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Ghost World
By Dan Clowes
Published by Fantagraphics Books

I used to have a friend at the radio station I worked at over a decade ago; we were the best of friends for a long time, to the point he even spent his vacation at my house for an entire week once. We were young, we had a lot in common, and we had a blast together.

As time wore on, and we went to work at other stations, we just one day stopped talking to each other. Despite all the good times we had, despite knowing all of each other's deepest, darkest secrets, we just drifted apart. No phone calls, no lunches, no nothing.

It happens. It sucks, and it happens.

Dan Clowes has created an extraordinary graphic novel in Ghost World. The eight chapters originally were serialized in his comics series Eightball, but they resonate much better, I think, separated from the short and often more satiric stories in Eightball. As a graphic novel, Ghost World is a thing unto itself, and as such is a joy to read all under one cover.

The graphic novel opens with Enid and Rebecca hanging out in Rebecca's bedroom. The two of them are opposites. Enid is a somewhat homely, self-conscious, wiseass hipster, while Rebecca is "a skinny blond WASP -- what every guy wants," to quote Enid.

The two teenagers are best friends, know all of each other's secrets, and seem to hold everyone and everything around them in equal contempt. You can see, though, that Rebecca maybe wants to fit in just a little more than Enid does; Enid criticizes Rebecca for having a copy of Sassy magazine in her room. Sassy was, during the 80s and early 90s, the hip teenage girl's guide to life. I know, I dated hip teenage girls in the 80s and early 90s.

The pair seems enthralled and repulsed by the odd; say, for example, the pair of Satanists that eats at the same diner every day. Or the Don Knotts lookalike who secretly theorizes about the Satanists and shares his theories with the girls.

Clowes has created two very real characters here; Rebecca may aspire to acceptance by "normal" society, but she stays friends with Enid because they've been friends for so long, and they love each other. Rebecca stays friends with Enid despite the fact she might find acceptance a little easier to attain if she found someone "cooler" to hang with.

Enid, for her part, aspires to the world-weary, bored with everything ennui that frankly drips through most alternative comics, and yet is relieved beyond all rationality when a cherished toy from childhood is rescued from being sold off at a yard sale.

Virtually all the other characters are straw men Clowes sets up to demonstrate the characters of Enid and Rebecca, and that's okay. Ghost World at its heart (and it has a big one, despite the hipster atmosphere) is about nothing more or less than the relationship between these two teenage girls. How they get along, how they fight, how they relate to each other -- and of course, how they drift apart.

Despite the presence of the Satanists, there's little surrealism here like there was in Clowes first major longform novel, Like a Velvet Glove Cast In Iron. There are some very comic moments, but the story is grounded in the melancholy of everyday life. Clowes writes and illustrates it masterfully, and I recommend Ghost World to anyone who enjoys stories that genuinely and with heart reflect what it is to be human. Grade: 5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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