as affected and ironic as Enid’s punk rock shtick, maybe that’s exactly what I deserve…

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