As a book, as a movie, as a concept, Ghost World has become one of my biggest influences.
The story follows two best friends: Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca “Becky” Dopplemeyer. The 1990’s Daniel Clowes graphic novel is essentially a character study of the pair, consisting of separated snapshots of the summer following their high school graduation. Their days comprise walking all over town and making fun of pop culture, as well as the various offbeat inhabitants of their otherwise uneventful city.
I read the novel for the first time on my 17th birthday, which also happened to be the first day of senior year, and instantly fell in love with it. Before I read the book, when all I knew of Ghost World came from references on Rookie Mag and the movie’s IMDB page, Enid Coleslaw was like a god to me. A fellow sardonic suburbanite, every YouTube clip I saw of the movie left me in a whirlwind of “SAME!!!” Her enthusiasm was reassuring, when so many teenage pop culture icons are either exceedingly candy-coated or brooding loners. Enid wasn’t conflicted like Angela Chase, adored like Cher Horowitz or enigmatic like Lux Lisbon; she was loud and imaginative, snarky and bored, and above all, what I most related to, trapped.
The biggest draw was that these characters were stuck in this boring and depressing town, in this boring and depressing time of their life, and were able to create so much excitement for themselves just by zeroing in on the surrounding offbeat cast of characters. Once I read the book, however, my borderline hero worship faded. One distinction that I tried not to notice between the two mediums is that Enid in the book is not as likeable as Enid in the movie. The graphic novel is meaner; it’s grosser and some parts make you uncomfortable. But that’s kind of the beauty of it. It’s self-alienating and complicated, just like Enid herself.
I also relate to the time this book takes place in. In a few months, I will graduate from high school and there’s a good chance I’ll never see my best friend again, as she’s moving across the country for college. I was expecting to be so much more distraught about this, but now the situation is unavoidable, it’s not as painful as I thought it would be, because I know that both of us will be completely fine. I don’t know a single person from my graduating class who will be attending the same college as me come fall, which is so exciting and reminiscent of Enid’s own anticipation for reinvention.
Like Daria and Freaks and Geeks, Ghost World gave me such a love for the teenage years. John Hughes once said, “One really key element of teendom, is that it feels as good to feel bad as it does to feel good”. That quote resonated with me on a bone marrow level. Once I took that perspective into account, it felt like the world opened up. For a while, adolescence had felt like nothing but a transition into adulthood that needed to be done as soon as possible; like Enid, leaving my Ghost World was all that was on my mind. These characters glamourised the gloom of teen angst, turning frustration and boredom into something almost cinematic.
It’s difficult for me to verbalise my thoughts on this subject, articulate what I have to say into linear cohesiveness, because when it comes to Ghost World, my thoughts aren’t even thoughts at all, they’re feelings. The melancholic aquamarine that paints the panels, designed to mimic the glow of television static, drips with nostalgia and teen angst. The romanticisation of the evocative dreariness that characterises the novel helps make my own suburban doldrums not only bearable, but kind of magical. Things like grey skies, power lines and strip malls all make me feel like that plastic bag scene in American Beauty. It’s cozy and dreamy and boring, and I love it. But like Enid, I’m ready to leave.
Words: Allison Tovey
Image: Maria Tilt