Ghost World – Daniel Clowes

I still haven’t posted my list of ‘forty books to read by the time I am forty’ yet, however if I had (well until now as I have read it) you would have seen ‘Ghost World’ by Daniel Clowes firmly placed on this list. Graphic novels are really something I have only started to truly appreciate in the last few years but Daniel Clowes ‘Ghost World’ is one of the cult graphic novels that everyone recommends I read, along with ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman. So when I spotted ‘Ghost World’ at the library I decided I should give it a whirl.

Jonathan Cape Publishing, paperback, 1997, graphic novel, 80 pages, borrowed from the library

‘Ghost World’ is a graphic novel centring on two best friends, Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, who are going through their teenage years together in a small town where nothing really happens, well unless you are Enid of Becky. With their teenage cynical, nonchalant attitude they seem to somehow sense a mystery about everyone despite acting like they don’t care. Regulars at their diner become, through the girls imaginations, perverts, incestuous siblings, Satanist cult leaders and serial killers. It’s a series of chronicles of points in their friendship, originally a series in Clowes comic book series ‘Eightball’, which makes the whole of this graphic novel.

I have to admit that I am rather torn on ‘Ghost World’. Part of me thought that the book was brilliant. I really enjoyed the dark humour of the girls and how they creates such dark and wicked pasts for everyone they knew, whether they liked them or hated them, as it appealed to my sense of humour. I also really liked the dynamic between the girls which Clowes creates and the way in which he looks at how their friendship alters as their hormones do. Clowes creates a very believable relationship between them as boys, other friendships and college threaten to tear them apart. Is it patronising to say I thought this was particularly well done as Clowes is not and, as far as I know, has never been a teenage girl.

So where did it go wrong? Well overall it didn’t. I enjoyed reading ‘Ghost World’ in a single hour long sitting. The problem was as soon as I put it down after finishing it my feeling was ‘well that was ok then’ yet really, especially after all the hype from people who know graphic novels and comic books. I was expecting the book to come to life more as other graphic novels I have read in the past have like ‘Fun Home’ or ‘Blankets’. This did feel like a comic, rather than a fully formed graphic novel. That isn’t meant to be a slight as I love reading Batman comics etc, I just didn’t think ‘Ghost World’ had the depth I was expecting and hoped for, the more I thought about it the more it seemed a tale of two rather angry girls who cynically saw the worst in everyone and liked to swear a lot, gossip and talk about sex.

I have to admit that I wanted more from ‘Ghost World’ but (before I get hate mail from its cult audience) that isn’t to say it was a letdown or a disappointing read for me overall. I enjoyed the time I spent with Enid and Becky, I liked the friendship they had and the world and relationships that Clowes created around it. It was a nice escapist read but it did feel more comic like to me than a fully formed graphic novel overall.

I know ‘Ghost World’ has a huge cult fan base, if any of you read this blog can you explain what I might have been missing? Also if you know of some corking graphic novels I have most probably missed out on then do give me your recommendations. I need to get my hands on ‘Maus’ next I think.


Filed under Daniel Clowes, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

6 responses to “Ghost World – Daniel Clowes

  1. I assume you’ve read Persepolis and Tamara Drew? I also strongly recommend “The Sandman: Dream Country” written by Gaiman with illustator collaborators. Indeed all of “The Sandman” series are likely to be worth a look, but the one I quoted first is the only one I’ve actually read.

  2. vikzwrites

    Have you read Habibi by Craig Thompson.

    • No, I was slightly put off by it when I saw it on The Review Show on the BBC, it was the rape that is apparently depicted. I loved Blankets though so maybe I should give it a try on the merits of that.

  3. I really do struggle to take the term Graphic Novel seriously.

    I think it’s a fine line between that a comic book. People can argue that ‘graphic novel’ can be applied to those works that have a definitive beginning and end, such as Watchmen, Blankets or Maus; and that comics are continuous stories that potentially will never end, such as Batman, or Iron Man.

    But, the term ‘Graphic novel’ was first applied to an X-Men series called ‘God Loves, Man Kills’ which itself was a continuation of Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men that lasted a number of decades. Further to that, Batman books such as Arkham Asylum have come to be known as Graphic novels, despite the part they play in an overarching story.

    I’d be interested in where you in particular draw the line between the two. Would Crisis on Infinite Earths be a Graphic novel to you? It tells a fully formed story, is collected as one book and has a start and end, but it also continues the stories of major DC characters. Where does that fit?

    And what about Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Ultimate Spiderman? Over 100 issues of the same writer writing the same character, with a defined start and end. The series has finished now and will not be revisited – but would you call it a graphic novel, or a comic?

    My worry always is that the term can apply to almost anything if you like, and people tend to use it to refer to comics they want to like, but are afraid to say they do.

    • Blimey, thanks for your knowledge on this one Dan. I do think its interesting why some books are labelled graphic novels and others are labelled comic books, it seems like there is some ‘in house’ snobbery going on there maybe?

      I must read more Batman, I was a huge fan and the latest film has really reignited my love of them.

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