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Daniel Clowes’ “Eightball” — A Personal Reminiscence, Part Eight

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And here you thought we were done —

To be honest, there were times when it looked like you were probably right. Having made it through the entire contents of the recently-published The Complete Eightball Issues 1-18 deluxe hardcover slipcase set, I felt like I was, for all intents and purposes, finished writing about this, my all-time favorite comics series. But as most of you are probably well aware, The Complete Eightball isn’t actually “complete” at all, and given that we (fair enough, I) talked incessantly in previous posts about the four distinct “phases” that the title went through during the often-sporadic course of its publication, it seemed a (low-level) crime to me that I had really only talked about two of them — the “Velvet Glove Phase” and the “Ghost World Phase.” So that leaves two more to go, and even though we’re pressing up hard against, and then surpassing, this website’s remit of covering ’90s comics and ’90s comics only, the simple fact of the matter is that I hate to leave a “job” unfinished, and I distinctly recall that I stated in no uncertain terms that we would, in fact, at least briefly touch upon the other two “phases” of Daniel Clowes’ sprawling masterwork anthology before we called it a day around here. And so, that day has arrived. If you’ve actually been waiting for me to get around to this I sincerely thank you for your patience — and if you’ve forgotten about this series of posts altogether, well, I can’t say as I blame you. In any case, here we are, so let’s get started with the task of getting this finished.

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The third “phase” of Eightball‘s publication and creative history is one we’ll unimaginatively title the “David Boring Phase,” because Clowes’ sole ongoing concern at this time was utilizing his publication to serialize the long-form (well, if you consider three parts “long form” — but they were each lengthier-than-average issues) graphic novel David Boring, The story was issued in annual installments (or thereabouts) beginning in 1998 and concluding in 2000, and to mark the shift in focus the comic also saw another shift in format, this time “graduating” to what’s commonly referred to as “Golden Age size” (think halfway between a standard modern comic and a “proper” magazine) and retaining the heavier cardstock covers and slicker, higher-quality paper that had wormed their way in during what we call “Phase Two” around these parts. It’s an impressive package, physically speaking, but as always, the contents of the comic itself were the real “star of the show” moreso than the slick, glossy production values. Hollywood, it seems to me, could take a lesson from this.

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Speaking of which, there’s a definite ethos of “Old Hollywood” (specifically 1940s Hollywood) in full display in the pages — and especially on the covers — of David Boring, and while the story itself definitely has a modernist — or even a  post-modern — overall “vibe” to it, the “Hollywood noir” influences on Clowes’ art are not only apparent in, but gradually come to dominate, the visual language of the tale as it progresses through Eightball  numbers 19, 20, and 21. On the literary side of the ledger, the “noir” tropes are also on full display, as the entire story is related by means of a very matter-of-fact first-person narrative that could very well have come from the pen of Raymond Chandler himself — if it were about a detective.

But it’s not, of course, It’s about a security guard. A young, affect-less, pathologically nonchalant one, at that, who is simultaneously driven to extremes by his very singular obsessions and, paradoxically, sick to death of them, as well. In a move that almost (and I say “almost” because I highly doubt Clowes read the book I’m about to name-drop) seems ripped directly from the pages of Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo’s classic Vertigo series Enigma (which was covered in wonderfully exhaustive detail on this very site some time ago, and which is a pretty remarkable read in and of itself), our protagonist is fixated on an old comic book called “The Yellow Streak,” but unlike in Enigma,  in this case he’s got a valid, concrete, Earth-bound reason for being so dangerously enamored with it — his dad used to draw it. If you think he’s OCD about the comic, though, you should see his single-minded determination when it comes to visualizing what he considers to be the feminine ideal. Let’s just say that he has very particular — and in the minds of many, I’m sure, peculiar — tastes, and is more or less resigned (as he is, seemingly, about all things in life) to the idea that the girl of his dreams just well and truly doesn’t exist.

And then, one day, he meets her. And that’s when his problems really begin in earnest.

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Over the course of its three-issue “lifespan,” David Boring sees its central character shot in the head not once but twice, throws him into “winner-take-all” competition with an older suitor for the affections of his dream woman, places him at the mercy of his highly dysfunctional family, kills his oldest friend, and oh yeah — the world is ending, too. There’s very definitely a murder mystery and an almost-murder mystery at the heart of the proceedings here, but it’s buried under so many layers of existential ennui and faux-“hip” nihilism that you can’t help but take your eye off the ball on occasion — and that’s, of course, when you’ll miss out on all sorts of valuable clues. It’s a highly accomplished and complex work that wrestles with a number of weighty themes, but don’t let that dissuade the less than ambitious among you from checking it out if you haven’t, because it’s also wickedly, even sadistically, funny. And it lingers in the mind like nobody’s business — I remember that back when it was coming out, no matter how bogged down with “real life” events I may have been at the time (and I switched jobs a couple of times, bought my first house, and went through a couple of harsh break-ups during the three years it was serialized), my memories of what had happened the in the previous issue (which, as we’ve already discussed, would have come out 12 months — or more — earlier) always came flooding back within the first couple of pages of reading the latest one. That’s pretty damn remarkable when you think about how many comics you read where you seriously can’t even remember what happened  in them last month, let alone last year.

Fortunately for any of you folks out there who haven’t had the distinct pleasure of immersing yourself in David Boring yet, those interminable waits between installments are over and the whole thing’s been collected, in both hardcover and paperback formats, from Pantheon Books. Needless to say, it’s worth tracking down and reading faster than immediately. Some folks may find Clowes’ distancing of himself from his characters (an odd thing to say about a story told in the first person, I know, but trust me on this) again after getting a bit “closer” to them in Ghost World something of a “step back,” I suppose, but I find the clinical, even morose, set-up here to be a fairly accurate mirror-image of Boring himself’s “interior landscape,” so to speak, so all in all I’d say it not only works, it works beautifully. If coldly. But then that’s sort of the whole point.

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Which brings us, finally, to “Phase Four” of Eightball, which we’ll label the “Stand-Alone Graphic Novel Phase.” We’re into 2001 at this point, so I’m only going to touch on this last “phase” briefly. The two works in question that comprise this final stage of the series’ development/evolution, Ice Haven and The Death-Ray, are certainly worthy of far more exhaustive analysis than they’re going to get it my “short shrift” treatment here, but plenty of folks have written plenty of wonderfully astute essays about them already, and I would highly encourage you to hit up Google and check ’em out.

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First, though, I’d encourage you to check out the comics themselves. Eightball #22 mimics the “deluxe Golden Age” format utilized for issues 19-21, and for this reason (as well as, I’m sure, the fact that it’s also been re-issued in both hardcover and paperback by Pantheon — in a curious but effective smaller format this time around) Clowes and Fantagraphics have likewise omitted it from The Complete Eightball. The story here focuses on the mundane tribulations of a small town called — you guessed it — Ice Haven, where the disappearance of a local youth has set off a chain reaction of, well, various reactions, and is told via a purposely-disjointed series of newpsaper-style comic strips that give Clowes the ability to demonstrate his artistic “chops” in a number of different genres and also, I would assume, helped to prevent him from becoming  bored  with, or bogged-down in, the work as it progressed. It’s a conceit that he would refine and improve upon in both The Death-Ray and his later graphic novel Wilson, and while the tone of Ice Haven remains uniformly bleak and somber throughout — as we’ve no doubt come to expect by this point — the shifting visual look certainly ensures that it never actually becomes dull. Of all Clowes’ works this is, in many ways, the “heaviest,” but it also has an ending that could almost be classified as “upbeat,” and the various characters we meet throughout, from a frustrated would-be poet to a gaggle of precocious youths to some seriously twisted “funny animals” are all quite memorable indeed. And no, not even at my most pretentious and overbearing am I all that worried that I even sound, much less think, like Clowes’ fictitious (although based, I’m sure, on any number of folks he’d actually met) comic book critic, Harry Naybors. This comic came out shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, and while anyone who read it at the time would probably second my assertion that it added immeasurably to the sense of overwhelming despair and fear for an unknown future that was already thick in the air at the time, it also served to drag readers forcibly back down into the petty grievances and pointless minutiae that constitute so much of daily modern life, and I remember getting the uncannily accurate feeling upon first reading it that no matter how fucked up the world in general was, most people’s lives, including my own, were probably even more fucked up on a “micro” level than anything the “macro” level could throw at us. For some reason, this made me feel better. Go figure.

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Fast-forward , now, to 2004, which is when, much like this series of write-ups, Eightball appeared again, seemingly out of nowhere, and long after most readers had consigned it to the history books.  But it wasn’t just back, it was bigger — the format for issue #23 was seriously oversized (it was also much more expensive, but in this case we can forgive that), and indeed looked very much like some of the gigantic issues of Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library that Fantagraphics had published in then-recent years (I also think Clowes’ art style in this one betrays something of a Ware influence at times, as well,  but maybe that’s just me), and for the first (and, as it would turn out, only) time, the book was also printed in full color from cover-to-cover (Ice Haven was almost all full color, it must be said, but some of the strips were presented in a two-tone color scheme). The “stand-alone graphic novel” this time around was The Death-Ray, a decidedly intriguing revisionist superhero tale that definitely takes some cues from the author’s earlier Black Nylon, to be sure, but is much more straightforward in its execution even though, once again, it’s relayed by a series of stylistically-different-to-each-other short-form comic strips. I’ve reviewed The Death-Ray previously — specifically in its later hardcover iteration from Drawn & Quarterly — and so won’t dwell on it much here except to say that you should read it and re-read it and re-read it because it’s a multi-layered work that reveals new details to the careful and considerate eye (and, I suppose, mind) on each pass-through. It was the first comic I picked up when I got home after spending nearly two years abroad and , being somewhat at “loose ends” at the time, I was able to sit and devour it for a couple of days — which may just be what it takes to get even a semi– full grasp on all that’s going on its pages. I would refer any interested parties to check out my full review of the book here , as long as you know going in that I still don’t come close to doing it proper justice : https://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/tfg-comix-month-daniel-clowes-the-death-ray/ .

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And with that, we really are done here. I promise this time. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, and I also hope that’s it’s (not to be too fucking grandiose, but) inspired at least a few of you (hell, I’d settle for one of you) to either give Eightball a go for the first time, or to re-visit your back issues and once again appreciate their greatness. I know that I gain new appreciation for the breadth and scope of what Clowes was able to achieve with this series every time I even so much as skim though it for the cliched umpteenth time, and when I sit down to actually read one of the longer-form stories again, or even just a selection of the short-form works, it consistently blows me away. Some of that is down to nostalgia value and always will be, sure, but this became “my comic” in the first place because of how great it was, and it remains “my comic” because of how extraordinarily well it not only “holds up,” but continues to present new ways of looking at it as the years go on. Clowes’ highly-anticipated (and aptly-titled) new graphic novel, Patience, will finally be seeing the light of day this spring, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I end up giving Eightball another complete re-read in the weeks leading up to its release.

 

 

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Daniel Clowes’ “Eightball” — A Personal Reminiscence, Part Seven

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The short-form — or, heck, “one-off,” if you prefer — works that ran in issues 11-18 of Daniel Clowes’ Eightball (remember, we’re calling this “phase two” of the series) are something of a mixed bag, to be sure, but echo the title’s overall shift from a more overt, or “in your face” attitude (as exemplified in earlier, purely humor-based strips such as the Lloyd Llewellyn stories “I Hate You Deeply” and “I love You Tenderly”),  to a more considered, character-driven approach rooted in a deep and overwhelming sense of usually (though not always) vague existential dread. Which is kinda weird, because it sure wasn’t looking like that was the route Clowes was gonna go for a minute there.

When Eightball #11 hit in June of 1993, it was almost entirely dominated by short pieces. Oh, sure, the first installment of Ghost World was in there, but there was nothing to differentiate it from the numerous other three-and four-pagers contained within if one didn’t already know that it was intended to be the book’s next “anchor” series. And truth be told, a lot of those other stories were a bit weak. “The Party” was a decent enough full-color yarn poking fun at then-nascent “hipster” culture, but the likes of “Ectomorph,” “The Fairy Frog,” and “The Happy Fisherman” — -extrapolated from a poster for a fake movie that appeared in the background of a panel in Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron — were, I’m sorry, to say, some pretty weak tea. “Why I Hate Christians” comes off somewhat better, but shows the artist taking aim at a target that’s just a bit too easy, and you have to wonder if Clowes wasn’t starting to tire of these sorts of overt sociological commentaries/rants himself, given that he’d only indulge in them one more time, with the admittedly uproarious “On Sports” in  issue number 14.

Clowes himself states that his head was in a bit of a fog around the time he produced much of the material in issue 11, given that he was just getting accustomed to his new California surroundings, but this “iffy” creative period wouldn’t last long, fortunately for us all, and while issue 12’s “Glue Destiny” was another misfire, it at least pointed the way forward in that it showed a desire to tackle material of greater thematic scope and ambition that would yield some superb results in the not-too-distant (at the time, mind you) future.

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That future began in earnest in the pages of Eightball #13, with the amazingly frank autobiographical strip “Blue Italian Shit.” True, unlike other autobio cartoonists of the period like Joe Matt, Seth, Chester Brown, and of course Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb, Clowes opts to “shine” his harshest light of judgment on the people around him rather than on himself, but this remarkable accounting of his art school (and immediate post-art school) years doesn’t completely exonerate him, either. It’s an impressively nuanced piece that captures the sense of loneliness and alienation he was obviously feeling with disconcerting authenticity and power.

For my money, though, the real “home run” came in Eightball #15, with “Caricature” (which is the featured strip in a  reprint collection of Clowes’ short stories, published by Fantagraphics, that bears the same name). This thing is so fucking spot-on that every time I read it I’m transported exactly back to the time and place I was at the first time I sat down and took it all in  — which was at my apartment, around 10:00 or 11:00 on a Friday night, having just got home from work and finding all my friends had been too impatient to get to some party or other for even one of them to wait around for me, if you must know (this is what passes for “infuriating” when you’re 23 years old). I was already in something of a “what the hell’s the point of it all?” mood, anyway, and reading the agonizingly bleak tale of traveling caricaturist Mal and his mentally unbalanced “biggest fan for two days,” Theda, really hit the right note at the right time. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone prone to suicidal impulses reads it even on their best day, mind you, but as far as pure distillations of the “Clowes Universe”  — a world of hopeless loners, unfocused melancholy, bleak late-night diners, and even bleaker non-endings — go, they don’t come much better than this. Devastatingly good, as well as just plain devastating, and probably one of my “top five” comics stories of all time.

Issue 16 continues this (dare I say “positive”?) trend by giving us a pair of stories — “Like A Weed, Joe” and “Immortal, Invisible” — featuring Rodger Young, an obvious stand-in for Clowes himself in his pre-teen years — that capture the (here it is again, are you picking up on a theme?) alienation and low-key confusion of youth with staggering subtlety and detail, while issue 17’s (long, but still a one-off) story “Gynecology” adds an element of mystery to the overall formula of slightly-surreal angst that would be followed up on in a big way in Eightball‘s next multi-parter, the ground-and-heart-breaking David Boring. Rounding out the short stories of this period — which, if you can’t tell by now,  took off in a big way after that shaky start I droned on about earlier — is issue 18’s dense, multi-layered Black Nylon, a thematic predecessor to Eightball number 23’s The Death-Ray,  that sees Clowes utilizing  the super-hero genre to ask fundamental questions about memory, identity, and even the nature of reality itself. You can read this strip a dozen times and come to a dozen different conclusions, with all — and none — of them being “right.”

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Authorial perspective in these stories definitely shifts all over the place in accordance with the material, but it’s interesting to note that the “icy distance” Clowes chides himself for adopting and/or hiding behind in most of his work is present, to one degree or another, in all of them — even the Rodger Young tales — while it’s notably absent in the concurrently-running Ghost World. I suppose I could engage in some speculation here about how these works may have served as a “safety blanket” for the artist to “protect” himself from getting to close to his readers, or even functioned  as something of an “antidote” to him doing just that via the exploits of Enid and Becky, but I’m no psychiatrist — just an unqualified (though hopefully not uninformed) observer/armchair theorist. All I know for certain is that he was definitely firing on all cylinders, creatively speaking, from issue 15 onward, and the result is one of the most impressive runs of issues in the history of this beleaguered medium we all love. Cap it off with the “Modern Cartoonist” pamphlet insert in issue 18 (also reproduced as an exact facsimilie replica in the The Complete Eightball Issue Numbers 1-18 hardcover), which serves as both an admonishment of comics’ current state and a road-map for its future disguised as an old-school “career introduction” booklet — and you’ve got yourself a string of comics that I, for one, am more than willing to call “legendary.”

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All of which brings us up to 1997 in terms of Eightball history, and very close to the “cut-off point” of this website. But fear not, friends, we’re not quite finished here yet — the first two of David Boring‘s three installments appeared in the ’90s, so we’ll be getting into that next, as well as taking a cursory look (for completeness’ sake alone, if nothing else) at the early-2000s with brief analyses of both Ice Haven and The Death-Ray. All of which is my way of saying that even though we’ve exhausted the contents of The Complete Eightball in our extended post-mortem here, you’re still not quite free of my interference around these parts, because I’ve got one more post coming up for you. Whether you take that to be a threat or a promise is, of course, a matter to be resolved entirely according to the dictates of your own no-doubt-flawless discretion.

 

Daniel Clowes’ “Eightball” — A Personal Reminiscence, Part Six

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Do you have a best friend?

If pressed to name one,  I’d have to say that it’s my wife, and hopefully you readers out there who are married feel the same about your spouse. But chances are that if you’re either a) still single; b) younger than I am; or c)both, somebody else is your best friend.

Assuming, of course, that you have one. Which I sincerely hope you do, because best friends are generally a pretty cool thing to have — in fact, in our increasingly isolated, atomized world, where the vast majority of “social” interactions are merely a pale electronic approximation of what that word used to mean, I would even go so far as to argue that they’re absolutely necessary.

I’m pretty lucky —I  had a hell of a great best friend for about a decade or so. Man, the times we had. The trouble we got into — and out of. The crazy fucking nights that we didn’t deserve to survive but somehow did. I could tell you stories for hours — but don’t worry, friends,  I wont.

Instead, let’s talk about Enid Coleslaw (an easily-deciphered anagram of — well, I’m assuming you’ve got that figured out already) and Rebecca “Becky” Doppelmeyer, the two recent high school grads, who have apparently been best friends since childhood. that are at the center of Ghost World, the four-year-long narrative that runs in issues 11-18 of Daniel Clowes’ Eightball and serves as the “anchor” for what I’ve been referring to as “phase two” of this series I can’t seem to shut up about.

Enid and Rebecca are obvious outcasts who have chosen to embrace, to one degree or another,  the fact that they don’t “fit in” and run with it. Truth be told, both of them seem to have a bit of a “too cool for school” attitude that can sometimes get in the way of their growing up (a vastly over-rated enterprise, anyway), with Enid being the self-appointed pace-setter in this regard and Rebecca, to put it bluntly, always living in her shadow. Sure, there’s a justifiable level of resentment on Rebecca’s part that goes along with that, but on the whole, the two of them are so joined-at-the-hip that within a few pages of the opening installment, it’s impossible to imagine one getting through life without the other — and yet the main “through-line” of this story is about how that seemingly impossible situation comes to pass.

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I’ll be honest — I don’t know how much of a detailed analysis of Ghost World is really necessary here (and no, I’m not just saying that because I’m in a lazy mood). Chances are you’ve read it in either single-issue form, one of its many collected editions, or seen the 2001 film based (a bit too loosely for my tastes, although I know that’s not a terribly popular opinion) on it. I’ve absorbed it in all of these formats on countless occasions myself, and while the comic book story certainly never fails to impress regardless of how you take it in, I have to admit that reading it again in serialized fashion as I recently have by means of The Complete Eightball Issue Numbers 1-18 is probably my preferred method of “experiencing” this genuine classic. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down and reading it all in one go, mind you, but I think it works better in smaller chunks spread out over time, with other stories interspersed between segments, simply because it’s an incredibly episodic narrative that can feel a bit disjointed when consumed in a single intake. Plus, the even aqua-hued color palette of the trade and hardback collections gives it a more uniform feel that, in some ways, does the material a (slight, at any rate) disservice.

Allow me to explain : Ghost World starts with a “cool blue” tone for its first five chapters, then assumes a truly bizarre chicken-shit-yellow tone for its sixth (a printer’s accident maintained for the sake of historical authenticity in the aforementioned Eightball omnibus double-hardcover), and finally settles into an aqua-blue tone similar — but not quite  the same as — the one adopted for the “graphic novel” collection for the last two segments, which see a remarkable, but completely relatable, shift occur in the Enid/Becky relationship.

To make a long story short (and if you want a longer analysis, I highly recommend Fantagraphics’ 2013 release The Daniel Clowes Reader, which contains a number of absolutely absorbing academic essays about the cartoonist’s work, the majority of which are, in fact, dedicated to Ghost World), this is a slow-burn chronicling of the dissolution of a friendship — and since our theme here is that of a “personal reminiscence,” allow me to take a moment to relate to you, dear reader, about how the inevitable drifting apart of Enid and Rebecca eerily mirrored my own “split” with my one-time best friend. Even though I said just a few paragraphs back that, ya know, I wasn’t going to bore you with stories about my own life.

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Okay, fair enough, Enid and Rebecca had a lot more drama involved when they parted company — even if a lot of it was gloriously subtle drama that eventually came to a head in a number of different ways — while my own situation was, frankly, more dull, but the coincidental timing of both was, at least from where I’m sitting, flat-out uncanny.

Consider : my former best friend and I were riding pretty high when Ghost World made its debut in Eightball #11. We were nearing the end of our collegiate years, as opposed to our high school years, but there was a very real sense that, even though neither of us had much of a clue what we were going to do with our lives, the world was our oyster. We’d take our time getting there (wherever “there” was), sure, but we were both bound and determined to have a damn good time along the way. We had the same interests, the same ideals, and conveniently enough for both of us, we never seemed to have crushes on the same girls (as opposed to the low-level competition that Enid and Rebecca have going on over their slightly-older friend Josh). Times were very good indeed.

By the time Ghost World settled into its multi-issue “groove” that showed the depths of our protagonists’ co-dependency, it’s fair to say that the same thing was happening with my friend and I. We shared a nice-and-affordable two-bedroom apartment, ran in the same extended social circle, and were generally thick as thieves. Times were good, bordering on great.

But damn — you know how it goes. Human beings are, I think, restless by nature — at least humans in their early-to-mid-20s — and at more or less exactly the same time the wheels came off the whole Enid-and-Rebecca pairing in unforgettable fashion, my friend and I started moving in distinctly different directions in life. I settled into a “career”-type gig while he and his girlfriend-at-the-time headed west. We let our lease on our place go  just a few short months after Eightball#18, containing the final (extended) segment of Ghost World, hit the shelves. But the writing had been on the wall for some time, and the last two chapters  of Clowes’ soon-to-be-most-celebrated work in particular really hammered home some of the stuff I was going through, to the point where I could certainly see my own life being reflected back at me in the exploits of two fictional late-teens women.

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What happened next? Well, Enid and Becky went on to conquer all media for a time, didn’t they? The first collection of Ghost World in hardcover and trade paperback was a huge hit, not only in the “comic book world,” but the larger sphere of pop culture in general. There were even Enid Coleslaw dolls at one point. And in 2001, a very well-received movie directed by Terry (Crumb, Bad Santa) Zwigoff became something of an indie-film sensation, and helped launch the career of somebody you may have heard of named Scarlett Johansson (who starred as Becky, with Thora Birch assuming the role of Enid and Steve Buscemi appearing as a new character named Seymour, whose storyline didn’t really do much for me). How well-received was it? Well, Zwigoff and Clowes got themselves an honest-to-goodness Academy Award nomination for the screenplay they co-authored, so I’d say it went over very well on the whole. So well, in fact, that they got back together in 2006 to make a second (and, in my own humble view, superior) flick extrapolated from an Eightball story, Art School Confidential.

As for yours truly, what can I say? Life goes on. My friend had some rough patches for a few years, but ended up coming out the other side pretty well, getting married in 2001 (a fair number of years before I finally tied the knot) and having a heck of a remarkable son. But our inexorable drift continued apace, especially when I split the country for about a year and half and did an admittedly lousy job of keeping in touch with just about everyone, and we both changed so much over time that we’re well and truly barely recognizable to each other anymore. The advent of social media made it easier to keep in touch — not that there’s any valid excuse for us to fall as out of touch as we did given that we live in the same fucking city — but that turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing given that we both seem to have, shall we say, remarkably different communication styles these days, and eventually an insipid argument that began on facebook led to a blow-up that resulted in the two of us not talking to each other for a couple of years.

We got together for a dinner — minus the drinks that used to be de riguer for both of us — about a year ago and everything was pleasant enough, but in all honesty that wasn’t anything so much as a hatchet-burying exercise, and it’s not like we ever really followed through on any of our “let’s get together sometime, man” half-assed promises. I’m grateful for the past we had together and the good times, absolutely, but there’s no future there. The harsh truth of the matter is that I think the guy is, sorry to say it, pretty much just a prick, and I’m not even terribly concerned that he’ll take exception to me saying so because I doubt he can be bothered to read any of the shit I write. Also, who knows? Chances are pretty good that his opinion of me is more or less the same.

And so, assuming I haven’t lost any of you fine folks over the course of my little “WTMI” info-dump there, I hope it’s abundantly clear why Ghost World is such a remarkable (not to mention remarkably poignant) work in my estimation. It’s supremely gifted storytelling, expertly written and  drawn, with genuinely memorable characters (especially some of the side characters! Who can forget “the Satanist couple”? Or professional dickhead John Ellis? Or “Weird Al” the waiter?), at-times-painfully perfect dialogue, and, unlike Clowes’ earlier long-form narrative Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, showcases the heights of emotional resonance an artist can achieve when he’s willing to allow himself to become fully  invested in his characters as people. It’s a masterpiece of the medium, truly one of the very finest stories ever committed to the comic book page, cleverly disguised as a love-letter to teenage girl “outsiders.”

Reading it again in an exact facsimilie of its original publication format brought a tidal wave of memories flooding back, it’s true, but ya know what? I think I’d be perfectly comfortable labeling Ghost World a masterpiece even if I didn’t have such a personal connection to it, so obvious and undeniable is its quiet, unassuming , and above all heartfelt magnificence.