Daniel Clowes has observed that female teenagers are licensed to be emotional in a way that other people aren't. He made this point extremely well in an interview which my friend Ian found in a remaindered magazine, kept, and forwarded to me by surface mail. In turn I read it, noted the passage, tore the interview out and filed it for future reference. I have no idea where it is now. But trust me: he said it, and he was on the money.
The teenage leads in Ghost World are the main reason the eight-issue spin-off eclipsed its parent, Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. Although the lives of Enid Coleslaw (an anagram of "Daniel Clowes") and Becky Doppelmeyer are emotional and scattered they were always rendered as calm by the artist's nerveless line and shadow, glumly heroic as they stared slightly to the side of the reader's eyeline. Clowes' drawing style captures details with the sleepy clarity of someone only just waking up to the world he has always known. He's hypnotised by suburbia: bored but unable to take his eyes off it.
The movie version of Ghost World (2001) is pretty fine although it's more gentle, obviously. Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) form the passive links between the many characters. In the same way that their eventual friend Seymour (Steve Buscemi) hoards kitsch memorabilia, the girls and others collect relationships for interest rather than their true value. Even Enid's father (Bob Balaban) asks his girlfriend to move in because she's around the house most of the time anyway.
The movie is far from godless: huge neon signs and franchise outlets surround the girls in almost every shot, the power of their commercial presence mocking pretensions such as books, music and art. Blues Hammer, an all white college blues band, sing idiotic songs about picking cotton; Roberta, Enid's summer school art teacher, promotes the vocabulary of early 20th century art to help her students, who go on to say nothing with it.
Clowes said Hollywood studios considered the project arty but it's an easily understood tale of the suburbs and thwarted romanticism - not unlike Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused. Clowes has a working process I really understand. Here he is talking about it:
Usually, after I finish an issue, I sit and do nothing for about a week. I usually plan to take a month off, and then after about five days, I can't stand it any more and I have to get back to work. I have nothing to do and I'm just sitting there all day. I usually have a notebook of ideas that I collect. As I'm working on one issue, I'm sort of thinking about ideas for the next. So I sit down with this giant notebook of ideas, and I cross out all the really stupid ones that seemed brilliant at 4 in the morning 3 months ago and now don't make any sense. Then I take all the decent ones and I try and see if there's any thematic unity to all of them. I tend to write two or three stories at once, and then often I'll realize that two of them are very similar and I can put them together and combine them into something. There's generally some sort of magical process by which they all come together at some point. Then I try to sketch out the entire thing in skeleton in some sort of vague plot line. Then I sit down and draw it page by page and do the writing as I go along. I usually write about two pages in advance - actual dialogue and things like that. I try to keep it relatively spontaneous, without too much advance thought.You can read more of the interview here.
(Muse Lounge, Apr 09, 2003)