From the very first panel, Daniel Clowe’s Ghost World is not what it appears to be. It exists in shades of grey, presenting us with character dynamics that remain open to interpretation and a possible moral center that I have almost definitely warped beyond belief.
It is a comic stripped of nearly everything expected of it, where wish fulfillment is replaced with reality, where the only color is a muted blue, and where women are the central characters, shucking their usual sex appeal for honest conversation- which is the only action presented to the audience.
The emotions of Ghost World are muddled, creating complex dynamics more typical of reality. The protagonists Enid and Rebecca are clearly friends, but their affection for each other is laced with profanity and venom. Rebecca does not hesitate to call Enid on her bullshit, pointing out that she is included in the ranks of the “stuck-up prep-school bitches” that she hates. Similarly, Enid shows semi-playful hostility towards Rebecca’s exes and Rebecca enjoys accusing Enid of having affection for John Ellis. The secondary dynamics are no more cut and dry: The pathetic Joey McCobb is viewed with reverence and lust, the couple at the diner are speculated to be incestuous satanists, and John Ellis believes that “hating everyone equally” means he hates no one in particular.
In Ghost World, all instances of love are balanced out with instances of hate and vice versa. The issue of perception, however, is really what elevates Ghost World’s complex nature. The story ends with Enid making a typical sweeping statement about the nature of others, explaining that John Ellis is really “just interested in the same shit the rest of America is interested in” before getting distracted by a dark news story. We then see Enid from outside the window, hate reading Rebecca’s magazine and exclaiming “God, look at these stupid cunts!” On my first reading, I understood that to be Daniel Clowes condemning his own characters for the hypocrisy that they’ve shown throughout the story- Their interest in the unconventional is no more extreme than John Ellis’s, the stranger at the diner, or even the nightly news.
On my second reading, I considered my own impact on the story. I noted that I, too, was a stuck-up prep-school bitch and that I decided I disliked Enid by panel two for so mercilessly judging strangers in a magazine. By then I had created some sort of cunt ouroboros (if you will), expanding both inward and outward with Daniel Clowes at the center. After all, he is inherently judging both his characters and his audience for misplaced judgement and hypocrisy. At this kaleidoscopic level, it’s a bit hard to find your footing again, but I have decided that this is a crass umbrella statement for all of humanity. Assumed superiority un-writes itself, morality is an automatic gray area, and for every window you look into, you’ll find someone looking in yours. (Colette Robertson/City of Stories Student)