Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

29 Jun

Bibliographic Information

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes, Fantagraphics Books, 1998, ISBN: 1-56097-427-3

Plot Summary

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes began as a serialized comic in 1993.  The graphic novel is comprised of eight chapters which follow the two protagonists Enid and Rebecca, recently graduated from high school, around their hometown (which is never identified in the story).  Enid is the more artistic girl and Rebecca is her quieter friend.  Neither girl has much to organize their days except their fascination with the strange people and places in their hometown.  While hanging out, they criticize other girls their age, joke about boys they’d like to have sex with and speculate on the adults they assume are Satanists, perverts, or losers.

When Enid’s father pressures her to go to college, the girls begin to slowly drift apart.  Enid tries to keep her plans a secret from Rebecca, who has no plans of leaving town.  When Rebecca learns that Enid might be leaving her, a rift opens between the two that gradually widens.  Eventually Enid must make a decision if she’s going to continue her high school life or reinvent herself.

Critical Evaluation

Readers’ enjoyment of Ghost World will depend on their tolerance for unsympathetic characters.  Neither Enid nor Rebecca do anything to endear themselves to people and their relentless negativity and cynicism can be a lot to take.  If you happen to like characters like this (which this reader does), you will find Clowes’s book a darkly hilarious look at teen angst.  Everyone has met an Enid or Rebecca in their lives – girls whose bleak outlook may mask insecurities and fears about approaching adulthood.

Clowes shows us these girls’ fear of the future in subtle and poignant ways.  Enid is fiercely attached to her memories of childhood and protects her stuffed animals and records that remind her of a more innocent time.  He also helps us understand that her cynicism may come from a thrice-married father and an awkward sexual encounter when she was sixteen. Rebecca’s insecurities are revealed whenever she compares herself to her more rebellious friend.  At one point, she confesses to her grandmother, “Deep down every single boy likes her better! There’s obviously something very wrong with me that I don’t know about.”

The world of these aimless teens is depicted in black and white, with a pale blue wash.  The subtle color adds to the somber tone of the story, which centers on loss.  On the cusp of adulthood, the girls lose their innocence, the simplicity of their lives, and maybe each other.  Clowes’ writing and drawing often are ambiguous enough to allow the reader to form their own interpretation of the internal feelings and motivations of these two characters.

Reader’s Annotation

Teen angst is rendered honestly and beautifully in Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World.  The graphic novel depicts two girls living in the limbo after high school. How they navigate this strange journey into adulthood is a funny and poignant story.

Information about the author

From the author’s page on, we learn that “Daniel Clowes is the acclaimed cartoonist of the seminal comic book series EIGHTBALL, and the graphic novels GHOST WORLD, DAVID BORING, ICE HAVEN, WILSON, MR. WONDERFUL and THE DEATH-RAY as well as the subject of the monograph THE ART OF DANIEL CLOWES: MODERN CARTOONIST, published in conjunction with a major retrospective at the Oakland Museum of California. He is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, the recipient of numerous awards including the PEN Award for literature, Eisner, Harvey and Ignatz, and a frequent cover artist for the New Yorker. He is married and lives in Oakland, CA.”


Graphic Novel – Fiction

Curriculum Ties

English, Art, Film

Booktalking Ideas

What does the title Ghost World refer to?

What happens to Enid in the end?

Do the girls make fun of things they want and don’t have?

Reading Level / Interest Age

Grade 11 and up

Challenge Issues

The book has a lot of crude language, racial and religious slurs, and one scene with underage girl having sex. It is clearly meant for older teens, and would make a good companion piece to Catcher in the Rye.   The book is largely regarded as a classic graphic novel and was awarded the 1998 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel.  The book was adapted into a film that was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay.

Why did I include this title?

There aren’t many graphic novels or comics that have teenage girls as their central characters.  Ghost World is an accurate depiction of young adults, as I know them.  Both the graphic novel and film are darkly funny and poignant in their depiction of this time in young people’s lives.



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