Thursday, July 18, 2013
Books in 2013: #14 Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Graphic novels are a very visual medium. The text tells half the story, and the pictures the other half. Gunning through the book reading the words only will certainly give you the story, but the faces, the illustrations (whether well rounded or sketchy) provide the atmosphere, and the background often has as many clues and hints as to deeper meanings as a miss-en-scène on Lost. I tend to read graphic novels one of two ways: either reading the story first and then starting over, reading again and looking at the pictures more closely, or, more often, reading both simultaneously, looking at the artwork as soon as I read the bubble or caption, and staring at the different elements. If it's a long novel, does the style change by the end of the book? How does the writer use the illustrations to fill in gaps in the text?
And what about books where the illustrator and author are two different people (this is where a lot of superhero comics or anything by Neil Gaiman comes into play). I remember reading Sandman and it took me FOREVER because I was SO entranced by the drawings, and how Dream or Death looked different in the hands of various authors. One minute he looks like Neil Gaiman himself; the next Robert Smith of the Cure. (As opposed to Robert Smith? of Doctor Who fame.) So the artwork is essential.
Which is why reading the book and then watching the film — another visual art form — is a genius way to experience the story told in two different ways.
I actually loved the novel. You're not always supposed to like Becky and Enid (whose last name, Coleslaw, makes her name a perfect anagram of Daniel Clowes) but their wry observations are humorous at times, biting most of the time. They do stupid things and act cruelly, hurting the innocent people around them by laughing ironically at how unhip the world is. It's not just a study of cruelty, however, but how these girls realize at some point that the biting commentary isn't getting them anywhere, and they need to grow up. Enid is the richer character in some ways because we see a lot more of her home life, whereas Becky's role is more as Enid's friend, but we still see Becky doing some things on her own that Enid never knows about. Eventually the girls grow apart when Becky wants an apartment and a grown-up job, and Enid just wants things to continue on the way they are. The end of the book is vague, and open to interpretation (I loved the discussion at our graphic novel group, with so many different interpretations of what actually happens at the end).
I would highly recommend a book-and-movie experience with Ghost World, first reading Clowes's book (which has a laugh-out-loud bit where Clowes himself appears in the story) and then watching the excellent adaptation of it. I can't say I liked either one better than the other, because they're such different versions of the story. Terry Zwigoff, the director of Ghost World, seems a perfect fit in the role of adaptor, simply because he's well versed in comics and the artists who create them (he was the award-winning director of Crumb, another movie I highly recommend).