Saturday, December 1, 2012

Comic Review: Ghost World

Whenever I want to treat myself, I head down to the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery in South Seattle.  It's located practically next door to the airport, so I always feel like I have to dodge landing airplanes just to get in the front door.  Regardless, I love spending time in the shop because it has a fantastic atmosphere.  It's connected to a record store, so there's always great music playing, and the bookshelves hold more treasure than I could ever hope to read.

It seems like nearly everything Fantagraphics publishes is a comic that's worth reading, and to top it off, the store also carries stuff from other indie publishers like Drawn and Quaterly, Koyama Press, Top Shelf and more, so there's just an amazing amount of great stuff on the shelves.  It can actually be an overwhelming endeavor, what with so many great comics close at hand,and picking out something to read is often a lengthy endeavor.

For my last trip to the Fantagraphics Bookstore, I came prepared with a few hours worth of comics research under my belt and a list of books, and artists I wanted to check out. Despite that, I was still in the store for about two hours, but I left feeling confident that my purchases were good ones.  I decided that Dan Clowes' Ghost World would be the read I dove into first.

Ghost World follows two recent high school grads, and best friends, Enid and Becky.  Both girls are sort of just aimlessly living out their days in their unnamed, middle american town, while they try to sort out exactly what they want to do with their lives.  The girls mock and criticize their town, the people in it and their friends and family as the story progresses.  Neither girl seems all that happy with their life, but at the same time neither seems all that willing to do anything to change it for the better either.  Eventually, with some urging from her father, Enid starts to make plans to move away for college, which leads to tensions in her friendship with Becky.  Despite being so close, as the girls start to grow up, they begin to grow apart.

Now that I'm a decade or so removed from adolescence I don't often find myself drawn to stories about mixed up teens, but I've started to learn that this type of story can be a personal touchstone for me, and get me reflecting on my life, the decisions I've made and paths I've been on.  Ghost World is definitely a comic that provides that personal touchstone.  There's a lot of familiarity between Enid, Becky and myself.  Their cynicism, criticism, and inexperience definitely reminded me of my younger days.

Additionally, the unnamed town, with its strip malls, its encroachment by corporate america, and the experiences the characters go through can be cultural touchstones for the reader as well.  Clowes' frank depiction of these elements seemed to work their way right into my subconscious and draw out all these old memories and emotions from when I was roughly the same age as Enid and Becky.  This is a book that seems to effortlessly find its voice, effortlessly make a connection with the reader, and thoroughly  pull the reader in.

Obviously, this is a comic that resonates strongly with the reader, and the lion's share of that credit should go to Clowe's art.  As I was reading this, I almost felt like I wasn't engaging the art at all, rarely did I even pause to study a panel.  The reason being is that Clowes' art is so completely integrated into the story, that I was absorbing it at a subconscious level.  After I finished the whole book, I went back and flipped through the pages, just taking the art, and I realized that many of the images brought to mind certain bits of dialog, just like how, when reading a passage from a book, it will bring to mind certain bits of imagery.  I don't think I've ever had this experience when reading a comic; I feel like my mind almost always distinguishes and draws a line between the art and the writing.  The connectivity and integration of both art and writing in Ghost World is an impressive feat and one I hope to experience more often when I read comics now.

So, yeah, I'm definitely proud of my latest purchase from Fantagraphics.  Ghost World is a book that will find a connection with nearly every reader who opens it up.  Despite being written in the early 90's, before cell phones and texting, and all that, it is a book that still resonates strongly, and can still find an audience in modern times because of its brutal honesty. I can see why so many people consider this a classic.  Definitely worth a read.

Grade: A

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